Mar 19, 2013

Photo Contests: Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride

Last week I stumbled over an award. Bam. Right there in the Photography Masters Cup Winners Gallery ran my picture of Marquesan kids playing on the freighter-passenger ship Aranui's mooring line.

Strange, right? I mean, don't most competitions notify honorees? Granted, my entry only landed a nomination – finalist status – but contests generally like to spread the word. So I hit the web... and soon wished I'd done this due diligence before the $30 entry fee, instead of absent-mindedly firing off an 11th-hour entry at a colleague's prompting.

This scheme, also known as The International Color Awards, showcases some very fine art. The problem lies with the jury, according to photographers like Chere Pafford, a second-prize winner who followed her Spidey Sense into double-checking the judge list. Fox, Getty, Vogue, Eastman Kodak, National Geographic: many of the august names legitimizing this contest had never heard of the darn thing.

Pafford flagged the issue and asked for her money back. The cup stripped her award and boosted a finalist into second (not third) place.

The American Society of Media Photographers received a similar report, and others are starting to echo around the internet.

I've contact Creative Director Basil O'Brien for a refund of my entry fees, since the awards didn't, ahem, run as advertised. I could write off the $30 as a learning experience: a reminder to dig deep, just like the one I preach at my journalism students almost weekly. But society has enough predators circling content-creators right now. Here's hoping that the Color Awards – and their sibling Spider Awards – find a way to clean up and fly straight.

Coda: Three months later, after repeated emails that somehow went astray, Director Michelle Hill refunded my entry fee and took down my art. She did not address my concerns about the site listing judges who were unaware of the contest. 

"We promote the greatest photography through the awards program and hold our relationship with the photographers and judging panel in the highest regard," she wrote. "This synergy ensures the reputation of the program and is why jury members and photographers return year after year."
Hakahau, Ua Pou – kids play on the mooring line of the Aranui 3, a freighter-passenger vessel that serves the world's most remote inhabited archipelago: the Marquesas, French Polynesia, May 2011. Image copyright

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