Rain on Stony Brook

Rain on Stony Brook

I belong to a local photography club. The members are very nice, friendly people and the meetings are fun.

But the competitions are truly all wet, imho.

The main thing I object to is the use of a numeric rating system to evaluate each photo entered. It’s a 30-point scale modeled after a method that adds in three numeric ratings given by three judges at more formal competitions. In other words a 24 score implies that three judges might have given three scores of 8 each, or two 9’s and a 6. One judge can’t do the work of three and its foolish to try.

I could analyze my deep-seated reasons for disliking the numeric system but the bottom line is — I find it repugnant to assign a number to someone’s artwork.

I also dislike the way slides are evaluated — the judge sees each slide for no more than 30 seconds and then says a few things about the photo — “nice leading line, should have used the rule of thirds, the lake should have a red kayak in it…. 18” — seems like a foolish way to look at and talk about art. Most judges use a kit bag or rules of thumb, like the rule of thirds and rules about depth of field to critique the artwork.

I don’t like it even though I usually do well — the photo above entered as an assigned photo about water scored a 26 for a first place — I just don’t like the process. I’ve had photos praised by judges with no comment regarding improvements — “excellent photo, good placement of the person on the bridge — very good job” — but then given a low score. I’ve had photos with obvious flaws given a high score. That is preferred of course — its usually based on the artistic impact of a photo and in competition impact is the first and most important aspect of a piece, imo. Give the photgrapher the benefit of whatever impact the photo has — especially in a small club competition. To be overly harsh is really petty and unnecessary. I’ve also had a photo that recently scored 29 — near “perfect” — in one contest, then it went on to score a 20 in another. I may be over sensitive but I find this very annoying. Enough with the numbers already!

Last night’s competition had a judge who apparently didn’t like photos of people because every photo (or nearly everyone — I can’t remember which) with people as the main subject received very low ratings. I didn’t submit any portraits but was really put off by this kind of judging.

I guess the question is — what are we evaluating? Is it technical competence, or impact, or artistic merit? Seems to me most judging is focused on technical issues and rules of thumb. The artistic aspect is often reduced to comments like “a red canoe would make this a much better photo.” Ridiculous beyond comment!

The club recently started a digital competition. With digital the judge sees the photos before the club meeting and gives his score. He or she must have had more time to review the photos than in the case of slides. But so far the results are very similar. I guess its not so much the brief time in the traditional slide competitions, its more a mind-set that is determining how judging is done.

I think I may abstain from competition, at least for a while. I am also thinking about recommending a new system of evaluation. Better to light a candle than curse the darkness as Eleanor Roosevelt famously said.

If any one reading this knows of a good approach to photo club competitions (including ways to avoid them all together) please let me know.