Photography News Issue 28 absolutephoto.com
Before the Judge
Each issue, a respected judge or exhibition selector shares their thoughts and experiences. This month, we hear from judge and tightrope walker Chris Palmer Chris Palmer FRPS
Words by Chris Palmer
I first started judging way back in 1986. Since that time I have been fortunate to climb the ladder of judging experience and acceptance, through regional and federation events to national and international exhibition level. I am delighted to be included in the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain judges list. I’ve judged many BPE and FIAP Internationals in theUKand Ireland, notably Edinburgh, Southampton, Smethwick and Tallaght. I also had the pleasure of judging both of the PAGBNational ClubChampionships – Connah’s Quay (prints) in 2009 and Warwick University (PDI’s) in 2010. Although I love my own photography, I genuinely like reviewing, assessing and judging other people’s work too. I’m deeply aware of the responsibility placed upon me, but I always enjoy the process, searching out the gems, discovering great images, and appreciating the work of others. I have heard it said that a good judge sees more in the picture than the photographer saw themselves. The most important judge of any picture is the photographer, and in the amateur world I always encouragepeopletoproducepictures that primarily please themselves. However, many of us can become too close to our own work. A good judge can hopefully give an unbiased and dispassionate view of the image, and when necessary provide advice that will allowa photographer to improve and take better pictures. Through the RPS, and a special interest group that I run within AmershamPS, I have been fortunate to assist and encourage many towards distinction or personal photographic success. In my time judging I have had manywonderful experiences, butmy favourite is selecting the Edinburgh International. The system of selection allowed us judges the freedom and, more importantly, the time, to really appreciate the work. The hospitality was also wonderful! Standards of photography do vary widely across the UK, and it is noticeable that certain regions have their own tastes and styles. I am often pleasantly surprised by the wonderful work that I am invited to comment upon, and the imagination, skill and technical proficiency always impress me. Where the standard is lower, it is invariablyaproduct of clubmembers who only see the work of their own fellow members. It is vitally important to get out and see as many exhibitions as you can, and look at
is often a clue as to what provoked the entrant to raise the camera to their eye and take a shot. I try not to look AT a photograph, but to look INTO it, and thereby involve myself in the image. Placing myself in the photographer’s position makes it much easier to provide a helpful response for the author. There are some techniques and styles that you can tire of, so yes, I too am tired of HDR. It is a valuable tool in the photographer’s armoury that, when used carefully, can facilitate great detail in an image and solve problematic exposures that might otherwise fail. Unfortunately, I see far too many images where HDR has been used to try to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, or when it was not necessary in the first place. I also tire of formulaic predictable images, where photographers get on the competition bandwagon, then they see a successful image and attempt to replicate it. I always try to encourage originality. The trend of highly manipulated and constructed images seems to be fading now, while portraiture and studio photography is enjoying a resurgence. When judging I have found so many potentially good images have been spoiled by over manipulation and excessive processing. Aim for quality, simplicity, originality and good aesthetic appeal. Judges have a poor reputation among clubmembers, but it’s a tough task! I was invited to talk at a judges’ seminar to aspiring trainee judges.
I called my talk Walking the Tightrope, because judging is a balancing act. One is invited to a club as a guest, yet it is often the judge’s responsibility tomanage the evening and to time things responsibly. A judge is invited to comment or critique the work, yet not upset anybody, to be fair to all, reward the good and help the less successful. In addition often 50% of the audiences haven’t entered at all, so they are looking for entertainment, or at least an interesting evening. Of course, all judges have off days, when the words perhaps don’t flow so easily, and there are some poor judges on the circuit too. But we should remember that there are not enough good judges around, and that irrespective of the decisions made, the visiting judge has given up a fair chunk of their time and is doing their best. Whenmost clubmembers are already back home, the judge is normally still at the wheel, regularly obstructed and frustrated by the Highways Agency’s latest game of ‘Let’s close the motorway’! We all see the world differently, and I would encourage aspiring entrants to try and follow their own individuality of vision. Take pictures that please you. Follow your own path in photography, take lots of pictures, build your confidence, identify what you enjoy, and then hone your technique. If the judge likes it too then it’s a bonus!
the work of other photographers, and thereby feed your own creativity, raise your standards, and realise what is achievable. Judging in panels with fellow photographers, it is possible to get frustrated by your fellow members; I like to think I manage not to. I respect my fellow judges for their own personal views and we work as part of a team. Hopefullywe combine to assess consistently and produce a satisfactory result. Rarely have I been lost for words when confronted by an entry. My favourite way of judging is to comment and mark as I go, but hold back anything I feel is particularly worthy. This allows me to also hold back a problematic image and then have another look at it before I make any decision. It’s important to state at the hold-back stage why you are doing so, and that the image might not subsequently meet with success. When you see the shortlist at the end I invariably then find it easier to make a considered comment about a puzzling image. I sometimes see outstanding images, particularly in internationals. When selecting an international we normally mark between two and five, with five being a potential award winner. When an outstanding entry is presented I will hit the five and wait to see if my fellow judges feel the same way. There is a certain reluctance for some to ‘hit the five’, so one really needs to concentrate all the time, but to not be frightened to give top marks to a deserved entry. I also pay particular attention to the following image, because it just might be another 5, or I could be tempted to mark it more harshly because it follows a really good image. The biggest failings I see are images shot at the wrong time of day, or in poor or inappropriate light. Photographers travel to some amazing places but don’t necessarily place an importance on being in a location at the right time. Impatience and time pressures are normally incompatible with good photography. I regularly suggest that if only the photographer had spent five more minutes at the taking stage they’d have produced a better shot. There seems to be a relaxation of what I call camera craft, in the mistaken belief that any technical or aesthetic deficiencies can be corrected on the computer later. Far better to get it right in the first place. As a judge, what I think of as an ordinary snapshot the photographer may love. Within each photograph
Chris Palmer Chris has been judging for many years at local, national and international levels. He acknowledges that judging and helping fellow photographers is very rewarding but also flags up that it’s not an easy job with so many people to keep onside. Years in photography I was introduced to photography by my father when I was about seven years old, and I have been taking photographs ever since! My photography really got going seriously when I joined Field End PS (Middlesex), in about 1975. Home club Amersham PS, and the RPS where I am privileged to serve on the Visual Art (Creative & Pictorial) Distinctions Panel. Favourite camera My current Nikon D700, although I had a lot of affection for my old (film) Nikon FE. Favourite lens A Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 (although it’s very heavy!) Favourite photo accessories My Giotto’s tripod Favourite photographers Freeman Patterson, Christopher Burkett and Sebastião Salgado Favourite subject or technique Primarily I am a landscape and location photographer. Rather than shoot a big picture I often hone in on an important feature or detail within a scene and represent that strongly, mindful of the importance of using an appropriate light too. Awards An RPS Fellowship was my most significant achievement, but I have had good success in international exhibitions around the world while gaining my AFIAP and subsequent EFIAP distinctions.
I try not to look AT a photograph, but to look INTO it, and thereby involve myself in the image
What do you think?
Have you seen a photographic judge at work who you’d like to see profiled in Photography News ? If so please drop us a line to opinion@photography- news.co.uk with the judge’s name and, if possible, their contact details.
Image Icelandic Horses.
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