There were a few surprises: a strong showing in the Editorial and For Sale categories, and a significant decline in the number of entries selected in the Advertising and Institutional categories. And while the pandemic may have reduced the number of entries, it didn’t suppress the enthusiasm of our judges.
“There were so many beautifully crafted images, not just in highly art-directed commercial commissions, but in the more documentary and art categories too,” says juror Jason Baron.
“Seeing the broad spectrum of journalistic approaches to social issues, where the photographer plays the role of an ‘auteur,’ was refreshing for me,” juror Ayşe Bali says. “Advertising photography nowadays needs more of this visual authenticity and less polished images.”
“There were plenty of entries that grabbed my attention because the photography was superlative, or the idea being expressed was brilliant, or both,” says juror Marc Gafen. “For me, entries that showed considerable thought, flawless execution, great use of humor or a combination of the above were most effective at grabbing my attention.”
“The photography landscape is so cluttered these days—everyone’s a photographer now, right?—that it’s difficult for a single image to cut through,” juror Cameron Gibb says. “The images that achieved that did so not through technical excellence—although many of the images were technically very good—but through a distinct personality, and often quirkiness, of the shot.”
Juror Dilip Vishwamitra Bhatia was especially impressed with the Student entries. “Technique and the final images aside, the words and thoughts were very intense, different and bold, which augurs well for the future,” he says.
When I asked the jurors about the creative trends they noticed among the entries, their comments ranged from positive to negative.
“It was great to see some abstract experimental work with a focus on in-camera and analog techniques,” says juror Mark Zibert. “I didn’t necessarily love all of it, but I appreciate the approach.”
“I was especially impressed with the range of beautiful portraiture represented,” juror Amy Ditchman says. “I saw a lot of subtle, gorgeous lighting—both in-studio and on location.
“I was also struck by the work already revealing the empty spaces left by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she adds. “It will be interesting to see how photographers continue to capture this strange and lonely time.”
“I was a bit surprised about the repetition of certain themes and styles,” says Gibb. “I guess you could align that with what’s considered fashionable, but there were quite a few entries with crop-harvesting themes, re-creation of old Dutch master painters and color blocking with Dadaesque still-life compositions. That said, some of these images were beautifully executed.”
“There were a lot of overlapping entries with many familiar and tired subjects,” Zibert says, “specifically motorcycles, steel workers and moody farming imagery, all with strikingly similar aesthetics.”
I asked the jurors to share their biggest disappointments with the entries.
“There was an oversaturation of classical portrait photography, mostly black-and-white, lacking a fresh point of view,” says Bali.
“Some of the entries submitted as a series were let down by one or two weaker images,” Gafen says.
“There were not as many impressive entries in the Advertising category as I expected,” says Ditchman. “This could be a reflection of advertising spending in general—a trend away from print and OOH, with clients spending more money on short-form content that can be produced quickly and cheaply in-house, but can sometimes lack the craft we’ve grown to appreciate.”
“As much as I love authentic and spontaneous photography, I think we’re so heavily bombarded with this type of imagery,” Zibert says.
“I was hoping to see more images with a great concept or storytelling that brought out the various issues facing mankind today. In that sense, I was disappointed,” says Bhatia.
“The lack of originality in entries aimed at raising awareness for good causes such as homelessness, sexuality, etcetera,” Gibb says. “Don’t get me wrong, these are valid and very important causes, but they all blended in a bit.”
“I miss levity in photography,” says Baron. “In these troubled times, everyone seems to want to highlight a topic or theme that is profound or worthy or prophetic. Sometimes humor can say so much more, and I felt—as I have in many other competitions recently—that this was lacking. I love irony in photographs—juxtapositions that subtly tell the story better than the main idea or focus of the shot. I didn’t see much of that happening really. This could just be my wry and cynical European sentiments showing themselves.”
Lastly, I asked the jurors where they thought the field of photography is going.
“I think it’s going where it always has, actually,” Baron says. “Photographers are either looking for the ‘moment,’ in terms of chronicling a time and place in history, or crafting the atmosphere. It’s hard to achieve both without looking inauthentic these days. Because the quality of cameras is so extraordinary, even the quickly grabbed moment can look as if it’s been overthought and over-produced. Photographers need to carefully think about what is going to make them seem as authentic as possible.”
“We have to find that unique thing in us,” says Bhatia. “Find something close to your heart and express it in a way not seen before, or at least tell it in your own way. Keep at it passionately and it will come! Even if it does not, you will have lived well pursuing such an intimate relation with life.”
Bali sees a different future. “It’s time to accept that traditional photography is becoming a niche,” she says. “CGI technology has replaced product shots, drone operators have replaced landscape imagery, etcetera. We’ve witnessed a revolution that was not led by the photography industry but by telephone engineers. With new technology, photography will continue to evolve even more rapidly, with phones offering new apps, slicker camera effects and augmented reality experiences. In the near future, it will be impossible for the human eye to tell the difference between a real photograph and an image generated by artificial intelligence.”
Gibb counters, “The craft of creating beautiful, clever images with a strong concept, interesting composition and great lighting is still an art form, especially if you are working to a brief where the results need to reflect specific aspects of a theme. Then luck gets taken out of the equation, and is replaced by skill.”
“In the world we all now find ourselves living in, the challenges for working professionals right now are massive, and the old ways of running a business can’t be relied on,” Gafen says. “Business acumen along with highly creative ways to run one’s business are crucial for survival.”
“As a visual communicator, you have a powerful tool for spreading good and highlighting injustice in the world, and you should use it whenever you can in order to do so,” says Gibb. “A picture is still worth a thousand words.”
