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2017 AIPP APPAs: The reality pendulum swings – but in what direction? (Part 2 of 2: Reality Rules)

2017 Australian Institute of Professional Photography
Australian Professional Photography Awards

(Also see Part 1: Category Changes .)

In 2016 current APPA Chairman Rocco Ancora emphasised that the requirements for competition entries to be ‘real’ or illustrative vary between award categories, and that this reflects different types of professional photography common in the real world. This is apparently a two-way street, because the 2016 dissension in the professional photography community over Lisa Saad’s highly photoartistic winning portfolio prompted the APPA committee to undertake a broad review of the rules for 2017, to see how faithful a real world reflection the award categories really were.  

The resulting changes, being as they were prompted by a refreshing dissatisfaction with the infiltration of photoart into photography, were an irresistible draw for my inquisitorial eye for preserving the photographical perspective in a world overrun by fantasy and fiction.

Overall, there are some positive changes for those of us who value the representative nature of photography, but the rule changes have introduced some issues as well.

 

The verdict: award organisers are beginning to say “Less digital art and more photography, please.”

In many ways the reshaped rules implemented for 2017 is part real change and part ‘awareness raising’ encouraging photographers to be more like photographers and less like digital artists.  Some of the more significant changes such as attribution requirements, and identifying the postproduction team are as much about the entrants as the entries.

However, requirements for protographic proofs to be available for all elements in all categories is a very strong message indeed.  Further, the overall effect of the new rules on the degree of illustrative freedom across all the categories is noticeable.  In the chart below you can see that the degree of illustrative freedom has been pulled back in almost every subcategory this year with the new rules, and the two newly introduced subcategories expect significant restraint.

category_freedom_2017

In most cases, there is more photographic rigour in the APPAs this year

Why is this good? It is good for two important reasons. 

First and most importantly, it influences the Australian photographic community to value the ‘real’ in their photograph, which means the photographic record is more indicative of our real world.  Don’t forget that people form opinions and take decisions based on the information in images they see; if that information is faulty, then their opinions and decisions might be too. 

Secondly, and important for the continuance of photography, it halts the helter-skelter rush towards turning this special science-based method into little more than another digital art form.

The highlights

More dual categories distinguish between the real and the faux

In my 2016 review I noted that the ‘photojournalistic’ and ‘open’ Wedding category was a good idea and could be rolled out to more categories.  I am very pleased to see that this distinction has been applied to two more categories: Portrait and Landscape.  Hopefully this trend will continue. Having photoart and photographs represented separately within a category makes it clear whether the photo reflects the real moments of the event, or an artistic impression of it.

Category recombinations recognise real vs faux

The categories themselves are expressing ideas of real vs faux. Combining Commercial, Advertising and Fashion into an overall Commercial category consolidates the more photoartistic work of Australia’s professional photographers; combining Documentary, Birth and Sport into an overall Documentary category consolidates the notion of the photograph as representing reality.

Cleaner, stricter categories

A lot of rule confusion has been sorted out. The new approach is based on a core set of rules that are consistent across the categories, augmented with specific rules and exceptions for each category.  This is much easier to understand and maintain.

Happily, this also creates a more rigourous photographic base upon which all of the awards rest: images must be 100% photographic in origin, 100% created by the photographer, photographic proofs must be available, and purchasable photos, backgrounds, skies, borders and textures are prohibited.

Casting a wider net in recognising art contributions

Entrants are now called upon to acknowledge the larger creative context of their images: they “MUST acknowledge the printer, retoucher and/or other creative contributors.” [1] This will further tease out how post-production expertise plays a part in the entry.
Furthermore, any decorative elements like borders and textures must be photos, not digital art.

The lowlights

Conventional photography demoted and misaligned

For me, the one misstep in the rule revisions is combining Illustrative and Analog and Historical Process together into an Illustrative category.  Analog and Historical Process photography is unique amongst the APPA Awards and deserving of its own place.  These types of photographic processes are steeped in chemical and light science, and backed by centuries of tradition. They are vitally connected with the objects they represent in a completely different way to digital imaging and simply do not belong in a category with digital images.

Moreover, choosing to merge this category with the Illustrative category fuses some of the most authentic photographic forms available to photographers with one of the most inauthentic.  The APPA committee should really rethink this move, which will muddy photographic waters, and dishearten the photographers struggling to keep these important techniques alive in a digital world.  The problems with this change are further exacerbated by the fact that the Analog and Historical Process photography is hidden under the single word category title “Illustrative”; alternative and historical process photographers could be forgiven for assuming there is no category for them at all.

Core rules specification

The new core rules are a great step in streamlining the rule structure, but new ambiguities have been introduced.  For example, it was less clear whether borders, textures and backgrounds were generally acceptable or not.  The idea of 3D image techniques seems to have completely exited the rules so it is unknown whether they are allowed or not (though to be honest I couldn’t figure out what that meant anyway given these awards are about static images).   There are also still some duplications of rule profiles that could be solved in the core rules.

In conclusion…

I believe the awards committee is doing a tremendous job.  From what I can see they are experienced, thoughtful, and earnest.  They are introducing change gently and in a considered way, with lots of consultation along the way.

Hopefully this discourse is not at an end.  Tony Hewitt commented in his advice regarding category changes that “It’s important that you understand that while we consider all ideas, not everything is going to be taken on board and implemented straight away.” [2]  So perhaps the changes we see now are simply the first step in steering the Australian photographic community away from the ‘photography as massive digital art productions’ precipice.  We’ll see.

I can think of a range of improvements the committee might decide to implement in future, but if I were to name only one on my wish list it would be that the Alternative and Historical Process category is urgently extracted from the Illustrative category and returned to its rightful place as a unique and to-be-encouraged aspect of Australia’s vibrant photographic community.  

I will watch with great interest how the 2017 changes impact on this year’s APPA entries and outcomes, and how the awards committee and Australian photographers embrace this opportunity to cement the relationship between the photographic craft and the real world, and build solidarity within the photographic community.  Because, as I will explore in future posts, big challenges are on the horizon for photographers, against which the notions of reality, representation and truth will be our biggest strength.

 

 

2017 Australian Institute of Professional Photography
Australian Professional Photography Awards

Entries open: 10 July 2017
Entries Close: 10 August 2017
Judging event dates: 25-27 August 2017
Venue: Melbourne Olympic Park Function Centre

References
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[1] 2017 Entry Rules & Information: The 41st AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards.  p.3
[2] A message from Tony Hewitt APPA Chair and Awards Team Manager https://vimeo.com/200337227 Accessed 31/3/17.

 

 

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