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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2003-04-01

Speaking the unspeakable!
By Tim Clayton, Sydney Morning Herald

"That's the biggest load of Bollock's I've ever seen!"

Junior, as we'll call him, has his head in his hands, staring at his computer screen in a dank, damp, mozzie infested room at the Sydney Football stadium before the start of the domestic Rugby League competition on a Friday night mid March.

I put down my gear and lean over his shoulder to see what, exactly is 'the biggest load of bollocks' expecting one of the usual varied assortment of downloads of the explicit variety often shown to pass the down time in that hour or so before kick off.

On his screen he has the winning images from the International Sportyear/ Lequipe competition. He is visibly upset, it was Junior's last chance of an award in this years comps, He'd missed out in The World Press, The POY's...and now this. He is hurting big time!

Junior is a brilliant up and coming young sports photographer learning his trade in the Sydney patch in Australia. He'd had a good year, a great year, We'd all helped him fine tune his portfolio, encouraged him to the extent that we'd built up his hopes, a couple of his photo's were outstanding, 'World class' even. His portfolio was beautifully balanced strong action, artistic feature pics, observed moments, strong portrait's and fresh, not copied, not sticking to a formula but fresh and unique. Junior has his own eye, a rarity these days!

Tears well in those eyes now. His dreams shattered, trying to make sense of it all, to reason it through.

Come on Tim, you tell me what is good about THAT picture, WHY has THAT picture won an award, it's a wind on for god's sake, I wouldn't even submit that for a run in tomorrow's paper let alone put it in for an award! What do you think Tim?

I pat him on the shoulder. He wants answers from me, he wants an explanation. I have none because I totally agree with him!

"Bad look mate, there's always next year!" Is my feeble reply.

I had a woeful shoot, sent, packed up and went home. My mind was elsewhere all night, not on the job but on the whole competition thing.

I went to bed, I didn't sleep, and I couldn't find a way out of the maze of thoughts in my head. Junior would be at the Super Twelve game the following evening, I had to talk to him, explain, tell him what I thought, make sense of it all, not just for him and the hundreds of Sports Photographers in the same boat, but for my peace of mind as well.

The silent screams of a young Sports Photographers mind falling into a mental black hole had been deafening! I had to say something to help him!
My wife snored, I nudged her...'Bog off!' she muttered...(We're from Yorkshire!) I faced the ceiling and gathered my thoughts.

The small group of Sydney based Sports Photographers have been hugely successful over the past decade, the passion and dedication is unbelievable, everyone is positive, discussions are healthy, everyone encourages, no bitterness, no jealousy or envy within, Nobody is up themselves, we won't stand for it! Everyone is equal!

'Get me some chrome?'

F**k off and get it yourself!

That's how it is here!

The youthful enthusiasm encourages the experienced and visa versa. A healthy pulse!

We encourage the philosophy 'take it to another level' for there always is another level, you have to keep evolving as Photographers, to improve year on year.

While we encourage each other we bag the s**t out of everyone else.

We look at the top publications, discuss and analyze and often have great debate in the hour or so before kick off. (When there are no downloads to view of course!).

We are highly critical of Sports Illustrated, technically brilliant but boring, formulated, it hasn't really moved forward in a decade, and the set ups are woeful and influencing a nation to do likewise! A disgrace to photojournalism! And if we see the basketball shot from the roof just one more time we'll scream!

Arrrrrrrggggggg!

Lequipe, what is that all about, all those word and no pictures, they should be using one great photo on every page everyday!

I thought the French are supposed to have flare! It's the most boring sports product in the World!

Is the PicEd blind over there!

It'd take a week to turn that around if only someone would listen!
And our Sports Editor, he wouldn't know a good picture if it smacked him between the eyes!

...And your picture editor still thinks Magnum is an ice cream!
And look at the cropping of that picture...the sub should be crucified!
To be in awe is to admit your second best!

Everybody gets it, even the cleaner! There's no stone left unturned, it's all part of the psyche of creating an environment that encourages each other to get out of the comfort zone and challenge themselves, to go to the next level. I many way's we are a team.

The reality of course is that Sports Illustrated is still the best sports mag in the World and has some great photographers many who's names you never see on the awards lists but who are absolutely brilliant! Lequipe has a great magazine, our sports editor is a pretty good boss really...(but the opposition's PicEd still thinks Magnum is an ice cream!)

3.30 am. I duck down to the study, switch on the computer and start checking out the awards pages, The World Press, The POY's, Sportyear/Lequipe. What do I really think?

World Press. What's is that monk picture all about? What were the judges thinking? Somebody help me please?

And what about that soccer panned shot? Gimme a break! And that Winter Olympic pic? Was that THE best picture from the Winter Olympics? And what's that fuzzy rain picture with the hint of a figure that you can hardly make out? Oh, that's mine, that's a great pic, thoroughly deserved old chap! Well, perhaps not!

I really can't understand how my picture got an award on the evidence of the other winners!