A minimum of seven out of ten votes was required for a project to be awarded in this year’s competition. Judges were not permitted to vote on projects with which they were directly involved; I voted in their stead. I would like to extend our grateful appreciation to our jurors for their conscientious efforts in selecting our 61st Photography Annual. —Patrick Coyne ca
Ayşe Bali is creative director and cofounder of Rafineri, which has grown to be one of the largest and most awarded independent agencies in Turkey. Bali started her career as an art director, working for BBDO and Saatchi & Saatchi before cofounding Rafineri in 2001. In just its second year, Rafineri was the first Turkish agency awarded with a Cannes Lion. Along with more than 300 national awards, Rafineri has won in most major international award shows. Bali has represented Turkey as a press jury member at Cannes and eurobest and has been named to such lists as “10 Most Promising Turks under 40,” “Top 50 Creative Turks” and “Women to Watch” by the Turkish press.
Jason Baron is creative director of photography at BBC Creative, responsible for promotional photography across all BBC content. Around 20 years ago, he found himself in the photography department at Channel 4 after several years as an actor, moving to the BBC a few years later. He’s commissioned and art directed photography for everything from shiny-floor game shows to gritty dramas and documentaries. He’s collaborated with some of the world’s top photographers, recently working with Martin Parr on BBC One’s Oneness idents, and judged the Student category for the Sony World Photography Awards in 2019.
Dilip Vishwamitra Bhatia is an alumni of the Brooks Institute of Photography. Upon graduation, he went directly to Playboy Studio West in Los Angeles to work for Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine. After several years, he set up an advertising and celebrity portraiture studio in Mumbai, India, shooting thousands of campaigns including posters for more than 100 Bollywood films. Also a passionate fine art photographer, with more than 30 international awards and more than 40 nominations, Bhatia was named Photographer of the Year in 2011 by PX3 and was twice short-listed for the Hasselblad Masters Award.
Amy Ditchman is currently senior vice president/group creative director at FCB Chicago. She is a creative leader, mentor and maker with more than 20 years of experience building brands and experiences. Formerly, Ditchman held creative leadership positions at top agencies in both New York and Chicago, including BBDO, Digitas, JWT, Saatchi & Saatchi and SapientRazorfish. She has worked on a wide array of global brands, and her work has received recognition at many global award shows, including the Art Directors Club, Cannes, the Clios, D&AD, the London International Awards, The One Show, the Webbys and more.
Marc Gafen is the editor of Capture magazine, the go-to publication for Australia’s emerging and professional photographers. Gafen started writing for Capture in 2003 while working as an assistant for some of Sydney’s best-known advertising photographers. In 2007, while juggling a career as a professional photographer running his own studio, Firefly Photography, with his work as a regular freelance features contributor to Capture, he was invited to take on the role of editor. Highly respected for its informative and inspirational content, Capture also runs its Australasia’s Top Emerging Photographers contest, now in its twelfth year.
Cameron Gibb is design director at Blackwell & Ruth, an internationally award-winning creator of books, films and exhibitions that is based in Auckland, New Zealand. During a career spanning 30 years, Gibb has designed numerous books, exhibitions and multimedia projects for many of the world’s leading photographers, including Tim Flach, Albert Watson and Andrew Zuckerman, and individuals including the late Nelson Mandela and archbishop Desmond Tutu. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his work, including multiple Communication Arts awards and several Publishers Association of New Zealand Book Design Awards, for which he has also served as a convening judge.
Lisa Lewis is an award-winning creative director with decades of experience in editorial design. She spent much of her career as art director at Los Angeles magazine. Lewis’s passion for storytelling, photography and typography has shaped her career. Her studio, Lisa Lewis Design Collective, works with major companies and institutions and specializes in strategy-based communication in the travel, wellness, culture, fashion and luxury industries. She is also currently art directing books and video projects. Lewis has a BFA in communication design, cum laude, from the University of Michigan. She is a Kundalini yogi living and raising her two daughters in Los Angeles.
Janet Michaud is the creative director of Janet Michaud Design, consulting with clients on design, storytelling, branding and strategy. Previously, she was the creative director at Politico, where she launched the magazine and led the newsroom’s visuals team. Before Politico, she was the design director at The Washington Post, where she built and coached a revitalized team of visual storytellers as well as redesigned the newspaper and magazine. Michaud has received numerous awards for Politico’s design, photography, illustration and graphics, including an American Society of Magazine Editors nomination for general excellence in its first year and an Ellie for feature photography.
Christine Ramage is the vice president of photography for AMC Networks—which includes AMC, IFC, SundanceTV and BBC America—where she photo directs all marketing shoots for key art and gallery for all original programming. She also helped establish a new photographic brand identity by hiring new photographers and expanding the creative range of assets. Prior to AMC, Ramage worked for People magazine for 21 years in numerous photo editor positions before becoming deputy director of photography and multimedia in 2015. Previously, Ramage was deputy photo editor for Woman’s World magazine. She has a BFA in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Mark Zibert is a photographer, director and cinematographer based in Toronto, Canada. His first major opportunity, at the age of 23, was a national campaign for Nike. Since that successful project, Zibert has worked with both editorial and advertising agencies on a global level for brands and organizations like adidas, Apple, The Hospital for Sick Children, Life, Nike, Right To Play and Samsung. For many years, Zibert has been traveling to Africa to shoot documentary work for various nongovernmental organizations working to improve the lives of refugees, former child combatants and young people with, at risk from or orphaned by HIV/AIDS.