This past weekend saw the annual running of the Australian Professional Photography Awards; affectionately known to all who enter as the APPA’s. I have blogged before quite extensively on the APPA awards and the APPA award system so I wont repeat myself again here (If you are interested you can do a quick search on my blog). I will simply add that the APPA awards are very near and dear to my heart as the only professional print awards in Australia for working professional photographers. Yes, the majority of the work entered is not representative of what most working professional photographers do on a daily basis, but that isn’t the point of APPA.
The APPA awards is an event (run across three days) of heavenly highs and abyssal lows. It can be incredibly uplifting and utterly soul destroying all in a matter of mere moments. There are audible whoops of joy from entrants in the APPA corridors and simultaneous streams of tears from other judging rooms. I have myself had a print score a lofty 98 Gold with Distinction at state level only to have it crash to an 81 Silver Award at Nationals. Its a sobering reality to have your work fall so far short of your hopes and dreams; but it happens to all of us at some point. Fortunately for me I went on that year to win the overall category with two more Gold images and another Silver with Distinction. The key to staying mentally stable at APPA and not working yourself into a twisted knot of anxiety is too simply accept your scores for what they are: The average of five different judges opinions on a given day. You have to accept that judging photographs (be it prints or digital files) is utterly subjective and whilst we as judges look for all sorts of different technical merit in a print that can be quantified, we are also looking for creativity and the vagaries of emotional content. And that magical, elusive and mystical element rarely speaks to the panel of judges simultaneously.
I have been entering for some years now and chose again this year to enter my four prints into the Science, Wildlife and Wild Places category. The four photographs I decided to enter were relatively recent captures and had not been entered at State level for ‘testing’. I decided to take a gamble, back my gut instinct and simply enter the images untested (You have to have the courage of your convictions at APPA). As it turned out my gamble paid off with all four prints scoring Silver with Distinction Awards. This is an absolutely fantastic result that I am extremely pleased with. Subsequently, I was asked by one entrant at the awards dinner last night if I was disappointed at not receiving Gold for two of the images that this person felt were of absolutely the highest Gold standard (I did very much appreciate the compliment). I had to take a moment to consider my feelings on the matter before I responded. Now, with the passage of a little more time I have had more of a chance to consider how I feel about this. And, yes, of course I wish the images had received Gold Awards (I certainly felt they met all the criteria!) but that isn’t at the heart of why I participate in the APPA awards and being disappointed about not getting Gold awards would be missing the point of entry. You also have to keep in mind that the difference between a Gold and Silver with Distinction can be as little as one point! Wether you are a judge or an entrant (or both as in my case) you have to keep an open mind to critique and comment (good, bad and indifferent). And you absolutely have to maintain a degree of mutual respect for your fellow entrants and the panel of judges. I will admit that it is not easy to accept a print score you disagree with when you have sweated bullets over the final print but there is almost always something positive you can take away from the result and quite honestly that is how I feel about my own print scores this year. Even though I feel two of them should have got up for Gold awards I feel satisfied that the panel of judges I had on the day did overall, do justice to my prints. After all, they scored not only in the Silver Distinction award range, but fell just short of Gold and that very small difference is nothing more than a few points in total across the average of the five judges scores on the given day. Once you accept the decision from the panel and realise its just a point score average you free yourself from any potential disappointment. Take on board any constructive critique and you may find ways improve your work even further. And that is the key to improving your photography at APPA.