There is an old saying: “It is not winning that counts; it is playing the game.” That sounds rather British to me. ? I rather like the jokey alternative: “It is not winning that counts; it is placing the blame.” – subtly different! I am not a competitive person. Although I like to be recognized for my achievements, I feel there are better ways than making me [or anyone] “the winner”. This automatically implies that there are losers …
Fortunately for me in my professional world, as I do not work in Sales, I do not find myself in a winners and losers environment for the most part. However, there are other areas in my life where I need to consider this. The most significant one is my #1 hobby, photography.
I like taking pictures. More precisely, I like seeing a picture and then capturing it. But I find myself facing two problems:
- What should I do with all the pictures that I take?
- How can I get better at my photography?
In a way, I found a useful answer to both of these questions about 25 years ago: camera clubs. Over that time, I have belonged to 4 clubs, as I have moved house a few times.
First off, the club context gives me things to do with images: enter competitions, critique sessions, exhibitions … Talking with other members leads to more ideas like external competitions etc. My second issue – getting better – is also addressed. Again, just interacting with other members is useful – there is always feedback and advice to be had; maybe just a fresh pair of eyes. A key source – in theory – to get feedback is club competitions.
Although the details vary from one club to another, most club competitions involve an external judge assessing the images. Typically, on the night, they will say a few words about each image – this is the potentially useful feedback. They may also give the image a mark out of 10 or 20, which should ideally encapsulate the critique. In some clubs, instead of a mark, the judge is required to “place” some images – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Highly Commended and Commended.
I am always interested to hear a judge’s feedback – even though I may not always agree with them! Getting a good mark is nice, although it is amazing how often there is inconsistency between the words and the number and this casts doubt on the credibility of the judge. In some ways, the 1st/2nd/3rd system is worse. How can, say, a portrait be compared with a landscape or a macro or an abstract? And, because there are winners, there are also losers. From my perspective, winning a competition is nice, but I am sad that this means my friend might have to lose. If marks were used and we both get 20, I am as pleased for him as I am for myself.
There is increasing discussion, in camera club circles, about the value of competitions. If the critique has little value, the marks do not correlate and/or the placings are irrelevant, what is the point? Many clubs are focusing more on critique evenings, where there is no competitive element at all, and supporting/assisting members with entering external, even international, competitions and exhibitions.
As I have been doing judging for camera clubs for a number if years, I am very interested in this debate. I try hard to do a good job and set an example for how I would like my work assessed. I am always just a little uncomfortable with awarding 1st/2nd/3rd etc. I have been planning to offer a critique service to photographers. The idea is that someone sends me a bunch of image files and pays a small fee. In return, they get a link to a private YouTube video in which I go through each picture, say what is good and bad about it, and maybe make suggestions for improvements. Does this sound like a worthwhile endeavor? I would be grateful for any input via email, comment or social media.