The 66th annual College Photographer of the Year was held this past week at Mizzou. Since coming to school here, I have realized the great learning opportunity that photo competitions hold, and am grateful for the emphasis that the Journalism School puts on the educational aspects of these competitions. Judging is open to students to sit though and listen to comments and thoughts by the panel. Having worked with CPOY and then POYi last year and observing CPOY this year, I can honestly say I look at images differently, am a better editor, and gained helpful ideas/techniques that I incorporate into my own work.
I sat through the International Picture Story category last Tuesday and had some thoughts. The category is defined as a story shot in a country other than the photographer's home country. There were 108 entries and many excellent images/stories. Working internationally is something I hope to do, and there is something to be said for photographers that are able to gain access and intimacy with subjects in their own culture, let alone cross-culturally. On the other hand, and this may be true only in my mind, but looking at a different culture through your lens can also grant you special access to begin with; you are learning/validating someone else's culture. It's basically what I have always wanted to do.
After a round or two of voting, the judges had narrowed it down to 18. I'll comment on a few: One story involved a predominately Islamic girl's middle school in Europe. It was focused on girls in the period of their lives when they decide to wear a hijab - the head covering that is so often talked about and many times misunderstood. The images in this story were not overly strong or powerful, but as the judges said it was such a good story and a unique look at a larger issue that it made it through voting rounds. It did not end up winning anything, but the point made is that a truly good/unique way of approaching a topic is important. There was a very well shot story on child wrestlers in India - images were very nice, but the judges felt a distance and there was a lack of intimacy. At a point in the judging they read the intos. to the stories, there was one about Palestine that I thought had the best written into of any, but writing only gets you so far in a photo competition.
The judges talked about what they were looking for in stories before the semi-final round of voting. Here were the highlights: images that work together/stand as a story and as individuals; there has to be a consistency of quality; the individual images need to add info to the story as a whole; a comment was made that by the time they heard the story intros they already knew the story because of the images; stories don't just happen - you must think differently in the field when shooting and it is obvious which stories were put together after the fact and which ones were shot as a story from beginning to end; they looked for a thought process and unique surprises.
In the end they selected a story on a Texas Militia as gold. It is a very well shot story, and one that as one judge put it - gave the biggest emotional reaction. Its a great story, but personally, I tire of militia stories - but I also really do not like guns. Silver was a stripper story - these have been shot a lot too, but this one did something more. It went beyond and incorporated the family and such to show the reasons why. Bronze was awarded to a story on Iranian women pushing the bounds of their culture. I thought this to be an excellent story. Wearing head covering a bit looser and showing arms/legs, these women are brave and pushing back on what many would call an oppressive regime. Two awards of excellence were awarded to a story on Libya and young construction workers in Egypt building super-elite housing for the rich and powerful when they themselves had very little. Gold and silver had very clear subjects/ small group which I think helped them rise above the others because viewer and judge alike could connect more with the story.
Multimedia judging took place the second half of the week. I sat through the individual project round. These projects were made by single persons and was an incredibly broad category. At one point in the judging a conversation broke out about lines becoming increasingly blurred between journalism, documentary, and short film; no category could serve as a better example of this. One thing is for sure, all the projects that rose to the top were masterfully made with an extreme attention to every detail. Some projects were longer than they needed to be, some had flaws, some even raised questions of the journalistic nature of the piece, but they all had incredible visuals. Comments in the judging worth noting: END the intros of talking heads, look for bumps and polish the ruff edges - look for anything that takes away from the story (all about the details), and a new term for me - the natural narrative weave - which has to do with weaving in natural brakes so you don't have droning on of the subject.
Gold was given to Safekeeping - a story of a family that had been living in motel after motel and then the children were taken away. This story may have not been the most original, but is accumulated a story instead of telling one, and the visuals were splendid. Silver went to a piece on a modern-day loner cowboy - this piece got excellent statements from a man who doesn't talk much. This piece has so many excellent and natural details. One piece that surprised me greatly was called Here, After. Visuals were incredible, and the piece kept me interested the entire time, but I have to say I was confused by it as a whole, and I am surprised that it was given an award of excellence in a photojournalism competition. I know it was part of a larger site, and perhaps that site illuminated more, but just watching the piece that was entered looked incredible, held my interest, but left me with more questions than before watching it. Very great multimedia piece, just surprising that it was awarded something in a journalism competition.