Are Print Competitions Worth It? with Melody Smith
2014. I will never forget that year. I was in a place with my work where I did not know how to move forward. My friends and colleagues at the time could no longer offer me advice other than “this is amazing.” But deep down I knew I was not there. I had seen amazing work. I needed—as my good friends Luke and David Edmonson have stated—refinement. This little term changed my entire body of work in the course of seven years of WPPI and PPA/IPC print competition. In that first year I entered three photos with the help and support of my best friend and colleague, Jennifer Brindley. My first image judged was in the premier category. I was a wreck! My heart was beating so loud I was sure the entire silent room could hear it and identify me as the maker. Then the whole room erupted in cheers as my scores came across as GOLD. My life in that moment was forever changed and of course my soul screamed with validation. Then the conversation on the image began (every image entered receives verbal love feedback) and one of the best photgraphers in the world walked in the room and saw me crying in the back like a lunatic. I can still hear him in my head, “Was that your image!? Beautiful work.” He hugged me and I took home my first trophy of second place.
The following years I sat for countless hours in these rooms for judging. Hours upon hours. They began to know my face as I moved from the back row to the front row behind the judges to see what they saw, to be involved. Some do not see the privilege that takes place in those rooms. The hours spent looking at wonderful images, seeing vulnerability, and watching stories be told in a few moments. But for me, this has been the greatest learning experience and joy of my life. There have been years I have not done so well. In the last seven years, I have earned over 70 accolades and 14 placements with WPPI and PPA/IPC. I choose these print competitions because they honor the greatest of craftsmanship. When sitting in these rooms watching judging take place, I have learned the greatest, most important tools to express my visual voice. Technical abilities only get you so far and I am only slightly a technical photographer. Images MUST speak.