Because I Compete with Myself at APPA

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?APPAAPPA2

Moab and Legion Paper feature Antarctica Images at Photokina 2016

If you are attending Photokina in Germany later this month be sure to stop past the Moab and Legion Paper stand where several of my personal favourite photographs from Antarctica are being featured. The photographs are printed 24″ x 36″ inches on the new Moab Juniper Baryta paper (one of my favourite two papers). If you would like to travel and photograph in Antarctica with me there are now only a couple of places remaining on my expedition next year before it will be sold out. Full Details HERE.Ice Fortress HMAS Penguin Pool

Iceberg in Antarctica
Iceberg in Antarctica

2016 – APPA Australian Professional Photography Awards

This past weekend past saw the annual running of the annual 2016 Australian Professional Photography Awards (affectionately known to all those who enter as APPA). For those of you who may be unfamiliar with APPA you can read a previous blog post with my thoughts on the awards HERE.

This year was different for me as I was neither attending or judging the awards as I am currently in Iceland finishing up the second of two back-to-back workshops in the Highlands (I am headed back to Australia as soon as I finish this post – currently at the Iceland Air Saga Lounge). Although the APPA awards are live streamed across the internet the award timing happened to coincide with a period of time when I was in a very remote part of the Highlands without internet access and as such I subsequently learned of my scores after the event.

This was the sixth year I have entered the APPA awards. This year I again chose to enter the Science, Wildlife and Wild Places category (formally known as the Science, Environment and Nature Category), not only because I won this overall category in 2014, but also because this category has very rigid rules on image manipulation that are consistent with my own ethics for minimalist post production techniques. I have actually developed a severe allergy to the Landscape category at APPA for its ‘anything goes’ post production mantra that turns the entire category into a photoshop farce. More to come on this in a future post…

This year I chose to enter three images from the Arctic that I felt conveyed strong emotional feelings of wildlife in the landscape in dramatic conditions and one from South Georgia Island. I was thrilled to receive a Gold Award, a Silver with Distinction award and a Silver award for my first three entries. The fourth scored a 79 falling just short of Silver. This overall total placed me in the finals for the overall category win. It also provided sufficient points for my first Gold Bar toward my Grand Masters.

This year I also chose to enter my new book ‘Melrakki‘ into the Professional Book Award and was very pleased to receive a highly coveted Silver with Distinction award. Thank you very much to all those who contacted me after the judging with such overwhelmingly positive feedback on the book. Those of you who have pre-ordered the book (thank you) should start receiving them later this month.Hornvik-9491-EditSouthGeorgia2015-8201-EditVictoria-HolkoJ-1ArcticFoxIceland-9512-EditMelrakki

Photo of the Month September 2016 – Arctic Fox Hunt

The photograph of the month for September 2016 is of a blue morph Arctic Fox on the prowl for something to eat during high winds and blowing snow on a remote Iceland peninsula in winter. Taken during my three year project on the Arctic Fox this is one of my favourite images in my new book ‘Melrakki’ on the Arctic Fox. The photograph itself was taken with a Canon EOS 1DX and a Canon 600mm F4L IS MKII lens from a snow hole . The snow hole allowed me to get down to eye level with the fox to create a more intimate image than would otherwise have been possible. I have particularly vivid memories of this day because of the cold and because of the constant need to shovel the snow out of my snow hole as built up around me. The light and blowing snow created fabulous atmosphere though and it was worth the effort for the resulting photograph.ArcticFoxIceland-9512-Edit

Melrakki is available now for pre-order on my website as a limited edition hardcover fine-art book. The culmination of three years of winter photography in the extreme north-west of Iceland, Melrakki is limited to just 100 copies, each edition is hand numbered and signed and includes an original 11″ x 09″ inch fine-art pigment on paper print.

With foreword by pre-eminent scientist and Arctic fox expert Dr. Ester Rut Unnsteinsdóttir, Melrakki includes over fifty photographs and field notes from the three years spent photographing this remarkable predator in the extreme north-west of Iceland.

Melrakki Limited Edition is printed using the highest possible quality Canon Dreamlabo inkjet printer system and is printed on beautiful 250gsm High Definition Lustre paper that fully captures all of the incredible colour and tones of the original photographs. The Canon Dreamlabo represents the current state of the art in book printing and was chosen for this project after extensive testing and proofing as it yielded the highest quality that most closely resembles the original fine-art pigment on paper prints. I am extremely proud to stand behind the print quality in this Limited Edition book.

The included fine-art pigment-on-paper print is printed on Moab Somerset Museum Rag 300gsm paper and is hand signed.

Melrakki Limited Edition is $245 AUD plus shipping and can be ordered online exclusively through my website HERE.

I hope that you enjoy the photographs, insights and field notes from this project into the frozen world of Melrakki – the Arctic fox.

Photographs and Text by Joshua Holko

Approximate Dimensions: 22cm x 30 cm

96 pages (over 50 photographs + field notes)
The photo book & the print are together in a protective cloth sleeve

ISBN: 978-0-646-95781-4Cover