Lisa Saad – The 2016 AIPP Australian Professional Photographer of the Year
APPA category rules as a reflection of real world professional photography
In discussing the role of illustration and reality in the Australian Professional Photographers Awards, current APPA Chairman Rocco Ancora emphasised to past APPA Chairman Peter Eastway that the requirements for photograph entries to be ‘real’ or illustrative varied between the categories, and that the categories were meant to reflect different types of professional photography common in the real world.
Based on this assertion, the types and the rules associated with the 18 APPA awards might be considered to provide a multi-faceted looking glass, reflecting the state of professional photography today. To that end I analysed all 18 categories against the various elements of manipulation allowed or not allowed in the categories.
19 measures in the rules that can be said to impact upon the nature of images
I was quite surprised to find so many different measures that came into play across the categories; my list of 19 measures is as follows:
- explanatory caption required/not required
- single capture required/not required
- combining elements from different image captures allowed/not allowed
- explicit statement “It has to be real!”
- proof files may be requested/ will not be requested
- 100% photographic in origin required/not required
- non-photographic elements allowed/not allowed
- staging allowed/not allowed
- adjustments allowed/not allowed
- dodging/burning allowed/not allowed
- cropping allowed/not allowed
- retouching allowed/not allowed
- cloning allowed/not allowed
- erasing allowed/not allowed
- textures/texture layers allowed/not allowed
- borders allowed/not allowed
- backgrounds allowed/not allowed
- converting to b&w allowed/not allowed
- 3D allowed/not allowed
I gave these measures different scores depending on how much I felt that they impacted on the illustrative vs representative nature of the final image.
APPA category profile on the reality / art continnuum
These 19 possible measures for 18 different categories required 342 separate assessments, and I was left with a lot of data (Excel file provided below) and some question as to how to see into it. At length it occurred to me that, much like wines have flavour profiles, each category had its own representation/art profile. I settled on presenting the category profiles in a similar fashion, with measures and intents substituting for flavours and aromas.
In the graphs presented in the gallery below, each of the 19 representative vs illustrative measures have been converted so that they express the illustrative freedom allowed in each of the 18 categories. This means that a category with a reality/art profile covering a small area and closely adhering to the center of the graph is one where the role of representational photography is more greatly valued. By contrast, where the area of a profile is large and approaches the outer edges of the graph, the illustrative values of photographs in this category are more highly prized.
Reality / Illustrative ‘profile’ of each category of the APPAs
As you can see there are some reality/art profiles that are common to more than one category. The profiles for Advertising, Commercial, Album and Photography Book are identical, and Landscape varies from them in only one aspect (must be 100% photographic in origin rather than simply substantially photographic in origin). Another profile is repeated across the Newborn, Family and Pet/Animal categories. Portrait and Illustrative share the same profile. The remaining 8 categories have unique profiles, usually stricter. 
The chart above shows the different levels of freedom to ‘tinker’ with original images based on their total score in my assessment data. It makes it clear that post-processing is a highly desirable addition in most of the categories. At the same time, there is a smaller subset in which post-processing is unwelcome.
Explicit permissions that I find particularly notable are that ‘head swaps’ are permitted for the newborns and family categories. Also, the rules for the Landscape category state that “Photographs must depict the natural or human/urban environment, but may be interpretative (in other words, they need not be literal images of a scene) . This means that APPA winners could be photos of a newborn with swapped heads, or landscape photos of places that don’t exist. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry that it seemed necessary to comment in the Pet/Animal category rules that the photograph “must include an actual animal.”
However, to be honest, I’m rather proud that Australia’s Professional Photography Awards are tackling this problem, even if it isn’t obvious, and even if there is a need for more rigour in the methodology. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s have a look at the way the current and previous APPA Chairpersons and organisers have corralled different types of professional photography.
In a landscape such as this, the overall winner for the year will more often than not come from the pool of highly post-processed images just by dint of proportions: there are almost double the number of illustrative categories. Lisa Saad’s win is consistent with this strategy.
Despite this emphasis on interpretative/illustrative photography, the categories as they currently stand demonstrate a lot of sincere and experienced thinking across the realm of professional photographic process.
Yet, one thing really struck me as I looked at the rules: the two sub-categories for Wedding. I think this is an important variation of perspective in the APPAs. For the Wedding category, though there can be only one overall category winner, AIPP has made a distinction between representative and illustrative Wedding professional photography. For me, this is a hint as to a sensible way to distinguish between representative photography and photo art.
Representative photography can co-exist in harmony with illustrative photographic art
There are categories which will almost always be illustrative photographic art (advertising and commercial), and ones which will almost always be representative photographs (documentary and science), but there are many categories in which both approaches are valid for different purposes. Perhaps a good way to conceptualise the solution to the controversy around photography as science (representation of the real world) vs art (evocative of the emotion and ideals of a moment in time), is to look at the awards as a set of categories aligned with photoart, photojournalism or both. Something like this perhaps:
In addition to being more balanced and providing new opportunities and greater clarity for participants and the general public as to the nature of competition submissions and winners, it rationalises the no-doubt difficult to maintain sets of disparate rules. In this methodology, illustrative categories could be all assigned to the one ‘open’ profile, and representational categories could all be assigned to one ‘photojournalistic’ category, with both types available to the categories where both types make sense. The representative / illustrative profiles could thus be rationalised to only a few, which would remove confusion and doubt. Any remaining exceptions that truly represented a distinct difference could then be included.
What do you think?
Now, you may have a different point of view on the reality/art aspects I defined based on the various APPA category rules provided, or perhaps you feel that the measures I assigned are too fine-grained or not fine-grained enough. Or you may disagree with my assessments. Or you may feel the categories are just fine as they are, thank you. Or you may be one of the people who wonders how we retain our sense of photography as representative of the real world, when post-processing is seriously softening the idea of reality in photography. However you feel, your opinion is valid and valued. Please let me know what you think, because this is very much an open question and the more we can discuss it, the closer we can come to thoroughly describing the landscape of photo credibility within the larger framework of photography as a versatile science and artform that serves many purposes in society.
Thank you Anthony Brown for bringing the Rocco Ancora / Peter Eastway interview to my attention. It has been an enlightening journey to consider their words and the rules of the categories and how all this rich information sits within the framework of my research. Much obliged.