For the third year in a row, I had to privilege of attending some of judging for 75th Picture of the Year international competition. The judgings that I did attend were all really informative about what people in the industry look for in images, but it was somewhat interesting to really understand why those specific judges liked a certain photo story. In the News Division, the judges all seemed to like stories that were more exotic and not ever seen before. I understand that idea of wanting to see something new and awarding that photographer for finding someone no one else had, but I think the judges focused more on the novelty and newsworthiness of stories more than the execution of them. Granted, all the stories in the Features Picture Story category are all wonderful, but sometimes I would wonder why certain stories were chosen over others. For example, the "'Chinese Style' IKEA Ultimate Relaxation" story was a clever idea that none of the judges have probably seen before. But was it executed well enough to stand against the other stories? I don't really know.
The one category that I pretty much followed throughout the entire judging was the Science & Natural History Picture Story. It was fascinating to also watch Sarah Leen take herself out of the judging until the very end of that category and then bring back another story that was eventually awarded an Award of Excellence ("A Zoo's Crisis"). It was just really beautifully done and I'm glad that Sarah spoke up and asked if she could pull it back in. That one small decision allowed that photographer to win an award, and it's really cool of Sarah to take that leap and bring it back in even though the other judges voted it out. I look back on the first place winner of the category ("Slaughterhouse"), and I still feel so much pain from what I see. I think it was the only choice that could have been awarded first place. I really like how it won first place even though we see picture stories about the inhuman treatment of animals at a slaughterhouse, but this one was just so compelling. The first image is just so striking because you can see how distraught and frightened the pigs are by the look in their eyes. The judges took the execution of the images into consideration a lot more than the novelty of the content, which I thought was really great. I think that all of us now are trying to get stuff into our portfolios that is novel and haven't been seen before, but I believe that sometimes, the composition and execution of the photograph is more important than mediocrely photographing someone/something exotic and new.
Overall, it was a great experience watching the judges talk about the stories that were chosen. I think that the winners all deserved their place, and I think that we as photojournalists are continuing to expand the reach of what is actually considered photojournalism. For example, the "Hummingbirds" story that one an Award of Excellence was talked about a lot amongst the judges because it seemed like they were trying to justify it being journalistic work. Although picture stories aren't always journalistic, it seemed like they had trouble reasoning that. Also, I heard them talk about how the photographer had to go all over the country to photograph all these hummingbirds, but I don't know if that took that into consideration. When our class was asking questions, Lynden asked the judges if they take the amount of work the photographer put into the story into consideration. The judges said that they really don't because it doesn't really matter how difficult or easy the story was to create because it's not about their journey it's about their subject. I thought that was super interesting to listen to, however, it's difficult to really not wonder how much a photographer had to go through in order to create stories like "Hummingbirds," so I think that it still influences the judges at least a little bit.