I recently entered the Lens Culture Street Photography Awards. As usual I left it to the last minute to enter thereby ruining any possible chance (however remote) of being editor’s choice in the lead-up to the deadline, but you have got to “be in it to win it” right?!
To be honest I didn’t expect to win, which begs two questions: 1/ Where was my self belief? And 2/ Why enter? Well, self fulfilling prophecies aside one of the reasons I was prepared to pay $60 for the entrance fee (for a series of 10 shots maximum) was that I would get a free review of my work, which I decided was worth it. I think this is a great ‘value-add’ to the competition.
Soon I realised my portfolio consisted of single shots rather than a series of any sort as I hadn’t worked on an actual project, which I now very much intend to do. However, I looked at what shots I had that could work as a set. Perhaps that’s going about it the wrong way? Probably. So, after a painful few days I came up with two possibilities…
Being wracked with indecision I didn’t know which set to focus on. After reading through the FAQs I found that it was permissible to enter more than one set in a one series entry as long as it was clear they were two sets. So that’s what I did!
Set 1: Entitled OPEN FOR BUSINESS (5 shots) – Georgia
Visiting Georgia was a real surprise for many reasons. Apart from the stunning mountains I most definitely had not expected, I was particularly intrigued by life on the streets and by the number of ways daily commerce took place. This short series is a sample of the various types of shops I came across that were open for business.
Set 2: QUIET SPACES IN PUBLIC PLACES (5 images) – London
Anyone who lives in or has visited London will understand that it is a busy city that is never still, yet within this maelstrom it is possible to find a quiet space, whether alone, with a loved one or simply find quiet in one’s mind. This short series is the start of a larger project to find and document quiet spaces in public places.
Needless to say I did not win the competition, however I was excited about receiving my review – which incidentally doesn’t automatically happen. I feel this is an important point. Lens Culture sent me an email so that I could ‘apply’ for my free review. Cynically, I wonder if they do this so that a percentage of people either forget to apply or miss the email or don’t care any longer! I guess with so many entries this might be a resource saving exercise… which makes sense from their point of view… but perhaps not so much from the photographer’s.
My review arrived and I was must confess to mixed emotions… I was both pleased to have two important take away points but also disappointed about a couple of things…
The disappointing aspects:
1/ The first sentence is a piece of “practical” advice: “One submission should ideally consist of 1 series. Logistically, a jury will only be able to vote for your entire submission, and if they like one series but not the other, likely you will not get the vote.” – This is not reflected in the FAQs and had it been I would not have entered two series! I have fed this back to Lens Culture so I hope they update their FAQs accordingly.
2/ My reviewer was anonymous – I think this was a real shame, to not know your reviewer’s name, let alone credentials. I will never know if they were a one of the judges or the janitor!
The positive aspects – my take away points:
1/ To take a “calmer approach” when photographing (this was in reference to series 1) – This is great advice, and I was a little taken aback that it was so noticeable that I had rushed. The truth is I only had one hour to wander around the small Georgian town where I took those shots, so yes it was rushed. I think I do need to take my time a little more in general and get a feel of a place first and then go shooting. The temptation is to go in camera-to-face!
2/ To look for something new. To show people something they haven’t seen before or to show them something they have seen but in a different way. This point may seem obvious, but it has really made me think so I am grateful for that.
Here is the full (anonymous) review:
Thanks for sharing these two series. Allow me to start with some practical advice. One submission should ideally consist of 1 series. Logistically, a jury will only be able to vote for your entire submission, and if they like one series but not the other, likely you will not get the vote.. But. more importantly about the images: I like the idea of the first series, these different kind of ways to trade and sell are great in their variety and their originality. However, I am less convinced about how you photographed them. You seemed a little afraid of the people, in fact: the picture are taken too quick without much consideration for composition, it seems, specially when there are people in the frame. (1,4 and 5) And of course there are people in the other images, but they clearly do not notice you while you are taking the shot. I think a calmer approach where you consider more the shape of the ‘store’ and photograph it as a typology would have helped this series. The second series is much better photographically! I think image 7 is not too great, but the other show a more considered composition and a closer approach to the people, even if they are not aware of your presence. Perhaps you can develop this series a little further and find places and situations that are less obvious? What you show now are the situations we already know and recognize, and it could be more exciting to go beyond those and show us something we don’t know? Like the shops in Ukraine, to reveal something new is a great thing that photography can do. Good luck!
Image 7 has since been removed from my portfolio! And to be honest it was the one I was least sure about – so in a way, I’m glad I was at least thinking along the same lines as the reviewer. And I guess I just need to make sure I listen to my instinct about my own photography in the future.
Here are the additional resources recommended to me:
Here is a good article on things to think about when creating a photo essay. (http://www.gpsphotography.com/what-makes-a-great-photo-essay)
The Street Photographers Manual, by David Gibson
Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on Street Photography and the Poetic Image
Street Photography Now, by Sophie Howarth and Steve McLaren
18 Composition Rules for Photos That Shine (online article) (http://www.digital-photo-secrets.com/tip/3372/18-composition-rules-for-photos- that-shine/)
Street Photography and the Poetic Image, by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb (https://vimeo.com/96185634)
On the whole, I did learn something, but I won’t enter the awards again solely for the review. I will only enter with the belief that I have a chance of winning or at least being featured!
I have work to do…