“The influence of COVID-19 on creativity was unavoidable, and so much of the work was born from the restrictions of lockdowns—self-portraits, interior shots and many other incredible examples of creative problem-solving,” says juror Frances Cooke. “It was heartwarming to see photographers pushing through the challenges of the past year to create some stunning images.”
As the global economy weakened this last year, so did the market for commissioned work. Subsequently, we saw a decline in commercial submissions and an increase in personal work.
“I wasn’t surprised that the Unpublished and Self-Promotion categories saw a rise in winning entries—personal work often feels the most inspired, and inspiring,” juror Carla Delgado says. “The circumstances that we found ourselves forced into facilitated a quality of work amongst the entries that was profound, and that we as reviewers could connect with on a personal level.”
“Pandemic portraits were a new theme that I quite enjoyed,” says juror Adreinne Waheed.
“I felt like I saw a lot and responded well towards quieter work—work that seemed more contemplative, maybe a little darker, a little more abstract,” juror Quentin Nardi says. “I feel like this was definitely due to the photographers channeling all that 2020 brought to us during this last year.”
“The work was less and less about the world around us, and much more focused on the world within. A fascinating by- product of the times we are in,” says Cooke.
“It was no surprise that the pandemic was a significant theme, but the variety of ways in which it was interpreted and captured was moving,” Delgado says. “From the joyful absurdity of a baby in a foosball table to the expressions of family members looking through nursing home windows, there was at times a personal connection felt with the pictures and a profound relatability to the photographers that made them.
“One recurring theme that shares some abstract symbolism with the pandemic was the Joshua tree. Native to the Mojave Desert and seemingly growing six feet apart, this subject feels like a poignant metaphor for the effects of the pandemic. It was interesting to see different photographers’ interpretations of the same subject.”
“I saw a lot of work from and about BIPOC experiences, which was encouraging. Hopefully that trend towards diversity continues,” says juror Jason van Bruggen. “Advertising in particular has been a fairly ethnically homogenous industry for far too long. There were some encouraging conversations and evolutions this year, but there is a long road ahead to what will hopefully be an inclusive and representative future.”
I asked the jurors what most surprised them about this year’s submissions.
“I was surprised how well the photographers captured the world we currently live in,” juror Tanja Adams says.
“I was surprised by the amount of heavy equipment photos—trucks, etcetera—that were entered,” says juror Rick English. “I didn’t know that was such a large niche. I was also surprised at the small amount of mediocre work entered.”
“I was pleasantly surprised with the strength of the cinematography entries,” juror Nick Galac says.
“I was surprised by the superb quality of the student work,” says Waheed. “There were so many great student entries in both still and video. I was very impressed!”
I asked the jurors to share their biggest disappointments with the entries.
“I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, but there was a lot of work around the recurring themes of 2020: COVID, isolation, quarantine, racial justice, protest and our divided country. None of these are easy topics to cover,” says Nardi. “I was looking for the work that stood out, compelled, surprised and challenged my perceptions of these incredible events. A lot of work seemed to say the same thing. I was looking for those that successfully executed an alternative narrative.”
“I would have liked to see some more boundary-pushing, surprising work of a higher quality,” van Bruggen says. “Even if it isn’t quite where it needs to be, I would hope that people keep entering work that is not safe in these competitions. There is so much work out there these days—things start to feel similar and familiar very easily.”
“Of the winning entries, I think I counted less than a third of them from female photographers,” says Delgado. “I would love to see the photography industry—and the creative field in general—have more female representation. As a part of the small percentage of female creative directors, I’m hopeful that we’re moving in the right direction, but progress has been slow.”
“My biggest disappointment was that there weren’t stronger images from the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests,” Waheed says. “I attended and photographed over 50 protests, so that made me wish I had submitted my work.”
Lastly, I asked the jurors where they thought the field of photography is going.
“Explorations within the medium and a further blurring of the line between still and motion,” says Galac.
“With a camera on every phone, and photography being one of the strongest languages of social media, it feels like photography as an art form will continue to become more and more accessible,” Cooke says. “Its influence as a storytelling medium at this moment in time only gets stronger.”
“Everyone is a photographer these days, and that is undermining the revenue model for many of us,” says van Bruggen. “The notion of apprenticeship is getting lost in the age of self-publication. Quality control has become very much a matter of personal taste, and while this is liberating to some extent, I don’t see that as entirely a good thing. There is still value in having gatekeepers and arbitrators for what is good and what is not. I think we all have a responsibility to keep the standard of published work high and ensure that the distinction between professional and amateur is maintained for everyone’s benefit, including the people who consume both art and advertising. I’m of two minds as to where things are headed—either it will be a free-for-all, or the pendulum will swing in the other direction.”
“I feel that commercial photography is as strong as ever and there has been no reduction in the need for high-quality photography,” English says. “I think the continuing momentum of tech will only add to this.”
“I’m happy to say that I think the field of photography is here to stay,” says Adams. “Even in a world where everything is moving quickly and people are saying it’s a dying form of media, photography has found a place that is appreciated for its skill set.”
“The field of photography is limitless,” Waheed says. “Photographers have so many resources at their fingertips, whether still, moving, digital or film images—the sky’s the limit for visual artists! Photography as a trade and as an art form will always be a neces- sary tool to help push societies forward by being a marker of the past and allowing us to dream of—and create—the future.”
