"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
0 items in your cart
$0
Blog // Images
July 11, 2011

Make Art Not Sport

On Saturday night I had a great evening with some of the photographers from the Lightenupandshoot workshop. A few of them had just been on a photo challenge organised by a local photography club. I like the idea of setting yourself creative challenges. In this instance the competition was involved shooting with only a 50mm […]

Fixed Pressure

On Saturday night I had a great evening with some of the photographers from the Lightenupandshoot workshop. A few of them had just been on a photo challenge organised by a local photography club.

I like the idea of setting yourself creative challenges. In this instance the competition was involved shooting with only a 50mm lens. As I mentioned in a recent post on concert photography, shooting with one fixed lens in a real world situation can be hard work and a good learning experience.

But, thinking about this brought me back to my dislike of photographic competitions. In my view you either make art, or you make sport and, I’d rather not turn my photography (or music) into a sport.

Of course, competitions have an established place in the art world. Both galleries and artists use them as a way to gain exposure (same in music with performers and venues, websites or TV networks). There’s plenty of criticism out there about these kinds of competitions, mostly around the way competition organisers create revenue from entry fees (pay to play, as we call it in the music world) and exploit contestants. However, that isn’t the issue that really bothers me.

Competitions work because we are hardwired to respond to rivalry. We step easily into the “like-better-than” mindset. But, just because an image appeals to us more than another in one moment, if we are forced to make a simple choice, does not necessarily make it better in an absolute sense.

This is particularly the case, since the choice is often a false one. Do we create our photos in order to win in competitions? We create and respond to photos for a wide variety of reasons. Moreover, many of the photos that have an impact on us also have, if we start to get obsessive about it, some sort of technical issue we could pick on (especially if we obsess about things like ISO noise, or lens distortion).

If the perfect photo doesn’t exist, then what are we doing when we put photos in a competition?

Perhaps the biggest issue, for me, with photographic competitions is simply the notion of winners and losers. If we play a match of tennis and you beat me, then on the day you were better. However, I’m not sure that the idea that if you take a great photo today, that somehow diminishes what I do with my photography.

This is a pretty deep commitment for me across all creative pursuits. My best never diminishes your best. This isn’t some kind of touchy-feely encouragement mentality where everyone gets an award for trying. Rather, this is a sense that the only struggle, the only fight that really matters is the one we have with our own muse, our own inspiration.

It was a little less than two years ago that I started taking photography seriously. I’ve started to realise some people find that a little depressing. Maybe they’ve been taking photos for longer and have progressed more slowly. I don’t quite know.

But, this is not a competition. My situation is probably very different to yours and the reasons why I’ve done what I have are because of a wide set of circumstances and a pretty serious investment of time, money and effort. Moreover, I’ve had some benefits, in terms of education and experience that have helped me think clearly about the kind of photos I want to take.

The image at the top of this post is the first photo that I sold as a print. At that time I was totally naive about a lot of things (included how to make and sell a fine art print!). Looking back on the making of this photo there are so many things I would do differently now. I’m sure it would not have won first prize in any competition.

But, that’s not really the point. I took this image very soon after deciding to get serious about photography. I was at start of a trip to a destination is still a long way off for me. There’s a odd kind of purity to both this image and the simplicity with which I created it (something that I still see in some of my best photos today).

And, a collector with a very keen eye spotted that. Asked to buy this as a print and the rest, as they say, is history.

Tagged
3
Responses
Mike Mahoney 11 years ago

I look at it like this: I see photography contests as a reason and means to expand your skillset into an area you might not ordinarily go. Many photographers tend to stick to one area. (Still life, portraits, sports, black and white, etc…)

For example, I like doing still life and landscape in black and white. So, if I were to enter a contest that focused, say, on use of color, or finding emotion in facial expressions, that would stretch me in areas that I’m not comfortable with. Of course, that’s a personal thing; I tend not to be terribly competitive in the first place.

I would say that one cannot create true art on cue, or in response to a schedule. However, one can hone skills and technique. And honestly, that’s the point of most comptetitions, anyway.

    Fernando Gros 11 years ago

    Mike – entering a competition, in the way you describe it makes a lot of sense. I’m shooting more and more with prime lenses these days for precisely the reasons you describe – not being able to zoom in an out challenges me in creatively useful ways.

    Ultimately my point is related to your final thoughts. Being competition minded is not the same as being art, or inspiration minded.

Leave a comment

Enter your and your to join the mailing list.