Friday, 31 October 2014

Survival of the fittest (or the art of selection part 2)

I wrote previously about the necessity of putting yourself through the pain of photography competitions. However there is another type of event that makes that pain pale into insignificance.

The selection evenings.

A selection evening is where the society as a whole choose which photo's are to be put forward for external competitions, normally against other local societies. The purpose is to choose the best photo's which the society members have to offer. This is to maximise the chances of winning the competition (and associated bragging rights).

This means the standard is higher than the internal competitions since it should consist of the best of the best. This also means the process of selection is tougher too.

Instead of independent external judge offering constructive criticism, the photos are exposed to the unfettered emotions and critic of the society members. In judging the worth of a photo, it is fair to say that some people really don't hold back if they do not like a particular photo. As a result you have to be pretty phlegmatic and/or thick skinned to put your photos through this process.

As with any form of process based on groups of individuals with a large dose of self interest, you often get to see writ large the undercurrents of society politics. In theory the selection process should be unbiased and anonymous, but club divisions, prejudices and member versus member rivalries often come to the fore.

It is also interesting to see some of the attitudes of the members to selection night. Many, knowing the savagery of the process will not even enter. Some just profess ambivalence or disinterest in the outcome. However this is usually just a face-saving fallback position, in case their photos are not selected. I am pretty sure anyone who places their work in the position is interested in the result, even if they pretend otherwise.

but this is almost always false and just a convenient excuse, in case the members do not share their opinion on the quality of the photo. I am pretty sure, no one puts themselves or their photos through this grinder of process unless they were deep down expecting to succeed.

There are many ways the society could manage the actual selection process. The way that the Melbourne society has decided to do it is that the images and prints are shown and anyone can comment on the image. Generally a photo's instantly fall into one of 3 categories. Instant rejection, instant acceptation or borderline indecision.

It is that last category that is the toughest. It is the ones which will most likely divide and polarise the membership, and it is these that end up with the toughest critiques. Often there is one person in particular who is most strident on their dislikes of a particular photo. Either they see something they particularly dislike, but sometimes it feels that they dislike the idea of someone else impinging onto their area of specialty. It is noticeable, that even in external judges, that they reserve their strongest criticism to the area where they are considered experts.

Also this is where the internal alliances in the society tend to come to the fore. It is often that lone voice that sways the others to reject a particular photo. Also it is also noticeable that while people are quick to offer there dislikes, strong support tends to be less vocal and restrained.

In fact the hardest thing about the process is that there is no right to reply, no capacity to counter what you feel is unjustified criticism. If you are not someone comfortable with publically expressing your opinions then you can quickly feel alienated in the process.

When I first went to the society I naively entered my photo's in the first selection evening, and was feeling my bruised ego for months later. I promised myself that I would never do it again. How at the last moment I relented and entered 3 photos.


Well it was not that I believed that they would do any better this time. However I realised it was an opportunity to get some early feedback, however harsh, for later internal competitions.

So how did they do?

Well they did far better than I thought they would, with 2 passing the first hurdle and falling into that borderline indecision category and being held back for later consideration.

Made the second round, but not the top 15

Top 16, so close, but so far

This one of the deer was very close of going forward into the external competition proper. It was initially in  the top 15 selection , but opinion was very split. One individual in particular did not like the lighting and the cropping (coincidentally they had 3 or 4 wildlife photos of their own).

Did I feel the criticism valid? Not really, and I doubt that I will make any major changes for the later wildlife and natural history competition later.

In the end it was not put in, replaced by a photo that had been initially rejected, but was put in with the promise of additional editing.

Were the society correct? Did we get the best 15? I don't think so, but then again I would say that wouldn't I? The final proof will be in the competition and I for one will be very interested in how the picture that replace mine fairs in the competition proper.

So it was a night of mixed emotions. Pleasure, annoyance, joy and sadness. But as they say, that which does not kill you only makes you stronger.

While I am disappointed in coming within a hair breadth of reaching the top table, I can take a lot of heart that I am getting closer to the level I want to attain. What I need to do now is push on and take my photos a next level where the images stand out and out of that zone of indecision.

The important thing is that I can see visible progress and I have to take heart from that.


The photo that replaced mine has gone on to do well in competitions, while the deer one, less so. So I am willing to concede in the end that the society made the correct choice. 

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