Musings on Photography

photo ‘contests’

Posted in the art world by Paul Butzi on March 2, 2008


It seems to be that time of year again – I’m getting non-stop solicitations to enter various photo ‘contests’ and ‘juried shows’. These things seem to have become lots more popular over the past few years, perhaps because now they can do submissions online rather than having to send in prints.

The most recent one has been pinging me weekly for the last three weeks. It seems to be fairly typical – the entry fee is $25 for the first image, $10 for additional entries. This one is a bit unusual in that there’s no limit to how many images you can send it, as long as you pay the marginal rate of $10 for each additional image. The prizes run as follows:

$1,000 1st Place Award
$ 800 2nd Place Award
$ 600 3rd Place Award
$ 400 4th Place Award
$ 200 (11) Honorable Mention Awards

That totals up to $5k in prizes. In addition to prizes, entrants are promised a tremendous amount of exposure if their images are selected for the show, free copies of the catalog, etc. etc. etc. The show is hung in a gallery for four weeks.

I never know whether these things are scams. If you figure that they get, say, 300 people and an average of 3 images submitted, that works out to $13.5k. 300 people is probably the low side, especially for an enterprise that’s taking submissions online and spamming the world with application email. If you figure they get 3000 submissions, three images per submission, all of a sudden you’re talking $135k.

The costs to run such a show seem low. The big cost is probably printing the catalog, although if the display space is ritzy, it could be pretty expensive. The problem, of course, is that I have no real way to know if the show is legit or a scam. There’s text in there about how famous and qualified the jurors are, but I’ve no real way to check those credentials. On the internet, it’s pretty easy to set up enough references so that someone appears famous.

Anyway, I’m sure these shows run the gamut from perfectly legitimate and significant all the way down to simple ripoffs. Scams on the net are knee deep, of course, and it’s all caveat emptor. I’ve got no particular reason to suspect the one currently exhorting me to apply, but still…

One problem I see is that I’m not sure exactly what I’d get out of being in such a show. I show my work in small, local venues, where I suppose it pretty much gets ignored – my reasons for doing at least one show a year have more to do with motivation and self-set goals than any dream of fame or riches. In fact, my feelings about doing shows have always (except for the very first two or three) been decidedly mixed. They take up time, they burn up money, and afterwards I almost always feel like it’s been a waste of time, effort, and resources. And then a year later, I find myself looking forward to it again. As I said, mixed minds.

But these shows in far away places, where I submit jpgs along with 5,000 other ambitious photographers, and some weary juror sits down for three days and flicks through the images, one image every two seconds – what would I get from participation in such process? I’ve paid $45 for someone to gaze at three of my photos for a total of ten seconds before moving on? Can you imagine how eye-weary you’d be while jurying such a show? In order to get through the huge number of images submitted, you have to crank through the images taking only seconds per image. I’ve seen the initial pass done, back when submissions were slides. They’d stuff all the slides into the projector, and then flip through them, taking perhaps 5 seconds per image. If the image doesn’t grab the juror in that five seconds, it’s ‘click’ and on to the next image. Great images are passed over just because they’re too ‘quiet’ to grab attention in five seconds, especially when competing against the ‘wowser’ images. There’s no room for subtlety, nor for images that take more than 5 seconds to ‘read’. They just plow through the whole shebang, 12 images a minute, 720 images an hour.

And then you have to look at the resulting show from the other side. Suppose you’re someone interested in discovering the next big new talent. Do you go to such a show, knowing how the selection process works? I mean, if you’re looking for wowser images for calendars or something, I suppose it would be interesting. The particular announcement I have before me brangs of 20,000 people attending theshow, a number which frankly I find a little preposterous. If you figure the show space is open 8 hours a day six days a week during the four week run, that would be a total of 192 hours, which works out to 100+ people coming through the door per hour, consistently and constantly across the course of the show. One person every 35 seconds, in fact. That seems a bit of a stretch, although perhaps it’s true.

Bottom line for me: not interested. Not the kind of exposure I want. Expenses seem high. Rewards seem low. Sets my scam-alert detector to ringing.

2 Responses

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  1. Doug Stockdale said, on March 3, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Appears that you have been getting the ‘Art of Photography’ emails as well. As the exhibit is down the road from me in San Diego and some local friends were juried in last year, its the real deal. I passed on it for another reason, we are remodeling the house and no place to store the framed print if it did not sell, and regretfully, the odds are that it would not sell.

  2. Mark said, on March 8, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    I entered and was accepted last year. It was a huge waste of money. My 20″x30″ image was printed and matted out to 30″x40″ and looked great. I even went out for the show. The “gallery” at the Lyceum Theatre is nothing more than the lobby. My image was hung in the alcove to the men’s room. I was so disappointed I took my catalog and left before I grabbed my image and removed it from the wall. If you want your image o hang in a real gallery with white walls and gallery lighting than this is the show you should AVOID. By the way the “catalog” was of the type of quality of a game program at a professional sporting event stapled together with glossy pages. The Juror Neal Benezera also cancelled at the last minute and was not at the opening to meet more than 50 artists that showed up.

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