What a week it has been. Filled with hatred, lies, half-truths, and the ugly under-belly of our photography community showing itself through one of the most disgusting displays of internet trolling. To date, I have been threatened to have my building burned down, reported to the IRS, among a host of other things – this seems reasonable to you? As a community? If so, you have lost context and perspective of the situation. These threats are not a debate or a difference of opinion – they are trolling plain and simple. Healthy debate is awesome when armed with facts vs rumor and half-truths. We should all be able to agree to that.
If you are part of pushing half-truths and outright lies to drive traffic to your site and create other salacious headlines – you might not be the one starting the fire, but you are sure as hell providing the gasoline and matches.
Contrary to popular belief (one poster called me a “total douche bag and to get a real job”) I do have a real job and employees to get back to. My hope, silly as it may be, is to once again put the truth out there and dispel the blatant lies and half truths being propagated over and over again. I realize that no matter what I do – ignorance and trolling will continue, but for the people who know me or want the truth – to me it’s important they hear it from the source vs wondering. To those continuously pushing half-truths or false narratives – stop engaging in this. It is truly despicable. Anyone in our industry seeing it – put a stop to it. This is well beyond a difference of opinion at this point.
Yes, there was a competition and yes, we won and placed in it. That’s where this story begins.
If you are a photographer, you know how bitter and jealous our industry can be. Anyone who even remotely shows success becomes a target. Many of you have probably experienced this on some level. Local photographer cliques, old guard, and just overall catty behavior. Well, in my market, it’s no different.
A local photographer, who will remain nameless because there is no point dragging him through this at this point, started a reddit thread and started negativity on my wall. He then admitted and said what I already knew in a private message to me… “I impulsively made the comment out of jealousy and anger. I appreciate your offer for help…”
I forgave him for doing it with a simple apology and I also offered to help him get his business where he wanted it. I offered this expecting nothing in return. Unfortunately, at this point, the ball was already set in motion.
So, let’s do some fact checking.
Did you get him fired? No. No I did not. Why would I get him fired and then offer to help him? He has already publicly stated I did not get him fired. I wish him nothing but good will at this point.
Did you speak to his boss? His boss and wife are 7 year friends of mine. So, yes, I spoke to them and asked them if they supported or believed in the things being said and lied about. They said absolutely not. Said they were sick over it. And that was the end of the conversation. Why wouldn’t I call someone I know for 7 years?
It has also been mentioned that I am unapologetic. That is also true. I find it hard to apologize for something that either a) did not happen or b) is not wrong. More on that in my final thoughts.
Here is the most interesting thing about the entire “scandal”. Most, if not all, of the people outraged and posting negative and/or false comments – were not involved in the conference or competition in any way. Don’t you think that’s odd? That the people actually entering and at the conference are not outraged – when they are the ones paying money? Yet, this simple question has not stopped the troll community from spewing hatred. Again, we have long passed healthy debate. Debate is one thing – burning my building down? That’s a whole other level.
In fact, since this began, we polled our ShutterFest community – and of the 368 people who responded – a very loud 89% want me to continue to enter. It’s not even close. 89% want me to continue to enter stating things like, and I am paraphrasing – “we want the best of the best to enter and we want to win knowing we had the best competition possible.” or “if you don’t enter and support your own competition, it signals you think you are too good for it. If that’s the case, why should I as a photographer enter?”
There were 369 photographers who entered a total of 1154 entries. We asked point blank and stated clearly – “…whatever is decided here… is what will be!”
Mind you, I understand both sides to the argument, but one thing we should all agree to – if the people entering the competition aren’t outraged, why is it ok for a bunch of outsiders with no information to start a riot. If you don’t agree, then don’t enter. It should be that simple.
So, lets get into this a little more.
This is a competition. Not a “contest” and not a “raffle”. In those scenarios – yes, it is very common for a clause for employees or management to not enter because of the cash prizes being offered to the winners. That is not the case here.
