How an elitist rant set back the progression of landscape photography

I’m not very good at blogging so I don’t do it very often, but I’m having a go today because on Monday a rant broke on the internet. A rant you say? Nothing new there then. And you’d be right because internet rants are standard issue these days. But what was different about this particular rant was that it broke a few hours before the closing of this year’s SLPOTY and it was an attack on an entire community of landscape photographers – by another landscape photographer. An awful lot of people were tarred with a very large brush during the rant and it all stemmed from this comment – “Just when I think I’ve done something positive for landscape photography…..”

Innocuous as the comment appears, in context, it was described as breathtakingly arrogant, elitist and offensive by many people and this sparked a series of further insults against everything from photographers to competitions to books. I won’t list all the insults here, but the short of it was that:

  • landscape photographers entering competitions are all plagiarists
  • landscape photography competitions promote and reward plagiarism

Now, I don’t normally comment on these sort of things because it’s usually petty attention seeking that’s behind it all, but a line was crossed with some of the comments I saw, and they were anything but positive for landscape photography. Quite the opposite in fact, because they sparked a backlash, turning people against each other and creating a division amongst photographers who practice different styles. Also, much of what was being said was directed at competitions in general and as the founder of a competition, I’ve decided to speak out…

I can’t speak for other photography competitions but I can speak for the SLPOTY competition. It was created with a view to promoting landscape photography and showcasing talent in a brand new way, and with the aim of being as fair as possible. Some competitions are not very transparent, some are run by establishment figures and most use biased methods to judge the winners so I was keen to do things differently. So, to achieve the goal of being as fair as possible, I developed a triple blind judging system to eliminate these known biases. And it works, because what it produced was a diverse collection of winning images from a diverse group of photographers from across the globe. The blind judging system also goes a step further because it ensures the competition is totally inclusive in nature (no possibility of an all white male winners list occuring for example). Indeed, in both competitions to date, in percentage terms, more women won awards and commendations than men.

But what about promoting and rewarding plagiarism? Well, aside from the fact the judging system won’t allow it, the evidence is there for all to see in the diverse collection of images in the SLPOTY books. Of course, there were awards for classic and mainstream views, but to label all photographers as plagiarists is totally absurd because this was a specific requirement of those categories. Is it promoting plagiarism? Absolutely not, and it’s equally absurd to say so because there are several different categories and the rules clearly state we will reward originality. If ever proof were needed, you only need to look at the awards given to “alternative” images by Roxy Russell for her 2 week pinhole image and Lara Louisa Winnington’s winning youth photograph (both diverse images won by women below).

As I said above, the rant hasn’t done anything good for landscape photography because of the division it has created. On the one hand, belittling an entire community of photographers serves no purpose other than to alienate that community and they’re never going to try anything alternative or new. On the other, those that do practice alternative techniques are unlikely to enter a competition and they miss out on the chance to be awarded which means other photographers won’t be inspired by their work. The person behind that rant has also put a huge community off his exhibition and it’s the other photographers in that exhibition that end up losing out too. Overall though, it is landscape photography loses.

But the SLPOTY actually does do something good for landscape photography and this is evidenced by the impact made by the books and exhibitions resulting from it. Specifically, the diversity of locations being showcased inspires photographers to try new locations and new techniques for themselves. Case in point being Ian Cameron’s image of Ben Loyal, where it has inspired photographers to visit the area for the first time. Then there’s Craig Aitchison’s images that were shot on film which encouraged more photographers to try film. Then there’s the positive things that the SLPOTY exhibitions do for local economies and tourism. Case in point being the flood-hit town of Ballater where the exhibition was held, and this encouraged photographers to visit the area as well as providing a small boost to the local economy at a time when they needed it most. Of course there are many more examples that illustrate the positive things the competition does for landscape photography, but hopefully I’ve made the point.

The key thing is, if the goal is to do something positive for landscape photography then actually doing something positive is more likely to yield results! Elitest rants wont…


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