The Old Order Changeth

Meeting Report

Swans Taking OffWe were pleased to welcome Mike Davison ARPS, an ex-member of our club, to judge the final round of this season’s competitions. We had open subject PIs preceded by prints with the set subject “Abstract”.

This is a surprisingly difficult set subject to pin down – Mike’s approach was to deduct marks if he could recognise the original subject of the photograph. He was helped in this by the titles some had given to the entries.  If the title is “Anemone” then that’s what the subject is and it’s a floral picture, not an abstract. Likewise “Abstract Landscape” is a landscape, not an abstract, whichever order the words appear in the title. The trick is to make the title as abstract as the photograph – a cryptic approach with a bit of lateral thought may be in order. But there again is the title important in awarding marks in a photography competition? Told you it is a surprisingly difficult set subject!

Enough navel gazing. The set subject was a success and Mike had many kind words to say about the pictures in general particularly with regard to print quality. He emphasised the need for the “wow factor” in pictures such as these and in many cases the usual criteria of sharpness, highlights etc. would be subsidiary to visual effect. Such apparent heresy may be a little difficult to accept in a photography competition.

Nine prints were held back for further appraisal although Mike emphasised that this was not a guarantee of the highest marks. In addition 4 entries received 18 on first inspection. Sarah Beard’s “Contours” was in fact a subject many of us will have taken but her entry was distinguished by fortuitous light and a 90 degree rotation from reality. Janet Brown’s “Refraction” was praised for originality but fell short in the absolute symmetry it needed for higher marks. Janet also received 18 for “Winter Trees”  but note the title trap. My “Less than, greater than” also received 18 – an example of how to disguise very ordinary subject matter. Norman Kirby also received 18 for “Ripples”.

Of the holdbacks Ray Foxlee received 18 for “Steely Reflections” where Mike deliberated the role of the highlight spots in this unusual picture. 19 went to Martin Tomes’ “Going Up” noteworthy for its formal geometry and muted colours. Daisy Kane’s “Weathering Patterns” also received 19 as did Di Walker’s “Dancers”.

So the coveted 20’s – first to Norman Kirby’s “Colour, Shapes and Texture” – a truly abstract picture with the title similar. Next to Kevin Harwood’s “Volcanic Spiral” – a stunning picture the subject of which is still a mystery to me! Liz Barber’s “Seascape Abstract” also gained the maximum – a serene picture excellently presented with a very sympathetic light grey mount.

Finally Sarah Beard’s “Pulling the Wool” gained 20. From my position half way down the hall I couldn’t see why. At the break though close inspection explained immediately. The print was positively three dimensional, wonderfully coloured and truly abstract – a print well worthy of its score and the accolade “Best of the Night” – very well done Sarah.

Neither set subject this season has been without its difficulties of interpretation though. Perhaps we should ask the judge of set subjects for initial, overall thoughts on his/her interpretation of the brief well in advance of entry submission. Controversial I appreciate but it is unsatisfactory to have photographs severely marked down because they don’t match a rigid, narrow self-imposed brief of the judge – even though the entries may be high in photographic quality but their content is a more “left field” but still a relevant interpretation of the subject.

We were freed from such considerations with the open subject PI section. In a chat with Mike after both sets of judging he said he didn’t think the quality of the entries overall in the PIs matched those of the prints although the best PI entries were very good. Take from this what you will.

Five PIs were held back for reappraisal but on the first pass several 18s were awarded. Anne Nagle was awarded 18 for a lovely flower picture “LIsianthus” and similarly in the pink was Derek Grieve’s close up “Flamingo Resting”, another 18. In complete contrast was David Seddon’s 18 “Street Life” an apt title for a gritty photograph – unusually “made” by the inclusion of an secondary out of focus face in the background.

David also scored 19 for “Run Down” – a picture all too familiar to those of us who took the “One Picture, Many Interpretations” challenge at the last meeting. Mike would have cropped the picture square losing some of the weathered timber – but it hadn’t occurred to him to introduce a donkey!

I received 19 for “Winter Driving” a mark received with several health and safety warnings! This was a photograph which I wish I’d used for the “Speed” set subject but didn’t because I knew of another member’s similar effort on that night. Such gentlemanly conduct sometimes doesn’t pay!

Two 20’s were awarded – firstly to Kevin Harwood for “Buller’s Albatross” – a picture I fancy was not taken at Pulborough Wild Brooks. Very atmospheric and the shot being made by the contrast between the bird’s face and its wing. Some discussion about whether another bird above the horizon line should have been removed – but this is a nature shot and strictly speaking such editing is not allowed.

I’m sure none of us with hold backs really expected any result other than a 20 and the “Best of Night”. For Anne Nagle’s “Swans Taking off” .The stars aligned for this photograph. Right place – an uninterrupted view of a stretch of river with a very suitable neutral background. Right time – the swans being of a mind to take to the air in a group. But how many such shots have we seen, or taken, when one bird in the group lets the side down with a drooping wing or whatever. Not in this shot – a perfect juxtaposition of the 4 birds - and made by Anne’s usual skill with the camera. Anne – get that shot in for “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” – your reporter, at least, thinks it’s that good.

So 2 stunning winners and some very welcome new names on the leader board – very well done Kevin and Sarah – and watch out the rest of us! A good evening, some good photography but some other points to mull over.

PS I’ve had to write this from memory, scant notes and the score lists on the website. Sorry if I’ve left anyone out, got it wrong, or, even more sorry, just can’t bring your picture to my mind’s eye – happy to correct if necessary.