Like other industry competitions, WPPI and PPA alike – major industry organizations – they encourage their judges, the chairs, the people being paid to run it, their community and their management teams to all be part of the competition and certification process. Competition is about getting your work critiqued by industry leaders and using that critique to better yourself and your work. It is also part of pursuing certification and continuing education offered by the organization.
When I realized that the people who entered are not outraged and want to see us continue to enter – I also realized – that’s because they understand how this works. It became clear in all the random comments that most people don’t understand it. So high level – here is how a typical competition works.
Images were scored by a panel of 4 independent judges in a room with a chairperson in each room. Images are split across 4 different rooms and different categories. 20 judges / chairs in all.
The images are then shown and judged blindly – meaning – no logo, no one knows the maker of the image, and no judge can see what the other judge is scoring. The final score is not announced until all the scores are in. This is a very important point of distinction – if scores are outside a 10 point range from highest to lowest – there is an automatic challenge issued and the image has to be discussed and re-scored. Meaning – no one person can sway the score of an image.
All judging is done in public with an audience in the room watching. “Rigging” the competition which has been reported is impossible. The judges and chairs are a balance of photographers, creatives, certified judges, etc. None of which would risk their reputation to rig a competition for one person. The implication is far fetched at best and is why you don’t see people who work in the competition areas coming out and saying this is possible. There is also no real reason to rig a competition – winning an undeserved trophy seems like an odd motivator. Again, I repeat there were no cash prizes and prize distribution is listed below.
Judges recuse themselves if an image pops up that they a) know the maker (this could be their image or an image of a photographer they know) and or b) can’t score fairly or unbiased.
Also worth noting, I was personally NOT involved in any of the judging. These were in open rooms with access to our 2k attendees. It has been reported multiple times by both judges and attendees who were present – I was not involved. I removed myself from the entire judging process to ensure there was no impropriety at all. This is also something conveniently left out by blog sites and posts alike.
Also, keep in mind, this is a competition, its about getting critique from your peers and making your work better. Winning, placing, etc – is always secondary to anyone entering them.
What about the prizes? Don’t you see an ethical issue? No. I do not. There were no cash prizes – again, contrary to what has been put out there. Were there prizes? Yes. Sponsors donated prizes. And as you can see, I took no prizes – only placed in the competition tied to my score on those images. Those prizes that I would have won – were passed along to the other winners and people who placed. I would agree – that if I took prizes or cash – that would be not only unethical, but extremely sketchy. However, that is not the case. (Prize list and distribution below)
Ok, but do you think it’s unethical for you to enter a competition you own? Again, the answer is no and here is why. This is not about “ethics”. No money or prizes were received. This is common practice in competition and has been for years and years. This is not a new idea from us. WPPI and PPA among other major organizations, all work the same way. They encourage their leadership, their judges, their chairs, their management to all enter and support the competition and certification because again, this is a competition – tied to certifications, critique, and continuous improvement. What message would any of these organizations be sending to their communities if their own people were not certified or pursuing those certifications offered? What message would they be sending if their leadership and judges were not entering the very competitions or categories they were judging?
Here are the rules for wppi – https://www.wppiawards.com/rules.shtml
Here are the rules for ppa – https://www.ppa.com/competitions/content.cfm?ItemNumber=8816&RDtoken=5338
As you can see, they do not limit entrants – this is open competition tied to certifications, critique, etc. The ShutterFest competition is run the same way. In addition, ShutterFest will be moving to a certification level as well. It is a new competition (3 years old) and we are building the foundation for certification year after year.
Here is possibly another way to think about this. When you enter a competition, you want the judges and chairs to be industry leaders. If your industry leaders don’t have the certification being offered by the governing body- the feedback would be, “well if the leaders don’t have this certification and they are leaders – why do I need to pursue it?” If industry leaders can’t achieve certification levels because of a perceived conflict of interest, then they won’t judge and this becomes a very chicken and egg conversation.
What we have found is that once this is explained to people, the next part of the debate gravitates towards, well that’s different – they don’t “own” it. You own it. Yes, true, but I offer an alternative view.
