LITTLE BROWN MUSHROOM BLOG

Daylight Magazine | Center for Documentary Studies Photo Awards

Posted in Flotsam by LBM on April 5, 2010

Guest jurors include:
VINCE ALETTI, writer/critic, the New Yorker magazine;
DARIUS HIMES, editor/curator, Radius Books;
JULIE SAUL, gallery owner/director, Julie Saul Gallery;
ALEC SOTH, photographer;
HANK WILLIS THOMAS, photographer;
JAMIE WELLFORD, international photo editor, Newsweek magazine

Direct link to submit work here
Link to information / overview / contest and award details here

Online submissions accepted March 15 – May 15, 2010.

14 Responses

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  1. Paul Shambroom said, on April 5, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    (sorry, this is a duplicate of my FB post):
    All right, here I go out on a limb: this bothers me. A $1000 award and a show at an established non-profit photo center as FIRST PRIZE, and shows at the center as Juror’s Picks prizes? Other “prizes” include publication in a magazine. A $60 entrance fee? An exhibition at any gallery or publication in a magazine, commercial or non-profit, should not be a “prize”, it is a commerce in which the institution and the artist both receive (hopefully equal) value. Venues are not doing artists a favor by showing or publishing good work, that IS THEIR MISSION. I could sort of understand this if it were aimed just at students or emerging photographers, but the guidelines say “to honor and promote talented and committed photographers, both emerging and established.” I knew the commercial and editorial markets had imploded, but to see this attitude in the non-profit world shows just how bad things are for photographers now.

  2. Thomas Robertson said, on April 6, 2010 at 7:21 am

    Then again, for $60 any photographer can have their work seriously considered by some MAJOR players in the photo world. Seems like a bargain to me just for that; not to mention the possibility of some serious promotion by two great organizations. IMO: This actually seems pretty reasonable given group show entry fees of $75-$150 for a shot at (maybe) getting one picture in a huge group exhibition at some no-name gallery in the boondocks…

  3. Taj Forer said, on April 6, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Paul,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I thought I would chime in to shed some light on why we need to charge the submission fees so as to help folks better understand what their hard-earned money is being used for when they decide to participate in this award program.

    Submission fees for this award are used to cover the direct expenses of the running project: winner exhibitions expenses (production, mmarketing and promotion such as postcard printing costs and postage / list management, opening receptions – gotta sip some wine at an opening – design fees, rentals, etc.), production costs for the winner’s multimedia feature, fees for the development and management of the award submission website (pretty pricey to have this created and managed so that the submission process is easy for the photographers submitting work and smooth and organized so that our jurors can give their full attention to the work being reviewed and considered for awards), graphic designer fees for the graphics / printed promotion / mailings to help raise awareness for the award and legal fees for two non-profit organizations to collaborate on a partnership project like this. The program is most likely a break-even deal at best for Daylight and CDS – but from the outside before understanding how much goes into creating and managing a project like this, I understand how / why some photographers think that $60 is a steep submission fee. This is unfortunate as we are, as you mentioned, mission-driven photography institutions striving to support and promote the great work that people like yourself are doing!

    The reality is, it costs quite a bit of $$ to pull off a project like this. On top of it all, we’ve gotta keep the lights on so if either organization do make a few bucks after all of the program expenses are covered, it will only help both organizations continue to offer the support we give to the photo community year after year. Having said this, I’d say its doubtful we’ll even cover all of the costs of running the thing…welcome to the non-profit photography world…

    I hope folks can understand the financial realities of administering projects like these (not to mention high quality photo publishing!😉 and recognize how much investment organizations like Daylight and CDS continue to pour into supporting photographers and their work through projects like this award and our countless other programs and publications projects.

    Keep in mind, I’m a working photographer myself (as is Michael Itkoff, Daylight’s other co-founder), so we genuinely understand the concern and financial challenges facing photogs, in general. In fact, this is a driving force in much of what we do with Daylight and its programs.

    Hope to see lots of great work in the submission pool for this exciting award and thanks for supporting Daylight and CDS so that we can keep supporting the photo community!

