The Photograph Has No Name


A Couple Of Observations About Judging Photo Competitions

One of the best perks of having a little bit of notoriety in the fine arts photography world is that you get invited to “stuff”. Stuff like private receptions, artist’s presentations, and my personal favorite, being invited to be part of a panel of judges.

Recently, I was invited to be one of the judges for a local fine arts organization competition. My responsibility was to select the winners in the photography category. There were roughly 150 entries. I had to whittle them down to a first place winner, a second place winner, a third place winner, and a number of honorable mention winners. I could decide what the number of honorable mentions winners would be.

People are aware of my history as a judge, and I occasionally get asked questions about the judging process. Here are a couple of things I’ve come to understand about the process.

First, every association organizes and conducts the judging process a little differently. That said, there are certain commonalities. Judges are usually partnered with a helper or helpers. Helpers are usually either an employee, a volunteer, a member of the organization, or if you are as lucky as I was recently, you are partnered with a small group of high school or college students that have more than a passing interest in the art of photography.

It is my belief that your helper’s primary responsibility is to make sure that you are focused on the task at hand and progressing at an appropriate pace. He or she makes sure that you don’t wander off, or spend too much time on your cell phone. Your helper also does the necessary paperwork (smart move to not let the judges do it) and separates the “in” and “out” entries as well as tags the winners.

The most frequently asked questions I get are “what happens if you run across a photograph taken by someone you know?” and “Would you select a photograph solely because you know the photographer?” Surprisingly, this issue hasn’t really raised its ugly head, but I do not believe I would be tempted select a winner based on friendship.

Judges almost never get to know who took the photograph. That information is usually attached somewhere (most often to the back of the frame) where it can’t be seen during the judging process. Judging moves along at a rapid pace, and the photos are laid out in such a manner that the process would have to come to a complete stop for a judge to find out who took the photograph.

The only time you get to find out the identity of the winners is at the completion of the judging, and you usually have to request it.

More often than not, you are instructed not to discuss the results of the judging with anyone until the winners are notified or after the evening of the awards ceremony.

Fine with me. It gets me off the hook if an unhappy entrant accuses me of selecting winners based on knowing the photographer. Believe it or not, I wouldn’t. For me, it’s all about the work.

Photos above and below taken during the judging of a recent photo competition. © Jim Fitts