Saturday, June 27, 2009

Best of College Photography

So I got this book in the mail yesterday. I try really hard to remain positive about everything, but at heart, I'm a cynic. When I entered this Photographer's Forum contest I suspected it was probably a ploy to sell books rather than a true "contest," but I thought it would be better to enter and remain hopeful. It seemed likely to me that virtually everyone that entered the contest would be published in the book, thus increasing the number of potential book purchasers. Let's face it, is there really an audience for a book like this beyond the included photographers, their schools (which I know they solicited,) or their friends and family. When I received notification that I was a finalist, I had the same nagging feeling but in the interest of optimism, I pre-ordered a copy of the book anyway.

So, as I said, I got the book yesterday and it sucks to be proven right. This thing is crammed full of images. I'm not counting them all individually, but the book has about 280 pages. The first 16 pages are advertisements. The next 8 include the winning photos, one photo per page. 28 pages of honorable mentions follow, with three to four images on each page. Every page after that has 9 photos on it. A quick calculation comes up with an approximate number of 2086 total photographs. Multiply that by proud parents and school libraries and you've got a respectable number of books sold.

Still, I don't know, maybe 100,000 people entered this contest and they picked out the best 2000. There really are a lot of great shots in it. However, when looking through the book, I got to page 97 and noticed a picture with a date stamp on it. The kind of stamp that a consumer camera automatically puts in the corner of a picture so you can remember the date of your vacation or whatever. My apologies to Julie Wurgler if she reads this, but that photo has no business being in a book purported to represent the best photography of the year. Its a snapshot. The inclusion of that single picture negates everything this book and contest are supposed to be about and strongly suggests that I was correct in assuming that every entrant was included in the book.

I won't go into the quality of the winning photographs. I'll just say this: Since its completion in 2006, Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate, the so-called "bean" of Millenium Park, is almost definitely the most photographed object in Chicago, and very possibly, the entire United States. At present, there are more than 40,000 pictures on Flickr tagged with "cloud gate," and who knows how many tagged with variations of the "bean" nickname. A photographer would have to do something very special to make a picture of the bean a work of art in its own right, rather than just a cliche touristy photo or a document of another artist's work. So far I haven't seen it happen.

On the optimistic side, this contest's entry fee was low, they sent me two issues of their magazine, which I was able to use for cutting up and adding to colleges, and I added a line under the bibliography section on my resume.

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