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 62nd Photography Annual. —Patrick Coyne ca
Tanja Adams is a founding partner of Another Production, a female-owned creative production company that collab-orates with brands and agencies to deliver high-quality stills and film content while driving and championing diversity behind the lens. Adams was born and schooled in Windhoek, Namibia, after which she studied marketing in Cape Town, South Africa. In 1997, she moved to the United Kingdom to continue her career in advertising before starting Another Production with Helen Parker in 2002. They are also co-creators of Equal Lens, a not-for-profit organization established in 2019 to champion the work of women and nonbinary photographers.
Frances Cooke is a senior art director at Clemenger BBDO in Wellington, New Zealand. Using creativity to help change Kiwi lives for the better, Cooke has created some of New Zealand’s most memorable campaigns. Recently, she turned wearing a seatbelt into an act of pride for Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency; helped Kiwis fight racism with the NZ Human Rights Commission; and has also been part of the team encouraging New Zealand to Unite Against COVID-19. She has consistently ranked as one of New Zealand’s top creatives, with her work being recognized across award shows including the Cannes Lions, Effies, New York Festivals and Spikes.
Carla Delgado is the founder and creative director of Austin, Texas–based Page 33 Studio, specializing in editorial design, brand identity and information graphics. Prior to founding Page 33, Delgado was an associate partner at Pentagram, where she collaborated regularly with renowned photographers on editorial assignments. Dedicated to collab-orating with purpose-driven organizations, her client list includes American Forests, the World Wildlife Fund and The 19th. Her work has been recognized by numerous organizations including Communication Arts, Graphis and the Society of Publication Designers. She holds a BFA in design from the University of Texas at Austin.
Rick English opened his first studio in Palo Alto, California, in 1985 after earning a degree in visual design from the University of California, Berkeley. Apple was English’s first major client. English’s book AppleDesign, published by Graphis and written by Paul Kunkel, chronicles the history of design at Apple. In 2011, English shot and edited a full-length documentary, Preventing Genocide, with Dr. David Hamburg and Eric Hamburg. It is based on interviews with 28 world leaders including Kofi Annan and Desmond Tutu. Since 2017, English has been chair and professor of photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Nick Galac is a senior photo editor at ESPN. A native of Detroit, Michigan, Galac started his career as an intern at Marie Claire UK. He has spent fifteen years in sports photography at vertical and pansport titles, including five years as associate photo editor at Runner's World. Over the past decade at ESPN, Galac has specialized in creatively producing premium photography for digital content, features, key art, galleries, covers and ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue. Galac has received numerous awards for his photo editing work. He received a BSFA from Valparaiso University, where he studied photography, design and painting.
Quentin Nardi is chief photo editor for Smithsonian magazine. A photo editor and director professional with 20 years of national magazine and editorial photo editing experience in both print and digital platforms, Nardi strives to foster and create engagement that coalesces editorial and brand consistency, thereby positively affecting staff efficiency and increasing organic web traffic. Prior to Smithsonian, Nardi spent nine years as a photo editor for Ski magazine and as director of photography for AARP, where she helped to redefine the visual direction of AARP The Magazine. Nardi earned a BFA in photography from the University of New Mexico.
Ford Oelman has led brand creative and design for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles for nine years. Early on, he fell for movies and was fortunate to get his foot in the door at New Line Cinema and Warner Brothers, where he cut his teeth in feature film development and marketing. He then hustled his way into becoming an independent producer. As a creative director, his work has been recognized by the Clios, Communication Arts, D&AD, Graphis, HOW, Print, Promax and the Webbys. The former bartender and phlebotomist holds degrees from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Pepperdine University, Hamilton College and Phillips Academy.
Bill Sosin is known around Chicago for his skills in various aspects of book publishing, printing and graphic design. A fine art photographer himself, Sosin has collaborated with the best practitioners and curators in the field, including Douglas Busch, Catherine Edelman, Marc Hauser, Dave Jordano, Jim Krantz and Sandro Miller. He art directed and designed Dennis Manarchy’s retrospective En Passant, Peter Elliott’s Park Life: The Summer of 1977 at Comiskey Park and James Caulfield’s The Space Within: Inside Great Chicago Buildings. Sosin’s fine art photography has been widely exhibited and featured in Communication Arts’ Photography Annual and Photo District News.
Jason van Bruggen is a Dutch Canadian photographer and filmmaker. He has worked in more than 100 countries, including some of the most remote locations on the planet. In addition to numerous editorial publications and commercial work for some of the world’s leading brands, van Bruggen’s work as a visual artist has been profiled by National Geographic and Outside. He has received awards from the Advertising & Design Club of Canada, Applied Arts, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, Communication Arts, Photo District News and Shoot. His work has aired on BBC, CBC, CBS, PBS and SRF 1. He is also a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
Adreinne Waheed is a visual artist based in Brooklyn, New York, and Berkeley, California. Waheed is an accomplished photo editor who, during her 20-year career, has researched, produced and directed photo shoots for publications including Vibe, King and Essence. Her photography has been published by British Vogue, de Volkskrant, i-D, National Geographic, the New York Times and Photo District News. In 2010, she created the Waheed Photo Archive, a collection of found photographs of African Americans. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture acquired the archive in 2015. Her book, Black Joy and Resistance, was released in December 2018.