by Roger Richards
Yes, comrades, 'tis the silly season again.
Decisions are being made under pressure.
Editors at many a newspaper are waiting with bated breath for the results.
Careers are on the line.
Both money and time are being spent with great hopes for the emergence of a new, shining star who will light the way.
Images are being selected and discarded in the hunt for perfection, for the one just right to help sway the electors their way.
Those who do not stand a chance of emerging victorious will still enter the race.
Not everyone will be happy with the winner.
No, my friends, I am not talking about politics. This column is about contest-itis, the affliction that overcomes thousands of photojournalists like the flu this time every year.
I never realized how much fun photo contests could be before I began entering them regularly. The cardinal rule is never to take them too seriously. This will cause you nothing but grief and heartache. Quite often the photographs you poured your emotions into are the ones that the judges toss out in the first round, and the crap that you threw in at the last moment in a kind of "what the hell, why not" attitude will be the one that makes it to the medal round, and sometimes it will win and cause you embarrassment. It happened to me last year. I believe the judges must have been drunk. I never thought I would ever be in the position of winning an award and having to explain how I came to enter such a horrid thing in the first place.
One of the sad things about contests is how so many of our colleagues base their entire self-worth as a photojournalist on how many awards they have won. Although winning a big one is a validation of outstanding work, it is not the main reason why we do what we do. Too many shooters seem to forget why they became photojournalists in the first place.
There was a former colleague of mine who wished desperately to accelerate his/her career. So for a year, he/she slaved to produce powerful images with one thing in mind: winning a series of major awards at the end of the year. Yes, the work was excellent; WOW, some of it was so good. His/her co-workers were treated like garbage during the quest. Contest time came, the entries went in and.... Depression set in, and disillusionment. It took weeks to see a smile on his/her face again.
In many years as a photojournalist, I never entered my work in the annual photo contests consistently until I became a newspaper staffer. Most of the work I have done has never been before the eyes of a photo contest jury.
Still, that never stopped me from working on the subjects that I cared about, or producing the kind of photographs that meant something to me. The only outside validation of my work I needed was hearing from readers of the magazines and newspapers that published my photographs.
I am proudest of the body of work I produced over the space of three years during the siege of Sarajevo, a record of one of the 20th Century's bloodiest events. In time, these images might even become historic documents. On another level, I am happy about the letter sent to me by a lady who is the director of a halfway house for mentally challenged people, the subject of a story in my newspaper. She wrote to thank me for sensitively portraying people who are often made fun of in popular culture. The photographs I made there are winners in the eyes of my subjects.
I admire the work of a great many photojournalists, most of them well-known and some of them obscure, like the painter Van Gogh at his death. Sometimes I think of how cool it would be to win the World Press Photo of the Year or a Pulitzer Prize.
Until that day comes, I'll just keep sending
in my World Press entry every year and waiting for the neat free book with
my name in the back with the other losers.
Roger Richards is a staff photojournalist at the Washington Times in Washington, D.C. He is the editor and publisher of the multimedia website Digitalfilmmaker.Net.
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