The trials and tribulations of launching the SLPOTY

[I recently did an interview for the Herald Magazine about the Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year competition. In this blog post I expand on the article.]

I’m not a famous photographer, and I’ve never sought the limelight, but since launching the Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year competition I’ve found myself kind of thrown into it to an extent. This was something I expected to be fair, and I was prepared for the fact that I will have to be the front-man for the competition, but personal fame and the limelight was never my goal. On the contrary, I’m a teacher by nature and prefer to guide others so my actual goal was to raise the profiles of our talented crop of photographers, encourage more people to take to the landscape and promote photo-tourism in Scotland. Easy peasy…or so I thought.

I knew if the competition was to be a success, it would require a great deal of planning and a lot of knocking on doors to attract sponsors. But sourcing photography competition software was something that proved to be extremely difficult, taking the best part of a year to get the right solution. Then there was the building of the website and designing the book, both of which incurred a great deal of time and expense. All this left me exhausted at times and the light at the end of the tunnel often seemed a long way off. I persevered though, and when I discussed the aims of the competition with various people outside photography, they were always well recieved, and this gave me great encouragement.

It was a different story however with the people that mattered most – the photographers.  Long before the launch, I spent a few months (covertly) asking lots of photographers for their views on POTY competitions in general. I expected to hear lots of different views, but this wasn’t to be the case. On the contrary, there was pretty much a commonly held view that the outcomes of photography competitions are influenced by an “establishment” or in the field of landscape photography “the clique” as they are called. The clique’s view is that certain genres of photography are infereior and unworthy of awards, and the photographers that take such images are “second rate”.  This is clearly off-putting to photographers thinking of entering a competition and perception is that to be successful, one must take the sort of images that are favoured by this clique or resort to sycophancy.

It was a little unsettling to hear these views and I had no idea who “the clique” were but sure enough, when I visited a few websites to check for myself, it was easy to find. The same names can be seen regularly extolling their work as a superior genre, whilst belittling the work of others, particularly if it’s an image of an iconic view. In other places, there’s downright nasty stuff that borders on bullying, and the same individuals can be seen ganging up on novice photographers, calling them morons & philistines then telling them to sell their cameras. As an aside, their behaviour is also shooting themselves in the foot, because quite clearly, some of them are running workshops at iconic locations that cater for the very photographers they are belittling. All genre’s of landscape photography are valid and no one genre is better than the other. It’s a simple fact that some are more popular than others but opinion is just that.

Anyway, it was clear that this behaviour and the views being propogated by these individuals were not popular at all with the wider photography community, but nonetheless, this was a valuable insight in how to shape the competition.

First off, there was a very limited budget to create the competition, and with the excepetion of the sponsored prizes, I had to pay for everything out of my own pocket, and this meant I had design things as efficiently as possible.  Next, the overall winner would be awarded to a portfolio of images and not won on a single image. The competition is a “Photographer of the year” – not – a “photograph of the year” and I firmly stand behind this. I may not be famous, but no one can argue about my experience which spans 3 decades including 2o years as an instructor. Whilst all things in photography competitions are subjective, I felt I have enough experience of the various genres and with the help of the other judges, it can be as inclusive as possible.

The other categories could be won on a single image and this allowed for flexible entry points to suit most photographers and be as inclusive as possible for other genres such as fine art, long exposures etc. This proved to be a wise choice, because some of the commended images in the various categories were most definitely edgy – Roxy Russell’s image for example will take a few people by surprise I’m sure.

Thirdly, I went to great lengths to make it clear what type of images we were looking for and why. The competition is fully inclusive of all genres of landscape photography but it was made clear that iconic or classic views were what we were looking for. The aim of the competition is to encourage photo tourism and whilst edgy abstracts are images I have a particular fondness for, they are not instantly recognisable as Scotland and would struggle to meet the aims of the competition. However, it was always stated that should a truly outstanding image be entered of say an abstract, it could easily win the competition. This remains true.

I fully appreciate that the competition will never please everybody, but one thing’s for sure, in its inaugural year, the competition surpassed all my expectations and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m immensely proud of the competition and it was a humbling experience looking through the work of all the photographers who entered. My thanks go to each and every one of you who entered and I will do my utmost to repay your support by improving the competition and taking it from strength to strength.

Stuart

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