2018 Australian Professional Photography Awards
Well, it was a rush, that's for sure.
Even knowing that art is subjective and you can never really know which way things will go, 2018 APPA certainly threw out some curveballs!
Each year the Australian Institue of Professional Photography hosts a national photography competition called the APPAs. It is one of the awesome parts of being part of this community, a time where we can all celebrate photographic excellence and really help build our bonds as peers.
I was entering four images into the Family category which was being judged in the morning of day three of the photography event.
3 of my images were re-entered with slight adjustments after receiving good scores at the Queensland state awards earlier this year and one, the cross stitch image, had been heavily re-worked following some major feedback I received at the state awards.
I had been desperate to head to Melbourne to experience the awards in person, but as they fell on the same day as my daughters 6th birthday I chose to stay home with my family, as they mean the world to me and I couldn't bear to miss my little girls birthday.
So there I was, camped out on the couch at 8am Monday morning a pile of nerves waiting for the category to begin. There were two rooms of judging happening simultaneously so I had my laptop watching one room, my iPad linked to the tv watching the other room, my phone in my hand for the moral support of friends who I knew were watching live in the rooms in Melbourne.
The images are judged firstly on technical abilities such as focus, colour grading, composition, balancing light and shade, and then on creativity, originality, conceptual story-telling, and lastly, for my category in particular, family connection and emotional communication.
Five judges each review the print as it is presented then submit their score into the system, the average of the five scores is the final score for the print. The general ranges are 75-79 high professional practice, 80-84 Silver, 85-89 Silver Distinction, 90-94 Gold, 95-100 Gold Distinction.
The judging got underway and it was hard. Images that I would have expected to get awards were not. Soon enough my first image came up. This is the beautiful Hines family, celebrating ten years of marriage with a special photoshoot carrying out daily chores in their wedding attire. Their full blog post is linked below and its gorgeous, you should check it out next. This image shows how despite the daily grind of work and chores and mortgages they are still just as in love as they were as newly weds. I particularly love the kids cute drawings on the wall on the right.
The scores came in, it had received 77, high professional practice but no award.
Next up was my cross stitch image. This is a piece I am very proud of. This is the McErlean family (well you would know that soon enough) and the mother in this family had mentioned how she had just finished her first cross stitch since having kids and joked that she was so proud of it that she wanted to put it on the wall. And my mind went DING! Lets do a family cross stitch for the wall! The first incarnation of this image was entered into the QLD state awards where it received a silver award but the judges mentioned how they felt they were just reading "Home Sweet Home" every time they looked at it. So I re-did the image with the family made out of cross stitches.
I held my breath. The judging had been so hard. It might not...
89!!! It had scored an 89 in the first flush of judgment! I was being discussed as going into the gold range when my ink blot image came up in the next room.
This is a somewhat controversial image for a number of reasons now. It received a gold award at our QLD state awards earlier this year and as a result I felt it would be foolish not to enter this into APPA. In case you are having trouble seeing this image, look at the opposite. This is the lovely Janfada-Witt family, but the first thing most people see is the bat, or a bird. But when you flip your minds eye you will see the family in there, a mum, dad and baby Kaia with her little toes curled up into the frame.
This time around, the image was not well received by the judges at all. Some couldnt see the family members, some felt it wasn't original or creative. One judge scored it 63. My initial thought was that they had hit the wrong button and meant to put an 8 not a 6.
There was a moment of confusion in the room. Murmers and rumblings that something had gone wrong. Oh! Thank goodness, they will fix the score up.
But no. It was intentional. It was an automatic challenge in the negative which almost never happens.
So while in one judging room my cross stitch image settled at 91 points and was receiving a Gold award and the highest score in the category, in the next room I was simultaneously receiving (around) the lowest score in the category for my inkblot image that had got Gold at state level.
It was crazy. Intense. Bizarre. I had no idea what was even happening as I was trying to hear two different conversations about my work, one highly positive and one highly negative.
The discussion ended. The final score was 75 and the judges chair had a moment of reprimand where they reminded the judges that each image should be judged on its own merit and not be compared to other works.
So despite the enormous success of my cross stitch image, with two of my entries not getting awarded and with a score as low as 75, I was likely out of contention for family category finalist.
I had one image left in the bag but now it was morning tea time. The judges took a one hour break.
I had time on my hands and nerves in my belly and outrage and tears of anger and elation. My heart had been thumping through my chest, my legs were jelly and my hands were tingly and semi-numb. I felt like I would throw up.
So I poured a coffee and ran some numbers. My final image would need to be a silver award to even be contender for category finalist, but even then it would rely on other people getting scores worse than mine.
Eventually we were back in action and my final image of the day came up. The Mandala. An image of the O'Brien family that I personally love. A mandala is a symbol of eternity, as is a family. The recurring pattern and concentric circles representing the blood line that has lived for centuries and will into the future. The centre of the parents shows love hearts and spinning the circle on its axis brought the kissing parents into the shape of an X, like a big kiss. Its graphical and bright, dripping in symbolism and I love it.
Thankfully the judges did too. It was well received with a silver award of 81. It was enough to just scrape into contention for Family Photographer of the Year, but I found out the next night that at least four other portfolios had outshone mine this year.
When all the dust had settled, I had 4 big successes:
I received a Silver award, a Gold award, the highest scoring print in the category and my Associate level of professional photography in the AIPP.
I would like to thank the wonderful families that were featured in my images, without your support of my "crazy creative idea - just go with me on this" mentality I wouldn't be able to produce artworks such as these.
To my wonderful friend Selena for her guidance pre-APPA, for listening to me freak out in that hour long break, and icing my bruised ego when things didnt go as hoped. She is also the one who encouraged me to start my award journey only last year, so thank you for bringing this chaos into my life! I think.
To my husband Travis, thank you for always standing by with ice cream and hugs through the good times and the bad, for giving your opinion on my artworks (requested or not) and just being a bloody good guy who I love with all my heart. And of course to my girls who spent the afternoon playing charades and laughing with me in the post-adrenaline hangover of the whole experience.
My family really, truly is the place I draw my strength from and re-charge. Reset. Rejuvenate. They mean so much to me, which is why I love photographing other families too.
So that is my awards wrap for this year, see you in 2019 state awards with some more crazy concepts!