It is still a competition nonetheless. It is still tied to critique. It is still tied to certification. Those baseline facts don’t change. In fact, I would make the argument that if you truly believe there is a conflict – with the details all listed above on how blind judging works and how all competitions deal with any potential conflict, then perhaps the conversation should shift to – if anyone involved in the competition at any level – management, the board, owner, judges, chairs, support staff, etc – should be allowed to enter at all? I would make the argument that there is more potential conflict with a judge or chair sitting in a room where their image will be scored than there is for senior management or an owner who is not involved in the competition management or judging at all. Again, remember, judging is blind and when a judge can’t give a fair score – because they know the maker or its their image – they recuse themselves from scoring that image. This happens in almost all major competitions.
Did you profit from this competition? This is also something being misreported. No. Absolutely not. (not that a profit would change my position on this) In fact, the competition lost over $6k. $6k that I had to personally fund because of my belief and support of competition and certification. WPPI and many other organizations lose money on their competitions every single year. This is a known fact. They are very expensive to conduct. Here is the reality, it’s a math equation. You can’t pay 20 judges, meals, hotel, travel, 4 ballroom rentals at a hotel, computer rentals, staffing, audio/visual expenses and the host of other miscellaneous expenses and believe there will be a major profit off of 369 people with a total of 1154 entries. (I had previously misstated that number before having all the details from my team.)
So, then why have the competition at all? Because just like all major organizations, we believe that competition and critique is healthy and imperative to growth as an artist and photographer. We believe that by increasing a photographer’s skill level they will be able to find more success and make more money. Competition and the critique that comes from it is truly a life-long process. No matter your skill level. It is about continuous improvement. It is why I personally enter as many major competitions as I can every year – it has led to my own growth as a photographer and artist. I will continue to enter and chase certifications if that means I will continue to improve. I encourage others to do the same. As a photographer, we should all enter competitions and pursue those certifications and critiques.
In conclusion, I hope you can see and believe there is no scandal here. No impropriety. No theft. No collusion. Again, our own audience and the paid entrants – overwhelmingly want us to continue to enter. While, I believe in open and healthy debate, what I don’t believe in are the threats being made and outright lies being propagated. This has proven to be a giant game of whack-a-mole for us with threads popping up all over without contextual information that is creating the feeding frenzy. Again, knowing the facts, these attacks should be disturbing to others regardless of how you feel about me personally. While, I realize some of my previous responses were extremely brash and very aggressive – it’s hard to respond gently when you are being cornered and threatened with outright lies. I come from a place where when someone is swinging at you – you swing back. I will take that as a lesson learned for areas of my own self improvement moving forward. Please realize this and ask yourself what you would do? I hope none of you ever have to find out. This is not an organization with a PR team to spin damage control – attacks are coming fast and furious at me personally. My response, however harsh, was in response to personal attacks and threats. Anyone saying that they would respond with calm and kindness when someone is threatening your safety, burning your building, writing horrible comments on your client images, reporting you to the IRS – if that’s you – you are a better person than I am. Again, I will take that as a point of personal improvement moving forward.
Also worth noting, many of these sites and blogs you read and follow – had the factual information before pushing their stories, yet chose to leave these facts out knowing it would lead to massive shares and comments. That should be concerning to everyone who looks to them for information. They spoke with the judges from the competition who gave very clear statements – they interviewed people who entered and were ok with it, but that didn’t match their narrative – so they left it out to create more traction, comments, shares, engagement, etc. In many cases, they either misquoted or left out key contextual information to support their own narrative. And yes, I do have 100% proof of that, as I was sent the actual emails that were sent to the news sites. In addition, I also sent information to these sites that was conveniently left out of the articles for reasons still unknown.
I have no ill will towards anyone. My only hope is that the people spreading the half-truths and lies stop. That people in this community seeing the lies – put an end to it. And if there is truly a debate or concern to be had about how competition works in general – start a healthy one and engage all the leading organizations. That is how change begins.
Thank you for your time.