I am thankful to my mentor Ian English for alerting me to the Photographic Society of America (PSA)’s Portfolio Distinction Program. It’s a different journey to that of achieving Star Ratings through competing in international exhibitions for the Recognition of Photographic Achievements (ROPA). This program is focused on education, challenging you to collate a cohesive body of work with images that might be more arty and less traditional compared to those that succeed in PSA competitions. There are three levels in the Distinction Program — Bronze (BPSA), Silver (SPSA) & Gold (GPSA) — with an increasing level of difficulty, each step requiring 10, 15 and 20 images. In addition, you must also submit a Title, a Statement of Intent, and an Overview Image.
In between the Covid lockdowns of 2021, I was fortunate to travel to Lake Tyers, Victoria to join a Wanderlust Imagery photo workshop run by Timothy and Robin Moon. The workshop was focused on drone photography — an opportunity to try my hand at aerial photography. Drones were even provided for those of us who didn’t have one!
It was my first go at creating abstract imagery. I had always struggled to understand abstract art so during the lockdowns, I did an online workshop with Mieke Boynton — one of Australia’s leading aerial abstract photographers. Abstract art often does not relate to an external reality but rather seeks to stand independently, using elements like colour, texture, shape, and form. You wouldn’t find a horizon in an abstract photograph, but the image would draw you in because of the way your eye might interpret the shapes and colours.
Humans have a propensity to look for shapes and patterns in the world around them — the rabbit in the moon or angels in clouds are examples of this. The challenge in abstract photography is to create an image that makes people ‘see’ something from real life or to feel an emotion so they can engage with your creation. I fell in love with abstract aerial photography. The images that I created were so different to anything I had shot previously and because they were connected by a common thread, lent themselves well to being part of a cohesive whole.
Finding your why, is the first part of putting a good portfolio together. Once you do, your Title and Statement of Intent will follow. The statement of intent captures your vision, purpose and objective and your portfolio must support it. While there is a limit of 75 words, PSA state that the shorter the better! Here are mine:
Title: Impressions of a Salt Lake
Statement of Intent: It is the intent of this portfolio to demonstrate the abstract patterns of Lake Tyrrell in Victoria, Australia, as viewed from above. I wanted to lose myself here and capture this other-worldly landscape, a spiritual place for the indigenous Boorong people of Australia. On the surface it appears to be a parched landscape but when viewed from above, the colours and textures caused by wind and rain is a sight to behold.
Choosing your Images
The next step in the process is to put a cohesive set of images together. Images that are connected by colour, tone and format while still being individually unique. It is a hard process and might mean you have to leave out a favourite in the interest of the whole.
The Overview Image
Compiling the Overview Image was the hardest step in the process. This is the first image that the 5 assessors see, and it must be approved by at least 3 or more assessors to continue. There was a lot of information on the PSA website, and this should be your first port of call. I read that the most common reasons for failing are technical ,and include not controlling highlight and shadow detail as well as artefacts like sensor dust. Another problem is not dealing with distractions. The judges will be looking for consistency, balance, and symmetry in tone and composition. I tried several arrangements before I settled on the final. I was ecstatic when I received an email earlier this year to say I had achieved my BPSA.
I hope that by sharing a little of my experience, it might inspire a few of you to give this a go. While these images have not won awards in either a PSA or FIAP sanctioned competition, I have been very successful in other national and international competitions including achieving a Top 20 and Top 30 finish in the Aerial category of Australian Photography Magazine’s Australian Photographer of the Year and a Silver medal at NZIPP Asia Pacific Photo Awards.
I wonder then if you ’see’ anything in these abstract images I have created or if they resonate with you in some other way? By dabbling in Abstract Photography, I learnt that Abstract Art isn’t meant to be understood. It’s meant to be felt. As visual art became more abstract it developed elements of music, so I leave you with a quote from Kandinsky.
“The artist must train not only his eye but also his soul.” ~Kandinsky
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