RSS

Tag Archives: Interpretive photography

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
——————
[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.

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Must include an actual animal: AIPP’s APPA (Second of 2 parts)

Lisa Saad – The 2016 AIPP Australian Professional Photographer of the Year

lisasaad_collage

Lisa Saad’s stunning images are the heart of a controversy about ‘real’ photography recently addressed by Rocco Ancora and Peter Eastway.[1]

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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. [4]

category_freedom

How free are photographers to ‘play’ with photos in the 2016 AIPP APPA categories?

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) [2]. 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.”[3]

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.

aipp_appa_category_types_current_assessment_sabrina-caldwell

Current state of ‘photojournalism’ vs ‘open’ nature of APPA categories

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:

aipp_appa_category_types_proposed_assessment_sabrina-caldwell

What about making room for both types of photography in more categories?

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.

Assessment data (comments welcome) appa_2016_category_illustrative_freedom_assessments_sabrina_caldwell

References
———
[1] These images are thumbnail illustrations of Lisa Saad’s much larger images available at the APPA website located at  http://www.aippappa.com. They are used in keeping with ‘fair use’ provisions of copyright for research. Request for permission to use larger versions of the images is pending.
[2] http://www.aippappa.com/appa-2016/landscape-2016 Accessed 23/12/2016
[3] http://www.aippappa.com/appa-2016/pet-animal-2016 Accessed 23/12/2016
[4] http://www.aippappa.com/appa-2016/science-wildlife-wild-places-2016 Accessed 23/12/2016.  Note that the Science sub category requirements, particularly the astrophotography sub-clause are not represented at present in the worksheet or graphs pending working out the complicated nuances of these rules.
 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,