    -taj

  4. Tom said, on April 6, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    I’d love to hear more points of view on this topic. There seem to be a lot of contests like this one which appear to be more about revenue generation than unearthing talent. I see the point in charging an entry fee — if it were free you would have people entering their entire hard drive of blurry cat snaps into every contest. But by charging a steep entry fee you reduce the field of contestants to those willing to part with $65 for what amounts to a lottery ticket. Surely there is a better way to identify, and reward, talented photographers.

    While the panel of judges is impressive, will the judges really evaluate every submission? Or will the entries be pre-screened so that the judges only evaluate a group of finalists? If it’s the latter scenario, Thomas Robertson’s point that $65 is a bargain to have your work evaluated by major players in the industry loses credibility. And even if the judges do review your work; if they dismiss it without feedback, how do you emerge enriched from the whole experience? If you hired someone to review your portfolio you would at least be guaranteed some kind of feedback.

    I guess my personal feeling falls somewhere between Paul and Thomas on this topic. I can see a potential benefit to entering contests, but remain skeptical as to whether it is really a good forum to showcase your work.

  5. Niall McDiarmid said, on April 6, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Without wishing to rain on anyone’s parade, my view of photo competitions is somewhat jaded.

    In the early 90s, whilst at photo college, I came across a flyer advertising a competition run by a design company. The brief was to capture working life in the financial district of London, first prize £500, second prize £250, third £100. The college was close by so I spent a week shooting the streets, looking for interesting tradesmen, getting hassled by bored security guards etc. I then edited down, printed expansive fibre B & W prints and duly submitted my entry.

    After several weeks, there was no word, so I called up the design company. There was a long pause when I got through to the right person. “Unfortunately, the insurance company felt there weren’t enough entries, so they cancelled the competition.” It transpired that the competition was to provide images for a multi national insurance company annual report and because they hadn’t been bothered to advertise it properly, they just pulled the plug. Anyway I did eventually get some money out of them but had to shoot some more days at very low student rates so they could fill up the annual report!

    Personally I feel there are a lot of organisations like this who are chancers and really don’t have young photographers interest at heart. Saying that, this one looks good and I am sure will do well in promoting the chosen winner.

    On a more lighthearted note, I suggest photographers only enter competitions where the prizes are awarded at small local venues with free booze. The winner can then get drunk, be suitably surprised at the announcement, fall over on the way to the stage and thank their families for allowing them to pursue the true art of image making. (ie Apologies for not getting a proper job but tonight I’m a winner and the rest of you are losers!)

  6. Taj Forer said, on April 7, 2010 at 7:02 am

    I think this is a very valuable conversation and one that should probably take place in more places online to help folks better understand the financial realities of a.) being a working photographer in this day and age and b.) providing exposure and career-advancement opportunities of these photographers from an organizational perspective. Very interesting.

    To answer the question regarding juror review of all submissions: Yes, all jurors will review all submissions for the Daylight / CDS Photo Awards.

    Cheers.

  7. Paul Shambroom said, on April 7, 2010 at 7:51 am

    First- I know and have worked with several of the sponsors and jurors of this competition (including the Small Ochre Fun Guy, sorry I injected such negativity into your otherwise cheery site.). I have respect for all of you and believe you are all well intentioned in your involvement with this.
    My FIRST issue with this is that you are taking the core missions of your organizations- exhibiting and publishing great work- and turning it into a PRIZE. Thomas writes “Then again, for $60 any photographer can have their work seriously considered by some MAJOR players in the photo world.” Isn’t looking for great work what you do? If you weren’t holding this competition you would still be filling your pages and walls with great photographs, yes? The idea that photographers should have to pay to be considered seems wrong (not counting things like Fotofest’s reviews, which were created for just this purpose and without the direct promise of awarded opportunities.)
    Taj writes: “The reality is, it costs quite a bit of $$ to pull off a project like this.” I completely understand the financial concerns of non-profits, haven’t served on the board of the now-defunct photo center. Revenue and funding has to come from somewhere, but why does it have to come from the artists, the ones who make the images that are the lifeblood of these organizations? Galleries and magazines RECEIVE value from the photographers whose work they show. An stated in my first post, it should not be thought of as doing anyone a favor. In Europe, non-profit galleries PAY a fee to exhibiting artists.
    $1000 is certainly a helpful amount for any photographer, but it is not enough to fund or even start a serious documentary project. The guidelines say this is for “for exhibition-related expenses”. Museums and galleries typically pay these expenses as part of normal operations, NOT as a prize.
    I suspect $1000 is a fairly small percentage of the total budget of this competition. (Feel free to give specifics on this if you want…) If the competition is not viable with a bigger award, or without these high entrance fees, than I would say- don’t hold the competition. If you need the revenue to sustain your organizations, than that becomes part of a much bigger conversation.
    I make a point in my teaching and lectures that what artists do has real value. That doesn’t mean that everything has to be measured in money. But I apply what I call the “janitor test.” If everyone involved in a venture- include the guy who sweeps the floor- gets paid EXCEPT for the artist, then something is wrong with this picture.

