This year I attended the inaugural Australian Photographic Prize conference and awards event held earlier in the year in Melbourne. The event brought together both professionals and amateur photographers in Landscape, Portrait, Commercial and Wedding genres to celebrate their images during the past few years. Thanks to many factors including the winding down of AIPP (Australian Institute of Professional Photographers) and Covid the industry had been in a hiatus as far as face to face events go. The reviving of the photography scene was the brain child of Australian photographers Karen Alsop and Robyn Campbell. They pulled off a successful event that showcased guest speakers as well as live judging of prints and I embraced the opportunity to meet a few photographers who work I had been following virtually.
It was quite a treat to listen to the talks from professional photographers some of who I had not met previously. Kelly Brown who specialises in newborn photography, spoke about her personal creative journey. I was surprised to learn that all of her creations are done in camera as single capture images. She might spend hours making a prop that she uses in her image.
She spoke about the importance of connecting with your own personal identity and deciding if you wanted to fit in or on stand out. While fitting in is easier, it will only get you so far. Making an image that hasn’t been done before can be challenging as there is a chance it is rejected. But this is the only way to develop your own voice!
Kelly explains that her process in creating an image is deciding what you want to communicate, how you are going to communicate it and why you are communicating it. Finding your creative voice is all about the story you want to tell. Putting this together into an image isn’t always easy. Kelly spoke about the many sources we have for inspiration from nature, social media, pin interest, tv, travel, other artists, and past experiences but she also warned us about being unduly influenced by digital noise. Being original is so important in a world that is drowning in images but this is also the hardest challenge we face as visual artists. I know from personal experience that every time I get an idea I might google it and discover that someone has already done it better than what I had imagined!
Kelly talks about the fact that judges are always looking for something they haven’t seen before. While the urge to copy other artists in our chosen genre might be tempting, this will only get you so far. It is also not the best way to evolve and discover your own voice but it might be a starting point if you are feeling a little overwhelmed, keeping in mind that plagiarism won’t be looked on favourably if it has been done deliberately. Keeping an inspiration folder of ideas that might give birth to your own creations might be something to consider in 2023.
Robin Moon’s talk was titled Adventures of the Inner Child. She spoke about the challenges she had faced in both her professional and personal journeys and how that brought her to photography. She reminded us that we can have a second career once we come to the end of our working lives and how fulfilling that can be. Her story resonated with me for many reasons as photography was also something I found later in life. Having a creative outlet that enables you to play is uplifting and rewarding. Finding creativity when you have been in a demanding and sometimes stressful left brained discipline is a fantastic way to discover another side to your personality.
Paul Hoelen reminded us that a voice without purpose fades away into the ether. He spoke about the importance and power of our inner voice as we face an uncertain future. He also reminded us to ask ourselves if our work is making the world a better place. I was inspired by the many different projects he had worked on, as many of them resonated with the issues I care about and photography projects I too had done. The projects he spoke about ranged from Tarkine in Motion, a project that gave a voice to conservation of our natural environment in Tasmania, to working with Indigenous Australians and how sensitive we must be when working in a different culture to the ‘Men with Heart’ project that delved into the challenging mental health issues faced by men in our communities.
Kris Anderson’s talk focussed on Nailing the Narrative and how we are wired to listen and relate to stories. He discussed five ways in which we can keep a viewer engaged with our images and five techniques to achieve this.
The five ways in which we can keep a viewer engaged include — simplicity, emotion, relatability, novelty and authenticity. Simplicity is something that resonates with me and I have often agreed when I heard a judge say that an image is too complicated, because he/she doesn’t know where to look. Condensing your image down to its simplest parts is a good rule of thumb to work towards. As Melissa Anderson said, “Every element in an image should pay the rent”! People are often looking for something to connect with, so keep this in mind when creating an image.
An emotive connection can be made with your audience through content but also through colour and the mood that creates. Relatability is an interesting criteria as content that is too familiar can appear boring and content that can’t be understood or that is polarising can also put people off. Creating novelty is similarly challenging. While content that is too novel can be confusing our brains light up when we are shown something that is interesting and that evokes curiosity. Ultimately, it was authenticity that resonated with me the most. Shoot what you know. Have the courage to share your own story. These can include your fears, hard times and scars — creating an image sans all the makeup — one that is both raw and emotional!
Kris then went on to share 5 techniques that will help us refine our images. The first was creating prototypes from sketching an idea to creating a test image that might enable us to fix our mistakes early. Technique two was to use visual psychology. The colours we use in an image are an important part of conveying a story. Technique three was to guide the viewer into the image using light and leading lines and giving them a place to rest. Technique Four was the cold read. Share your images with your friends and see if they can decipher what you are trying to convey. Don’t tell them what you are trying to achieve till they have had a go at deciphering it. Technique Five was embracing feedback. Share images on social media, with a fellow photograpaher, enter competitions and listen to what a camera club judge has to say.
Kris finishes his talk with a compelling message, reminding us to not be judgemental, but rather to be curious. Curiosity will often lead to storytelling from a new perspective, so this is a lesson that is worth keeping in mind.
Tony Hewitt’s talk was about Sharing Your Vision. He reminded us that our images start with us and could help define who we are and what we are about. Every image we make has our finger print on it as our uniqueness comes from within us. We must learn to trust our instincts because this is where our style will become evident.
Tony discussed fine art photography and asks a few of us in the audience what that means to us. Fine art deals with our inner world, and is more about how we feel rather than a direct interpretation of what we see. Our response to the hidden narratives that are unspoken. Tony also reminded us that we ‘see’ with our brains. The camera is just collecting data which the sensor records. Our visual perspective is where our inner and outer worlds collide. We discussed colour, texture, tone and form and how these impact our perceptions of depth and trigger responses within us.
“Show me what it feels like”, Tony says and reminds us that a picture has its own life, once we let it go!
I entered some images in the digital competition and enjoyed listening to some of the live judging in the print competitions. Perhaps next time, I might give the print competition a go!
If you are interested in finding out more, here is the link to the winner’s gallery: https://winners.australianphotographicprize.com.au/