Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Modest Proposal: The Photo Contest Playoff Series (P.C.P.S.)

 This is the time of year when the photo world has its own version of March Madness. We begin learning the winners of the big annual photo contests, starting in late February with the World Press Photo awards and the Pictures of the Year International awards, leading up to the Pulitzers, the ICP Infinity Awards, the Overseas Press Club awards, and probably several more that I'm forgetting. Actually, there are so many photo contests and grant competitions, big and small, that it's become a year-round job to keep track of them. I'm beginning to think that there are so many photo contests, and so many that feel a bit self-serving, that the idea of entering and winning one is getting diminished. Which brings me to the subject of this post: I propose a photo tournament pitting the winners of all sorts of contests against each other in order to name a single image (and/or photo story) of the year. Really. Imagine it.

The idea occurred to me when I saw a sampling of the winners of the first-annual World's Rarest Birds international photo competition. The photo below, of New Zealand's kakapoo (not to be confused with this non-endangered animal), won first place in the "Critically Endangered or Extinct in the Wild" category. The kakapoo is a large, flightless bird with obvious star quality, and I hope this picture, and the award it won, help bring attention to its precarious hold on existence.

The New Zealand kakapoo rocks this winning photo by Shane McInnes
 So, I asked myself, how could we make the World's Rarest Birds international photo contest much better known? The answer: An NCAA-type photo contest playoff series. Pit the winners of various contests against each other, with brackets organized by genre--nature, photojournalism, travel, fashion, and on and on. Simple. You could also add a super-elimination final round, in which the winners of the various brackets faced off against each other. I know, I've judged lots of contests, and nobody enjoys comparing apples and oranges, but think of the excitement of naming the Best Photograph of the Year.

Excitement, and clairty, are the points here. There's not enough of either with all the contests nowadays. For instance: The same news pictures are entered into all the big photojournalism contests, and in one contest a certain picture may win a first prize, while in another it may come in third. We are left to determine for ourselves whether the shot is the best or not. Kind of like college football used to be before the Bowl Championship Series.

Seriously, wouldn't you want to see the winner of the POYI spot news award face off with the winner of the World Press Photo spot news category in a single tournament?

Peter Lakatos, MIT took first place for spot news in the World Press Photo contest with this shot of a suicide jump in Budapest, Hungary on May 22, 2010

Athit Perawongmetha won the Picture of the Year International spot news (general division) award with this photo of an anti-government protester in Bangkok.
 Or the winner of the POYI portrait series (general division) vs. the winner of the World Press Photo's People in the News category?

Palani Mohan (Reportage Getty) won POYI's first place, portrait series (general division) with this shot.

Flood victims in Pakistan were the subject of this photo, part of a series by Daniel Berehulak (Getty Images) that won first prize in World Press Photo's People in the News category.
 Now just imagine adding the Pulitzers into the mix. Or the Visa pour I'Image Visa d'Or winner. Don't worry, there will still be plenty for fans to argue about: As any college basketball fan can tell you, tournaments are all about the brackets. Think of all the photo contests on the bubble who don't qualify for the Photo Contest Playoff Series each year. Oh, the outrage! At any rate, if I were running something like the Lucie Awards, whose winners always seem to be arrived at rather mysteriously, I would jump at the idea of running a tournament-style competition. Hey, bring in the pep bands and supermodels if you's all good. 

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