So I won a bronze prize at the recent 2013 NIFCA Photographic Exhibition. Seeing as there were no gold prize winners this year, I’m thinking that this is a big accomplishment for a first timer. The photo that won the prize is the self portrait that I hastily titled “Man in the mirror” at my girlfriend’s suggestion. It was a pleasant surprise because this was not my favourite photo, but I’ll explain later on. I went to a critique session where I got the opportunity to hear what the judges think of my work as well as the work of the other entrants. I’m writing this post as a way to share what I’ve learned and to remind myself of what I need to work on in the future.
First, here is the winner, “Man in the Mirror”, aka “Got a light? #1”.
A big reason why it won bronze is because of the way the eye travels around it. When first viewing the photo, your eyes are drawn to the flames and you wonder what is it that is alight. Then your eye follows the smoke upward and then you suddenly realise that there’s an eye watching you. It seems to follow you wherever you go. The judges loved that and awarded it a bronze. It didn’t score higher because I entered it into the abstract category, which he agreed was the best fit, but it wasn’t quite “abstract” enough. However, they told me that there wasn’t much more abstraction that could be done without losing the impact. Also, the highlights in the flames were blown out but they didn’t penalise me badly for that since there wasn’t much I could do to avoid that. I’m happy with the bronze and I’ll definitely explore this concept more sometime.
Next, is “Umbrellas”
This one was used in the discussion as an example of a photo that you have to get “dirty” in order to capture it. Especially since these mushrooms were growing out of cow dung. Their point was to don’t always take a photo from a standing eye level, go up high or low and experiment with the point of view. I lost points because all of the mushrooms were not in focus. Also, it didn’t “pop” as one of the judges put it. I’m not too sure what that means. However they all seemed to like it.
Next is “Gravity”
This was a crowd favourite both in NIFCA and out. Few could figure out what this mysterious substance in the glass was or how it was on fire. What brought it down was the big white reflection on the side. A feature which, with enough patience, I could have probably removed in post. The thing is, I kinda like that reflection, I think it gives the photo a bit of character.
Next is “Roses by the Sea”
This one got the most criticism. First, if you’re doing a silhouette, you go full silhouette. In the print you could still see some detail in the glasses and that brought it down. Also, the way how the horizon cut through her face didn’t sit well with the judges. In my defense, I was playing with breaking the rule of thirds by using the horizon to divide the photo into two. For that particular shoot, Sheena (the model) encouraged me to break away from my usual style. In the final print, the frame was touching the left most rose and the top most lock of hair which hurt it a little.
Finally we have “Blue Queen”
This was a favourite among one of the judges in particular. As he tells me, he spent quite a few years living in New York, where he attended some burlesque shows, and the women in these shows dressed very similar to this. The only thing going through my mind when I took this photo was how to show off my partner’s makeup skills in a unique way. The judge said that it didn’t earn a medal because of the sliver of light under her chin. It made it look like the model had a beard, which burlesque dancers apparently don’t have. That’s a bummer because this was one of my favourites and the “beard” was a very small flaw in my eyes.
In any case, I think NIFCA has been a great experience. I made a few contacts and I know that I have to step up my game. I now have more to add to that already long list of things to think about before I press that shutter. I already have ideas that I’m going to try in the next year and who knows, maybe I’ll get gold or a special award next time.
The exhibition is still going on until Saturday, November 23rd. It’s open from 12 noon to 6 pm at the Spirit Bond Mall in Bridgetown and the admission is free. So if you have a chance head over there and take a look, there’s some neat art on display.