Posts tagged ‘photography competitions’
I’m very pleased, and distinctly surprised, to be able to say that one of my images – ‘Zip’, my first Howgill Fells capture – has been commended in the 2011 Landscape Photographer of the Year competition (LPOTY, to avoid my having to type all that again).
My surprise is due to the fact that everything I’ve read about photography competitions suggests – well, usually states – that they favour rather more obviously appealing subject matter – things like sunshine, warmth and a view; or morning mist. I’m sure I’ve described the origin of ‘Zip’ before on this site: it was supposed to include mist, if not the other three items. Instead, I had a hard frost to work with; yet this turned out to be much more interesting – at least, it was to me, and also, it would seem, to the judges.
Are competitions a good thing?
I have to admit that I was a little reticent about entering in the first place – I’m not entirely convinced that any art can be meaningfully compared in a competitive sense; the process clearly involves a high level of subjectivity. Having said that, I was also sufficiently self-aware, when I was deliberating about making a submission, to know that I’d be very flattered to receive any kind of recognition in the competition. So, I was unashamedly pleased to be short-listed and am delighted to have an image in the 2011 book, displayed at the exhibition at the National Theatre during December and January, and in the Sunday Times magazine feature on 23rd October 2011. I was also reticent as I felt slightly presumptuous, as a relative beginner, in even thinking of submitting an image – fortunately my ‘what the hell’ instinct kicked in there…
One of my motivations – OK, perhaps I should say self-justifications! – for entering LPOTY was that I hoped to be encouraged, if I was fortunate enough to have any degree of success, to make more images. Right now, typing this a couple of days after receiving the email saying that ‘Zip’ was ‘commended’ and would be in both the exhibition and the book, and a few hours after seeing it in the Sunday Times, I’m definitely feeling inspired anew. With autumn here and winter not far off – my favourite times of year, especially for photography – feeling encouraged and inspired can only be a good thing!
It’s easy to be cynical about any competition which necessitates the comparison of any art form – and I assure you I can be pretty cynical about all sorts of things when I want to be – but there’s no denying that they:
- draw attention to things that most people wouldn’t otherwise hear about, see or read;
- provide great encouragement to those people who are fortunate enough to meet with the judges’ approval;
- encourage people to enter the art, whatever it may be; to ‘have a go’.
Without doubt, this success means that I do feel greatly encouraged to try to produce more good work and I’m very happy that I decided to enter!
On the off-chance that any of the judges are reading this: thank you very much!
And to everyone who’s provided constructive critique and encouragement to me on Flickr et al in the past year, many thanks; it’s really very much appreciated and has helped me a great deal.
I’d better stop there!
Inspired by some modest ‘recognition’, I’ve been musing on the way that recognition (of my work) leads directly to inspiration (to make more) and, possibly, to creativity – to ideas for new images.
The old ‘who do we photograph for?’ debate
Of course, this could easily stray off into the much-discussed territory of ‘for whom do we make images?’ My position on that, at this point in time (!) is that I’d make images just for myself, even if no-one else ever saw them; a position which seems to be the default, at least for amateur photographers, and particularly for those who concentrate on landscapes. I freely admit, however, that it’s very pleasing when other people, especially those I’ve never met, like what I’ve produced. Such comments have greater credibility than those from friends and family, with no overlay of the commentator being naturally inclined to be positive. So, to avoid the huge debate around ‘for whom…?’, I’m going to go with ‘for myself and anyone who’s willing to look at them’ for the purposes of this article.
My immediate inspiration
The inspiration for this piece comes from a coincidence. Firstly, Tim Parkin asked me to be interviewed as ‘featured photographer’ in an issue of ‘Great British Landscapes’ magazine (GBL), and that issue has just been published. Secondly, at about the same time, I learnt that one of my favourite images has made it onto the short-list for the Landscape Photographer of the Year 2011 competition (or LPOTY, in case I feel the need to write that again!). For me, as a newcomer to ‘serious’ photography, both those endorsements of my work are very flattering, and I can say with complete certainty that neither was expected.
I don’t want to exaggerate the significance of either instance of recognition; I do realise that many photographs are short-listed for LPOTY, and also that numerous photographers are interviewed. What I’m interested in here, in this article, is the degree to which this twin, external recognition has increased my inspiration to make more images. It’s had a considerably greater effect than I would have predicted, if asked, a couple of weeks ago.
