This brings me to 2009. This year I entered about 25 competitions and, so far, have gotten into 6. I’ve continued selecting competitions based on who the juror was, but this year, I also specifically chose not to enter certain competitions because of who the juror was. Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t so much I didn’t want them to see my work. I just felt they would not be likely to respond in a winning way to what I was entering. For instance, over the past 3 years, I have entered Jen Bekman’s “Hey Hot Shot” competition 4 times. I’ve never gotten so much as a mention in the blog let alone being selected. That’s fine. My work doesn’t fit with the vision Jen has set out. But when I saw she was also the juror at the Photographic Center Northwest this year, I decided not to enter. Why waste the entry fee on a competition I didn’t think I had a chance to succeed in? So even though I’d like to show work there, I’ll wait till someone more receptive is in the position.
It can be difficult to know what a juror will respond to. That is another reason portfolio reviews are helpful. I attended Review Santa Fe this year and was able to pick most of the people I wanted to see my work, based on the research I’d done. One reviewer I didn’t choose was Andy Adams from Flak Photo. Though I didn’t choose him (he was high on my list, but not the top 10), I thought he’d respond well to my work. I subscribe to Flak’s Photo A Day email, and visit the site from time to time. Based on what I’ve seen there, I was sure he would like my work. Early on in the review, it was pretty clear he wasn’t loving it. He wanted to talk about the stories behind the image more than the images themselves. A bad sign. I still don’t really get why he didn’t like it, but at least I got the chance to experience his reaction personally. Knowing how he reacted to my work will probably cause me to avoid other competitions he juries as well. What’s the point.
Now that’s not to say I will always avoid a competition because a juror didn’t choose me in the past. These things can get so many entries, it’s almost impossible to get in. The most recent success I had at Center for Fine Art Photography’s “Elements of Water” exhibit, selected 50 pieces our of 2,300 entries! Of course, this was a case where I entered because of the juror. John Paul Capinigro also chose one of my images for an exhibit at the PhotoSpiva competition a couple of years ago, so I knew he at least responds well to what I shoot. My point is, that it is best to really research the people who will be looking at your work. If they don’t seem receptive to what you are doing, maybe think twice about submitting. These things are expensive, not only to enter, but if selected, you have to prepare and ship both ways. It always feels good to get work in shows, but at a certain point you must ask yourself what it is getting you.
One last experience I want to relate. A good number (but certainly not all) of the organizations who sponsor juried shows vet the entries they get before passing them along to the juror. They don’t tell you this. This is done for several different reasons, some of which took me a bit by surprise. I can understand work of low quality getting culled early, especially when thousands of images are submitted. But one reason sort of caught me off guard this year. I entered The Photography Center at Woodstock’s “Photography Now” competition earlier this year. It was juried by Charlotte Cotton, the curator and head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). I didn’t really know what she might like, but knew she was smart and highly regarded. This would probably be the only way for me to get work in front of her. Whether I made the show or not wasn’t as important as her just seeing the work. Well I didn’t get in but I accomplished my goal – I thought.
As it turned out, I was able to get her as a reviewer at Santa Fe which was held well after the Woodstock competition. We had a very nice conversation, but it was clear she had some problems with my project. Well, that’s what I was there to hear – the bad as well as the good. But afterwards, on the way to the airport, we happened to sit near each other on the shuttle and were talking about busy schedules. She mentioned she was to jury the upcoming “Art of Photography” show in San Diego – a show I enter every year. She lamented that the organizers didn’t vet the entries (or that they didn’t heavily do it) and that she was facing the daunting task of reviewing thousands of images. I questioned her a bit more about this and she said it is quite common in most of the competitions. The organizations (like Ctn for Photography at Woodstock, PRC, Griffin Museum, etc), have an idea of what they want, and remove work they deem not right for them. She doesn’t even see a lot of it. She did not remember seeing my entry. Mind you, we had just had a 20 minute review with some of the very work I had entered at Woodstock. I’ve met and talked with Ariel Shanberg, the director of the Woodstock Center, and he is a quality person whose opinion I respect, but this was not what I signed up for when I entered.
So the idea of getting work in front of particular people doesn’t always pan out. And this is why, for 2010, I will be drastically cutting back how many competitions I enter. At this point I think I have proven to myself that most are just not worth the time and expense, compared to the pay off. I will be looking more towards venues that seek to show bodies of work and at this point, I will probably be submitting my project portfolio directly to the places I am interested in showing work instead of trying to get in through juried exhibits.