The Australian Professional Photography Awards recently wrapped up in Melbourne Australia and now is the time to consider any possible rule changes for the future. Should photographers and entrants have to retouch their own work, or should we properly credit the retoucher and printer with their work?
I recently wrote down my thoughts on this thorny topic and they were subsequently published in the latest edition of the AIPP Journal.
I read with interest the latest opinion pieces “Challenge, But Please Don’t Denigrate!” and “Low Scores = Inexperienced Judges?” by good friend Peter Eastway in the previous AIPP Journal. Peter and I do not always see eye-to-eye on how much post production is acceptable in a photograph, but we have the greatest respect for each other and our photography. We have discussed the issues of APPA at length and with APPA just past, I feel it’s time to share some of my thoughts with a broader audience.
Retouch and Print your own?
The issue of whether photographers should retouch and/or print their own work is a prickly one, but my preference is that it should be mandatory that all entrants retouch and print their own images. However, the reality is that it just isn’t practical to enforce a rule that entrants must print their own work, for all the reasons Peter outlined in his prior pieces. However, we can ensure photographers are behaving honestly and ethically with their entries and that we are rewarding the real talent behind an entry – and it’s on this issue which I wish to press.
In some ways it disappoints me that I need to raise the issue of ethics and honesty in relation to the APPA awards. In many ways, the question of ethics brings us back to why it is we enter APPA as professional photographers and what it is we hope to achieve with our entries.
If we are entering because we want to be recognised and rewarded by our professional peers, then it is paramount that the entrant’s work be entirely his or her own creation (or at the very least that any outsourced elements are fully disclosed so that our peers can acknowledge these contributions).
Or, If we are entering because we want to compete solely with ourselves (the best reason in my opinion), then it is equally important that we are honest with ourselves.
There is frankly little kudos in receiving a gold award for an image if you have outsourced the retouching and printing and provided little- to-no direction to the craftsmen who carried out these tasks. There is even less kudos if you fail to acknowledge the skills and contribution of the retoucher. The entrant might receive a pat on the back from friends and congratulations from their peers, but deep down, when the shine wears off , they will know it was not entirely their own work. And how much kudos is there in that?
I can tell you from personal experience, there is absolutely nothing sweeter than receiving gold and silver awards when you shot, retouched and printed the work yourself.
If we accept that it is not practical to enforce a rule whereby photographers must print their own work, then we are left with the significant issue of retouching.
I am of the belief that all entrants should retouch their own work and sign off on their entries as such. Retouching is simply a core skill in digital photography nowadays and a great many other photographers agree on this point. However, if we were to continue allowing external retouching, then shouldn’t we be awarding (or at least acknowledging) the skill of the retoucher as much as the photographer?
If we can agree we are awarding the print in front of us as judges, then surely we have to acknowledge that the retouching is a major component of the final print score?
There are countless examples I could cite where it was external third party retouching that elevated a capture to an award standard. Yet it was the photographer who was awarded, with little or no mention of the often very significant contribution of the retoucher.
Frankly, the current rules are just far to vague and open to abuse. Asking a retoucher to retouch a capture with a vignette and colour adjustments, drop in a new sky etc. can just as easily be followed up with, ‘And make it a gold award please’.
I propose that we consider an amendment to the APPA rules that requires all photographers to complete their own retouching and sign of on it as their own work. Practically, a short term solution might be to award half points to entries with third party retouching, thereby acknowledging the entry was not entirely the work of the photographer.
By way of example, if the image scores a 92 Gold Award with disclosed third party retouching, the entrant receives 1 point instead of 2. And if we took this approach, I wonder how many entrants would suddenly start retouching their own work?