The short-listed image is ‘Zip’, a dawn capture of interlocking spurs which I discussed in my earlier article about the Howgill Fells of Cumbria. That particular image was the original inspiration for what is now a project to make at least twelve shots of this interesting and unusual area. At this point, I have only four ‘keeper’ images, with another three compositions planned and awaiting an opportunity to capture them, and I was losing momentum a little for all sorts of reasons: time of year leading to the ‘wrong’ light; no mist; too much travelling with work; and general lack of time to make what are non-trivial trips to the locations. Now, with that image and another from the Howgill Fells project appearing in GBL, as well as the competition short-list, I suddenly – and it really is sudden – feel thoroughly inspired to do some more planning and get back up to Sedbergh, with its rounded, wall-free fells, to move the project forward.
Does inspiration directly boost creativity?
I can’t fix the mid-summer light, of course, nor the perpetual, featureless, blue skies which we’re ‘enjoying’ when I’m in the country, but that leads to the second element of this recognition-driven inspiration: the simple fact that I now feel [re-]inspired on this project has led to my visualising two further images to add to my list. Neither of them are in any way related to those I’ve made already, other than being of locations in the Howgills, but the sheer fact of the first image from the project being externally recognised seems to have been enough to ignite the creativity which had been somewhat absent for the last few weeks.
Perhaps it’s entirely obvious that recognition – compliments, to use the non-euphemistic term – is inspirational? Expressed at its simplest and most direct – “Hey! That’s good. You should take more” – recognition is naturally something which should, and does, inspire. The more interesting and unexpected revelation, however – to me at least – is the degree of creativity that this type of thing can lead to.
I’m sure this observation could be useful. What I mean by that is that recognition may be actively, even consciously, used as a motivator for inspiration, and hence as a means to enhance creativity. Whatever the reason, prior to writing this, I was busy making notes recording the various ideas I’ve had in the last day for new photographs in the Howgills project – a good result since I had been feeling that I’d somewhat run out of steam and lost enthusiasm for it.
Inspiration may come from repeated comments on a common theme
Lastly, and I think most importantly, one of the explicit reasons why I was interviewed for GBL was the typical ‘look’ of my photographs; they tend to be credible landscape images, but relatively muted and reliant more on shape, texture and form than dramatic, saturated colours. I suspect that the same is true of the selection of ‘Zip’ for the competition short-list. A few people have suggested in the past that I visualise landscapes in a relatively unusual (abnormal?!) way, at least in terms of colour, and this apparent double-confirmation of that idea has made me feel very inspired to show others ‘how I see’, by means of photographs. Whether or not it’s true that my images are atypical is another question, but I intend to work on the basis that it is, and I hope to draw inspiration from that…
As to why we all see things differently: it’s well-established that human vision is a combination of:
- the manner in which our eyes react to light intensity and colour;
- our brain’s interpretation of those visual inputs.
I think that this interpretation is experientially determined to some degree. For example, people who have always lived in alpine areas don’t generally react as positively to snow-covered, dramatic mountains as they do to other types of landscape. I’ve spent a very long time in high mountains, and I love being in such places, but I’m accustomed to them and now find that the barrenness and vivid colours of deserts have more conscious impact on me. Put another way, albeit a little strongly: ‘familiarity breeds contempt’.
It follows, I think, that everyone, to varying degrees, will notice different aspects of a landscape and react differently to its shapes, colours, textures and juxtapositions, depending on what they’re most used to. If we take the above as true, and combine it with my images being, supposedly, atypical, then I’m very much inspired to create more and hence to attempt to show people what I’m seeing when I look at a landscape. With a bit of luck I may inspire someone to see things in a different manner and themselves be inspired…
And the learning point is?
As I said above, it really is a revelation to me how constructive, in terms of creativity, positive feedback of this sort can be. I’ve not entered any competitions before; maybe I should attempt more? Naturally, I can well imagine that the inverse, negative effect on creativity – when an image falls at the first round hurdle – may also occur; but there’s probably no harm in being optimistic – at least I hope not!
Ambitious, certainly, but I’m going to stick with it as an idea until proven otherwise as I’m finding it a great boost to my creativity!
Thanks to Colin Griffiths for pointing out something I neglected to make clear in the above. I’m not remotely talking here about deliberately making images which I expect people to like, irrespective of whether I like them – I’m sure that would stifle creativity more than engender it. I’m simply suggesting that we should take advantage of the creativity inspired by occasions when people happen to indicate that they like some piece of work and that perhaps increasing the opportunity for those occasions to arise is a good idea.