Photo by Tim Clayton, Sydney Morning Herald

Photo by Tim Clayton, Sydney Morning Herald

This picture by the author won second place in the sports category of the World Press photo contest.
I have long been critical of The World Press sports category. I think they treat sports photography like the make-up artist at the Oscar's: nobody gives a damn really! There certainly is no obvious direction they are trying to point us in, except perhaps, don't shoot a good action picture!

Over the years they have ridiculed and insulted the Sports Photography profession, The surf pic a couple of years back was so bad, it was the biggest disgrace in living memory! So wide of the mark it was an own goal!

As for the sports stories, I presume this year we should all be doing Chinese Gymnasts and a boxing gym. (I forget which way around it is in rotation!)

It's about time they had specialist judges in specialist areas so at least we could get a semblance of direction and knowledge about the profession which, hopefully, we could understand and relate too instead of saying "What the...." every year.

Please, please somebody from the World Press judging panel gives us an explanation, an insight as to why the monk picture is THE sports picture of the year? I really do want to know, I want to be educated, to understand and feel shamed afterwards for my complete ignorance! Please, please show me the light!

The POY's. I like the POY's, although I refused to enter this year, $50 entry fee for the privilege of competing against the Yanks? Forget it! (Remember I am from Yorkshire!) A level playing field please and for god's sake make your minds up if you want to be a National comp or an International comp! If you want to be an International comp why don't you tell anybody outside the US!

The POY's have great categories and the judging seems to be more in tune with the real world of photojournalism, although I do think the Photographic Intellects get too carried away with quirky little life moments, especially in Sport! And they still haven't managed to spot a fake set up picture from real moments. A definite naivetes on there part!

We all sat back waiting for the Sportyear/Lequipe comp to get it right, even Junior was quietly confident, after all, it had judges who worked in the profession of Sports Photography and in years past it seems to have been consistent in it's thinking and direction.

Perhaps the categories didn't help. Picture stories competing against portfolios, Black and White against colour. The end results again left more head shaking and posed more questions than answers.

I think the bottom line is we want to see award winning pictures that make us go "Yes! That's a f**king brilliant shot I wish I had taken that! That was a deserved winner!"

I still can't believe that in a year of The World Cup, The Winter Olympics and a million other sporting moments that we have seen the best images in our profession awarded.

But what can we do? Basically absolutely nothing! Art is subjective, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you can have a hundred judges and a hundred different results!

But it doesn't take away the fact that we all feel let down!

At the judging level all we can ask for is competitions to be judged with honesty and integrity with hopefully a little insight and understanding of our profession.

Winning awards can shape careers and I'm the first to admit I've been luckier than most in competitions and if I never win another award I can't complain. (I probably won't win another award after this article!) And I know, I know, we should be grateful in the first place, that sponsors put up money so we can have competitions!

The next night at the rugby I sat down for a chat with Junior.
I told him my thoughts in a positive way, he listened intently to my reasoning.

But there is one more important thing, far more important than the awards themselves.

What's that? He asked.

More importantly, even though you didn't win an award, you put yourself in a position to win an award, you shot some great pictures last year, you worked hard, damn hard, remember what I told you a couple of years ago, if your shooting well work hard...if your not shooting well work harder!

Yeah...

Well, you'll just have to work a bit harder this year!

Putting a portfolio together at the end of the year gives you a chance to self analyze, to see where you're at! Have you improved? Which way is your work heading? Are you still shooting fresh or are you becoming cliched? Or do you need to give yourself a kick up the arse? You have to honest with yourself … don't hide!

We all like to win but not everybody can. The fun is trying to achieve your absolute best year on year. If your work is consistent enough and good enough you'll be in with a chance in not just one category, but a few categories. And hopefully, eventually, something will be judged by someone, to be an award-winning picture.

Let's be honest Junior, you had great fun last year putting your portfolio together because you were trying your best, trying to achieve, you were pushing yourself, pushing your mind, you were in THE zone and not the comfort zone, that's important. You didn't win, it happens! So brush yourself off and head back to the plate and start again, I want to see an even better folio from you next year! And don't forget, when you do win, be humble!
Junior smiled but said nothing.

I got lucky, the winning try right in front of me, nobody within thirty metres! Karma, or just a clear mind?

Sunday, Soccer at Parramatta Stadium, I walk into the Photographers room.

Hey Tim, what do you think of this? Junior is eager to show me half a dozen images from the first two months of this year! He's back!

Another Sports Photographer saved from the black hole of competition despair...well, for this year at least!

I smile a big smile. It's a better feeling than winning an award!


(Tim Clayton is a full-time sports photographer for the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia and was awarded second place, behind 'The Monk' in this year's World Press Sport, Singles category. He is an occasional contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter. He can be emailed at: tclayton@mail.fairfax.com.au.)


Related Email Addresses: 
Tim Clayton:  tclayton@mail.fairfax.com.au

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