Up front I’ll say that I’m not a huge fan of photo contests. Anything that purports to demonstrate that one persons art is ‘better’ than another persons art is fraught with difficulty. Once one reaches a certain level of technical ability and can execute an idea then saying that image A is ‘better’ than image B is largely nonsense. They are different. You may like one better than another but that doesn’t make one better than the other. Yet, the whole premise of photo contests is that a small group of people can select the one ‘best’ image and even conclude which is second or third best. There simply isn’t any objective way to do this. The judges are just expressing a preference. Change the judges or the day or the weather or whatever and you’ll change the results. Not unlike contentious referendums.
That’s not to say there are not bad photographs, surely there are. These however are typically the output of weak skills and a good concept or good skills and a weak concept. Maybe both.
The other side of this is of course the never ending pursuit of ‘likes’ on social media where it’s perfectly possible for the most generic snapshot image to gather a huge number of likes while really interesting images can languish. Mostly because, I think, that format doesn’t often lend itself to people really taking the time to look and think carefully about an image. See pretty picture of famous landmark, hit like, and move on to the next hundred images. This format seems to encourage photographing the obvious in obvious ways, of meeting peoples current expectations instead of making people think.
If art is about sparking creativity, then is this pursuit of ‘likes’, art? Is trying to make a pleasing image so contest judges will pick your image, art?
Questions to ponder.
P.S. The image above is the only one I've ever entered in a photo contest. It won first place. When I put the same image on my flickr account it got one (!) like. Go figure.