Is it me or is there a constant stream of new photography competitions cropping up? Hardly a week goes by these days when I don’t receive yet another invitation to part with some hard-earned and spend a laborious day (or two) preparing and uploading images and (unnecessarily) writing captions, because let’s be clear, entering photography competitions is no quick job.
So why bother?
Ego. We all like to have our precious ego stroked from time to time. It’s a fact so let’s just be honest. There are other motivations of course and for what is essentially a lonely pursuit, competitions provide contact with other members of this disparate community. Moreover, pitting your best work against that of others, acts as a barometer and confirms, or not, that your creative ability is up there with the best. But is all that enough?
Over the years I’ve honed down the number of competitions I enter and each year I ask myself the same question: Will the showcase of images produced from this competition contribute to a wider appreciation of the natural world? In the case of the well-established Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, there is no question that the travelling exhibition and accompanying portfolio book has done exactly that since its inception five decades ago.
More recently the British Wildlife Photography Awards have done the same closer to home and as a consequence, I sense a growing reluctance on the part of many photographers to travel to the other side of the world when they see what can be produced in their own backyard. The winner of the 2014 BWPA is a perfect case in point.
There is no doubt in my mind – never has been – that visual imagery shapes our perceptions and models our behaviour. There is then a strong case for supporting those competitions which seek to promote the natural world and in doing so, fuel the motivation to both photograph it but more importantly, cherish it. I have to say that I’d like to see competitions such as WPoY and BWPA going a step further and setting a standard for photographer philanthropy. It wouldn’t take much to divert a percentage of the entry fee to a credible conservation cause – perhaps a native tree grove on behalf of the competition and its entrants?
As a footnote, there are now many competitions – run primarily by conservation NGOs – which exist to rights-grab your images. In other words they want to use your images for free, forever. And what’s more, some will charge you for the privilege. Of course everyone is at liberty to enter whichever competition they wish but for me, the credibility of a competition lies with its founding motivation.