Photography contests collect hundreds of thousands of entries a year and give out about as much money to a small subset of winners. But when these competitions are judged by renowned photographers – which is expected of any prestigious competition – this industry is small enough that it is mathematically impossible to avoid the possibility of a conflict of interest.
I want to argue that conflicts of interest are impossible to avoid, but how a contest handles them says a lot about how that organization is run and whether you should trust them with your money.
Two separate competitions have dealt with allegations of impropriety over the past month and each has responded to those accusations differently.
The first situation arose in LensCulture and its 2022 Street Photography Awards. One of the judges, Matt Stuart, selected a member of the photo collective he is part of as the winner, Eleonore Simon. This particular prize is the one selected by a single judge for a single photographer, which made his choice hard to believe for some entrants was not influenced by his personal relationship.
Stuart admits he recognized her work in the competition, but maintains he was not preferential to her due to their relationship. In his defense, he makes an interesting point:
“Street photography is a small community, so not knowing the participants personally and their work in street photography contests is next to impossible,” he said. PetaPixel Lisa Marie Segarra in an email.
I agree with him. Even the vast space of photography is a small enough community that judges who engage with that community are very likely to avoid a personal relationship with some of them.
What I disagree with is how this situation was handled. LensCulture ignored repeated requests for comment to explain how the contest’s judging is handled. Basically, the organization put their hands over their ears and closed their eyes and stayed that way until the situation erupted.
Years ago, I spoke with a lawyer about the time a prominent wedding photographer won his own photography contest. This attorney told me that, in line with industry practice, anyone involved in the contest who might even be perceived as unfairly influencing the outcome would question the objectivity and veracity of the contest. While she was talking about a photographer entering a competition he runs, I think the general sentiment still applies to this particular situation.
In short, Stuart should never have put himself in a position where he had to defend even the appearance of an impropriety or, at the very least, the competition should have stepped in to prevent it.
The second situation is very similar, but the way the organization reacted is very different.
A photographer named Clementine Schneidermann has been shortlisted by a jury for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. One of those judges, Sian Davey, has a personal relationship with Schneidermann through their collective, The Emmas.
Contrary to LensCulture’s reaction, a competition representative was quick to respond to PetaPixel asks for comments on the situation and explains that in this case, the judge withdrew from the selection process.
“As per our judging guidelines, which state that any relationship is declared to the President, we can confirm that Sian Davey has acknowledged the work of Clementine Schneidermann (the award is judged on an anonymous basis) and has reported that she knew.” says a spokesperson.
“Sian then withdrew from the discussion on the entry of the photographer. The judging process is a collaborative decision by the panel of five judges who made a majority decision on the shortlist. »
Stepping back from a judgment process based on personal conflict was the right thing to do, and explaining it clearly and openly is also the right decision. While the competition should have made this announcement loud and clear to all entrants when announcing the shortlist, in this case I am willing to say better late than never.
If you are interested in entering a photography contest, many of which require some form of entry fee, I encourage you to go with those who are used to doing and saying the right thing when it comes to conflict. interests.
Although, as I said, I agree with Stuart that getting to know every photographer in a niche space is impossible to avoid and conflicts are inevitable, I think the simple fact to continue as if this conflict can be ignored is the wrong call, sends the wrong message, and leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of others who have entered the contest.
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Picture credits: Header photo by Alex Suprun.