Sunday, 15 April 2018
Last week I took my first faltering steps into the world of judging photographic work.
It was a challenge. I tried my very best to rise to that challenge and do justice to the work of all the entrants, but really it was a fairly sketchy first attempt.
The competition in question was for less experienced photographers at Northern Ireland level. Less experienced doesn't mean less good - there were a substantial number of excellent shots in the collection to be judged.
Working as part of a three-person team, with one very experienced member, was what made me think I'd be brave enough to do it. And the most enjoyable part of the process was the evening judging session, with no audience, where we looked at all the images and made our decisions. We had a pretty good level of agreement on which ones were in the top half of each category, and then which ones were in the final dozen or so. But it took time to whittle those ones carefully down to the top three, the highly commendeds and so on. There was a lot of worthwhile discussion and persuasion. It was instructive to hear the opinions of my fellow judges; sometimes they noticed things that I didn't, and sometimes my opinion changed, based on their points of view. With only a little compromise to ensure that everyone's opinions were represented, we ended up with impressive line-ups of winners for our three categories.
A few evenings later came the really difficult bit - presenting our decisions to an audience, largely composed of people whose work was included in the competition.
Considering I'm someone who talks all day long for a living, I find talking to a photography audience surprisingly nerve-wracking. They're my peers, and a lot of them know a lot more than I do. By the time this particular evening rolled round, I was beside myself. I was hoping for some kind of cataclysmic weather or political event that wouldn't actually harm anybody, but would definitely involve the cancellation of the competition. Sadly, it was a reasonable sort of a damp day and Northern Ireland ticked along in its usual not overly competent but definitely not cataclysmic way.
So I had to stand up and talk about the images. I had read every book and article I could find about good judging - and of course I had my own high-minded advice to follow from this article.
And I sort of managed to do it. I was fortunate to be able to present many of the images that I'd been most impressed by. I think I conveyed a good sense of enthusiasm for these. I tried to concentrate on their artistic content, the messages they were presenting and how they might make viewers feel. I tried not to tell personal anecdotes, but I slipped up once or twice.
What I found really difficult, though, was making suggestions or giving advice that might be useful to the photographers. The few times I managed it, it was hedged about with so many perhapses, maybes, mights and possiblys that my intended recommendations were probably completely lost. And sometimes I just couldn't bring myself to say anything negative - so the photographer might well wonder why, if it was so good, it wasn't sitting amongst the top prizewinners?
I also realised afterwards that I'd said very little about anything technical in all the feedback I'd given. Composition, content, mood, emotion, use of colour had featured heavily, but I'd not discussed things like depth of field, exposure, editing techniques and so on. I'm not sure how that happened.
All in all, it was an educational experience. I don't know if I'll ever be asked to judge anything again. If I am, I'll do it better next time. If not, the respect that I already had for all the good and well-meaning judges I come across will increase a hundred-fold. A win either way.
The image at the start? It's my own. It's called Close to my Heart. I included it here because it's one that I thought judges would very possibly not like. But it was placed first in my most recent competition, and I'm thinking how very well-informed, sensitive and wise that judge was..... :)