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|| News Item: Posted 2003-04-29

Invest in your work, count on nothing, and enjoy it if you win something
By David Burnett, Contact Press Images

I think there is a great potential for Contests as a wonderful font of enthusiasm for those working in the daily world of shooting. With all the sometimes disappointing elements of contest judging, there is really nothing like being told by your peers that you have done a good job. Well, short of winning a lotto.

But as we work with our colleagues, whether it be elbow to elbow at a well attended event, or working on one's own in the isolation of a personal vision, we all enjoy a certain burst of energy when one of "ours" says Well Done! The real issue is letting them become an end in themselves. When a photographer is worried first and foremost about winning a contest, you can almost count on a loss of 'soul' and honesty.

There are a number of ways we seek expression and validation of our work, being published being first among them, but once you begin to cross that line, the whole of your work comes into question. I would be against limiting contests to purely published work as, let's be honest, what gets published is rarely the material that we would like to be known for.

Of course you could add a Best There Will Always Be questions about judging. When the judges find our work wonderful, we think the judging is 'right on,' 'clear headed,' and 'well thought out.' When someone else gets the nod, and our work is overlooked, then all of a sudden judging becomes 'cloudy', 'misguided,' and 'full of sh*t.' In both cases they could have a bit of accuracy. But there are no absolutes in the world of subjective interpretation. Some years you just hope they'll understand the subtlety of your images.

Other years you 'll be amazed by the crudity, obtuseness, and cluelessness of their decisions. For me, that fact that there are a number of venues, each with a particular kind of taste and sensibility, in which to enter work creates the sort of polyglot web that takes into account a lot of different kind of photographs. That's perhaps the best thing about the new ability to enter contests digitally, as you are not required to spend hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars on prints, to be in the game.

Invest in your work, count on nothing, and enjoy it if you win something.

Winning cannot be the ultimate end of your desire to be a photographer. But now and then, if an image, especially one that was under used, or not used at all, is accorded a prize, then enjoy that fact that somewhere out there, another of the "insightful," "intelligent," and "perceptive" judges has finally seen the light.

(David Burnett is the co-founder of Contact Press Images. His awards include 'Magazine Photographer of the Year' from the Pictures of the Year Competition, the 'World Press Photo of the Year', and the Robert Capa Award from the Overseas Press Club.)

Related Links:
Burnett's member page

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