Canteen magazine is holding our second photography contest because of our general disdain for photography contests. They tend to be opaque affairs that stifle dialogue—the winners are chosen, no one quite knows why, and 99% of the participants are left without their entrance fee or an explanation. The real winners are the organizations1  that run and profit exorbitantly from them.

We are trying to do something different. Namely, treat our participants as partners. We aim to be fully transparent about the entire selection process, placing the judges’ criteria, biases, and disagreements on full, naked display. The result, we hope, will be an honest and provocative conversation about photography.

via L E N S C R A T C H.

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  1. Will make a change for sure. Just look at PDN. Neilson has realized just how much money they can make from competitions. One every issue now. So devalued.

  2. With social media, there’s an ongoing, relentless 24×7 “contest” by judges around the globe. So yeah, these side contests where you have to pay money are becoming devalued and irrelevant–why would your audience (or future audience) care what judges they’ve never heard of think?

  3. Want to start a photography contest that benefits photographers… Don’t do one. And if you’re already doing one, stop.

  4. And it’s also clear the next big money maker are “portfolio reviews”. Those are becoming a dime a dozen now and the photographers “best interests” are an after thought.

  5. Jeff–contests are still a good way for us unknown photographers to take a shot at getting some exposure and credibility. The problem is the cost, and the idea that all of these things are somehow fixed. Good for Canteen for trying to troubleshoot these issues. The medium itself–contests–isn’t inherently the problem.

    • What’s that exposure worth when people that matter (I’ll let you decide who that is) stop paying attention due to the over saturation of contests. How many (often mediocre) “winners galleries” can one person look at?

      A few key contests are all we really need. If you’re not getting in those, maybe there’s a reason. Getting in the lowest common denominator contest (not saying that’s what this contest would be, maybe it will be THE ONE) to get “exposure” isn’t going to get you much of it.

  6. it’s a witty idea, the judging-in-front-of-a-live-audience thing they’re doing. hopefully the spectacle of it doesn’t become too american idolesque. either way, it’s not often you get a major museum director to spontaneously share his opinions about art. are you having a bad day, jeff singer?

    • No… Just tired of seeing new contests every day since the only people who really benefit are the people collecting the fees.

  7. Yeah, there are waaaay too many contests out there. But still, it’s good to have something like this pushing back against the rising tide of profit-driven contests. Wish I could attend the live judging part. NYCers have all the fun. Not so much us in Wyoming.

  8. I’m curious: Where does Hey Hot Shot rank on this scale of commendable to despicable contests?

  9. Personally I would say Hey Hot Shot is somewhere in the middle. Bekman does a great job promoting emerging artists and producing print sales where none would otherwise exist. Plus her whole art-for-the-masses thing is a nifty idea. That said, Hey Hot Shot has a high entry fee ($60 I think?) and probably makes a boatload of money for her–straight from photographers to Bekman. I heard 2nd hand that they get about 2,500 entrants–which means $150k revenue. And I think they only give out about 15k in prizes. So, 0 to 10 (0 being despicable, 10 as commendable), I’d give it a 5.

  10. The biggest problem with contests is the opacity. Typically when you enter a contest you might as well just throw your money out the door and not bother. You get nothing in return for your fee. Did you not win because your work sucked or did you not win because you entered a landscape in a portrait contest? No one will ever know. If this contest changes that then what’s not to like? If you pay a reasonable entry fee and in return, no matter what, you get a review of your work it’s totally worth it.

  11. Just too many contests and most seem little more than money making opportunities for the promoters. For me, signs of reputable contests would be 1) limiting the number of entries (per category and in total) to some reasonable number 2) free or very reasonable entry fee 3) if a fee is charged, most of it being used for prize money 4) professionally judged, not viewer votes. 5) clear explanation of why the winners were the best…and yours wasn’t.

  12. College Photographer of the Year just finished their annual judging. There is no fee, granted it is only for college students, and they release podcasts of the judging for each category. It is very transparent in that sense and there’s nothing for participants to lose. Some podcasts are more revealing than others in terms of the “why” and the number entries shown (typically just a final round), but nonetheless you get to hear what the judges say and their reasoning behind it. CPOY has opened doors for countless young, relatively unknown photogs. It’s one example of what I would call a good contest that helps photographers. Competitions serve a purpose, and as photographers we should never shoot with them mind. Shoot what you want and how you want. Contests should be always be taken with a grain of salt, and it is also up to photogs to be selective in the ones they choose to enter. My two cents.

  13. Well, this is probably not the point, but I’m going to promote a contest here : the Lucas Dolega Award

    It’s free, judged by professionnals, and the winner will be granted a 10.000 euros endowment by Nikon, an exhibition, a publication in the Reporters without Borders album and the production of another story by Polka Magazine.

    Sorry if it wasn’t the place to promote it, but as a photojournalist, I’m wary too of contests with high entrance fees and shady processes, where you don’t know in the end if it’s really worth it, especially in terms of exposure.
    Contests and awards aren’t bad, they just have to be fair to the photographers and their work, and good initiatives can happen. This award may not be perfect yet, it’s only the second edition, but it’s created by independant photojournalists, for independant photojournalists.

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