  8. Paul Shambroom said, on April 7, 2010 at 7:54 am

    (small typo in third paragraph, 2nd sentence, should be):
    ….having served on the board of a now-defunct photo center.

  9. Tom said, on April 7, 2010 at 11:46 am

    First, let me say I didn’t reply to this thread to bash this competition or any of its participants. I believe this is a well-intentioned program with some marketing issues. FWIW, here are a few suggestions that might help either this this competition, or future incarnations of it:

    1. If the entry fee is being used primarily to defray the costs of the competition, I think it would make sense to make that clearer in the competition material. I don’t think you need to publish a bill of materials of anticipated expenses; but an overview of the costs involved and a statement about your commitment to producing a quality event would help put things in perspective. Also, if you made a choice not to seek corporate sponsorship for this competition, it might help if you explain that. There are a multitude of competitions, of varying integrity, out there. I think the responsibility falls to the competition sponsors to explain why this one is different. Lastly, this is a promotional event, so I don’t really think it’s reasonable to assume you are going to break even on entry fees. The promotional beneficiaries of the contest should absorb some of the costs — otherwise we would all be running self-funding contests.

    2. De-emphasize the “prize.” Honestly unless someone dies and bequeaths their fortune to the Center for Documentary Studies, you probably will never be in a position to offer a truly head-turning prize. You would be better off to focus on other benefits of participation. Frankly, I think you are overlooking the biggest potential value — the feedback of the strong panel of judges. If you look at the growing universe of people offering to do portfolio reviews for $100 and up; personalized feedback from any of the judges would be well worth the entry fee. Even if you raised the entry fee, and guaranteed feedback from the judges (i.e., something more thoughtful than a form letter) I think the contest would have more appeal. Then winning the prize would become an added bonus, not the primary enticement to enter the contest.

    3. I think you need to add some categories to the judging. It seems patently unfair to have emerging artists competing head-to-head against established photographers. That seems like a lose-lose situation –either the emerging artists will be overlooked or the established photographers’ work will be graded on a curve. I think you need to evaluate like terms.

    4. It would help if there was a “next steps” aspect to the competition. This is to Paul Shambroom’s point that providing emerging artists an opportunity to be seen shouldn’t have a price tag associated with it. If there was a clear opportunity that at least some non-winning entries to this competition might still get some visibility beyond the end of the contest, it would help steer the mission back to helping emerging artists get noticed.

  10. andy said, on April 8, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Hey guys no body is making you enter, there are a ton of other ways to have your work seen as an emerging photographer. If this reeks of extortion to you, than keep your money and promote your self in other ways. For the rest of us who would like the chance to have our work evaluated and seen and hopefully published by a couple great organizations 60 bucks doesn’t seem too expensive at all.

  11. Paul Shambroom said, on April 8, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Re-reading my comments is making me wince now. I must have been pretty cranky yesterday. Nothing wrong with this competition, the people involved love photography and photographers and are just trying to make opportunities and keep their endeavors afloat. Things are tough for everyone now. My issues about institutional respect for artists are just, well, my issues.

  12. RUBENVEGA said, on April 9, 2010 at 3:04 am

    welcome Alec! we missed you!!
    great news!

  13. wrobertangell said, on April 11, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    hi all
    Paul, i think you made some great points, its a good subject to be critical about, and i think the “janitor affect” is a fun way to consider the circumstances of artists, their work and the critics.

  14. Jens said, on April 13, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Paul, you make some good points. I was surprised to see dialogue regarding this issue. These days almost every photo center in the States offers one or more such ‘opportunities’ annually. It’s really just a gamble, is it not?
    signed: Not a gambler.


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