The Irish Times Amateur Photographer of the Year
The judges have chosen the best of more than 9,000 photographs
How do you pick the best photographs when there are so many good photographs to choose from? I think the honest answer is that you do so with difficulty.
A week ago 10 high-profile judges gathered in the main conference room at The Irish Times to face that task in a session that lasted seven hours. Over the previous five days the judges had worked, often into the early hours, sifting through more than 9,000 images taken by amateur photographers the length and breadth of the island. By the time we got into the conference room we had whittled the longlist down to about 350 photographs, in seven categories, through the online viewing and scoring application developed by the start-up company Picturk.
By this stage we had eliminated the also-rans, the pictures that for one reason or another didn’t make the grade. Sometimes it was for technical reasons; sometimes the photographs were just too predictable or dull.
The most difficult part of the judging process was coming to terms with each others’ values. Photography, like any art, is subjective: beauty and creativity are in the eye of the beholder. You could argue that three or four strands of photographic philosophy were represented in the room and that none of them has a monopoly on the truth.
I and my Irish Times colleague Brenda Fitzsimons represent, broadly, the tradition of photojournalism. Barry McCall is one of Ireland’s top fashion and commercial photographers, whose technical excellence is matched by his creativity. John Duncan of Source magazine, Tanya Kiang of the Gallery of Photography and Ángel Luis González, director of the PhotoIreland festival, come, broadly speaking, from the art-photography perspective. Mainstream amateur photographers were extremely well represented by Des Clinton and Michael O’Sullivan of the Irish Photographic Federation and by Daniel McCaughan of the Northern Ireland Photographic Federation. Canon Ireland, our partner in the competition, was represented by Shane Cowley, himself an accomplished photographer.
The first category that we judged was colour. The different perspectives quickly became clear. Some judges wanted to see something absolutely new and interesting; others put a stronger emphasis on perfection of composition and technical skills.
The rules of each category were checked, especially to do with the overall brief and the degree of digital manipulation allowed. The debate became robust, as we all expected. Scoring was by show of hands, interspersed by informed debate that sometimes changed minds.