I'm very excited to announce that I now have 63.5 points towards the 65 needed to achieve the Grand Master Distinction from WPPI. I've worked on this, improving my craft, entering new work, and printing my own entries for many years. Earning the Grand Master Distinction would be accomplishing a huge personal goal for me. Currently, there are only 11 Grand Masters (including only 3 women) in the world in WPPI, one of the biggest and most difficult International Print Competitions left. One and a half points doesn't sound like much but it really is. While I have faith in the quality of my 2022 entries there is absolutely no guarantee that I will get those 1.5 points. I go to WPPI 2022 at the end of February 2022 with an open heart and mind, hoping for the best. Please wish me luck!
Print Competition And Why It Might Not Be Such A Bad Idea
My goal, as always, is to get better at what I do. These competitions involve being able to follow a narrow set of rules and doing it not only well but in an artistic way. No, it’s not a measure of how marketable I am as a photographer or artist, nor whether my work is sellable. It is a measure of my ability to follow these rules AND create something that is moving enough to capture the judges' attention. Those narrow sets of rules are there for a reason. Whether we choose to follow or break them is our own choice but understanding them and being able to follow them is a standard worth measuring. My personal journey started more than 10 years ago with a desire to improve my photography skills. For a variety of reasons I decided to stick with what I consider the best organized competitions for me to invest myself in - WPPI 1st Half, 2nd Half, and the Annual 16x20 Print competitions. Like many artists, my self-reflection is that some of my work is pretty good, and, depending on the day, the rest of my work is really terrible made by an awful artist who doesn't deserve to hold a camera. Insecurity seems to be part of the DNA of most artists and I’m certainly not special in this regard. So how am I supposed to know how to make my work better, or good, or even great? I can tell you that my clients like the work I do for them. Of course they are biased by photos of themselves and usually focus on themselves rather than the work itself. I can tell you that I’ve gotten feedback on social media telling me that I’m definitely not worthy of holding a camera. Not a helpful opinion. I can tell you for sure that my mom and dad think I’m the most amazing artist ever born. Biased? And my friends tell me I’m wonderful. They might be a bit biased too. And, “I” am not “my work.” I want feedback on my work, not me. I could ask photographers and artists whose work I admire what they think of my work. Honestly I think that’s an intrusion of their time. I could pay them but then I’m paying someone to give me an unbiased opinion and I don't feel good about that at this stage of the game. What would benefit me the most? A panel of judges, let's say 5, from around the world with their own unique perspectives, opinions, and ideas, who don't know me, and are being paid, nominally, by an organization to give an honest score and feedback of my work. In 1st and 2nd Half I get the opportunity to submit my images online at a very reasonable cost and get feedback that can help me create a better image to print for print competition. And I can see the best of the work that other photographers contributed. At 16x20 Print Competition live judging I get the extra added benefit of seeing, in person, hundreds of prints I would have otherwise never gotten to see, and hear feedback on that work as well. It’s the best education I’ve ever gotten on how to improve the work I’ve already created and work I could potentially create. Over the years my scores have been reflective of that education. I look for constructive criticism, not awards and accolades. Honesty over affirmation. I check my pride at the door and value the opportunity to get better. Arguments can be made that print competition and judges are not perfect. Obviously, that is true. I hope you aren’t shocked that nothing is perfect, especially in the world of art. But I’m not looking for perfection, I’m looking to get better. Do judges favor each other’s work? My experience has been that judges are a competitive group and would never let another professional get away with anything less than their best. I have certainly gotten low scores on prints that I felt deserved much higher scores but that's part of the process too. While I have done quite well in these competitions over the years, in the past few years I’ve grown stagnant and have received some very well deserved low scores. I still have yet to find a better system for improving myself as a photographer and artist. So my advice for any portrait photographer who is looking to improve their craft is to go to WPPI Print Competition, sit in on judging, and listen to the critiques. Learn from the judges and then spend the year creating some prints, with that new knowledge in mind, very specifically for competition. Go to WPPI Print Competition again and see how you do and how you can improve even more. Then start printing your own entries - but that is a whole other discussion :)