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|| News Item: Posted 2003-04-29

Winning and Losing Must Be Put In Perspective
By David Cooper, USA TODAY

If there were a photo contest and nobody won, does it make a sound? If you use the falling-tree-in-the-forest analogy for the current BOP contest, you'd have to say there is a lot of noise. I guess my question is whether the sound of the judges' message was heard. To me, we place far too much emphasis on winning and not nearly enough on learning.

Contests provide a valuable service to photographers at newspapers big and small as well as students who are learning their craft. Working for a 30,000-circulation daily in the late 1980s in my first full-time job, I learned from entering and attending contests judging. I learned about what judges thought were good pictures and why.

In 2000-2001 as a photojournalist-in-residence at Western Kentucky University, I saw firsthand how encouraging students to enter contests fosters thinking and learning about pictures. The yearly Hearst competition brought us together as a faculty to decide what pictures should be entered. There were a lot of differing opinions. In the process of looking, we were all educated.

Entering a contest forces you to evaluate your own work, to seek feedback from others, to help you learn your strengths and weaknesses. That process is what's so important.

If three people on a given day want to recognize one of your entries, that's the icing. And I admit that it tastes sweet.

But winning and losing must be put in perspective. The important part is critiquing your work and motivating yourself to improve. Entering a contest is not the only way to do that, but it can be an extremely valuable one.

I see judging a contest similar to my job on the night photo desk at USA Today. Many a night, I do not like my choices. Sometimes it's because of space. Sometimes it's because the pictures stink. Sometimes it's something else entirely. Whatever the situation, a call has to be made on which picture goes on the baseball page.

As judges, we try to do our best. But in sticking to our standards, I'd hope we would look beyond what our idea of what the best pictures should be and at how the comments of the pictures that are chosen might bring more to our profession than just who won and who lost. If that happens, the sound of the judges' message will be louder and clearer.

(David Cooper is a sports picture with USA TODAY. He formerly taught photojournalism as a photographer in residence at Western Kentucky University.

Related Links:
Cooper's member page

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