After last year’s hugely successful inaugural competition, when more than 10,000 photographs were entered, the Irish Times Amateur Photographer of the Year contest is back. Celebrating the work of keen photographers throughout Ireland, the competition is open to all amateurs, from dedicated hobbyists to casual cameraphone snappers.
There are seven categories – colour, monochrome, open, travel, nature, portraiture, and street– with prizes of €1,000 for the overall photographer of the year and €1,000 for the best photograph. The glass artist Peter McGuire has been commissioned to design medals for the category winners.
Even if you don't win, your work could be showcased in The Irish Times and on irishtimes.com, and the work of the top 100 entrants will be published in an awards catalogue.
Frank Miller, an Irish Times picture editor and photographer, and chairman of the judging panel, says the competition began in recognition of amateur photography's dramatic recent growth. "Amateur photography is often not seen on a national level," he says. "We like to think The Irish Times is the place for some of the best photography in the country, and so it is only natural we would want to engage with the amateur-photography community. This is a group who are very big and growing, and amateur photography has become less about the printing process and more about sharing, through social-media sites like Twitter and Instagram. "
The nature of photography as a way of making a living is changing. So this year the rules have changed slightly. People who earn up to 15 per cent of their income from photography may now enter the awards.
“We tweaked the entry requirement slightly, as ‘amateur’ is an evolving term,” Miller says. “My definition would be a passionate photographer who doesn’t make a living from photography. That is in a way the modern definition of an amateur photographer.”
As photography has become part of everyday life for many people, is the distinction between amateur and professional becoming less relevant?
"The word 'amateur' doesn't feature hugely in my world," says Tanya Kiang, who is also on the judging panel, and is director of the Gallery of Photography in Dublin. "Most of those I deal with don't make a living from photography, so in that sense they are all amateurs. But everyone is a photographer now. What differentiates people is how they pursue their practice. Everyone can take a lucky shot, but to do it in a more sustained, self-aware and critical way, that's the next step."
Kiang’s advice for would-be entrants is to remove yourself from your comfort zone and take risks. “Surprise yourself,” she says. “Cameras are able to do so much these days that there is no excuse for not trying something different. For me, rather than set up something formally, which may be very beautiful and pleasant to look at, I prefer something not quite so well composed but fresher and making more of a comment.”
Michael O'Sullivan of the Irish Photographic Federation, who is also a judge for this contest, estimates that Ireland has about 100 amateur-photography clubs and societies, with more than 10,000 members. In recent years they have done very well in international competitions, he says, and as a country Ireland is becoming known for a distinctive style of amateur photography.
“We have a very strong balance between documentary, reporting style and creative work,” he says. “If you look at the UK, for example, it is very skewed towards the postprocessing side of things. That’s not the same here.”
Last year's winner
Last year's Irish Times Amateur Photographer of the Year, Amaia Arenzana, decided to take a break from her work as a family therapist to devote more time to photography.
After several years as a keen photographer, she entered several categories in the 2012 contest on the advice of a friend. Winning the title – which took her by surprise – has given her the confidence to pursue photography more formally. She is also a judge in this year’s competition.
“When I started out I had a DSLR camera I didn’t know how to use, but over time I got better,” she says. “The award has given me confidence, and I have applied to do a part-time course at the National College of Art and Design in photography. I also allowed myself to get a nice new camera.”
Arenzana takes photographs every day, many of them documenting her family life and the changes in her children’s lives. “For me it is very spontaneous. If I feel something I grab the camera and take a picture. It has to be something that strikes me or moves me.
“You might ask, then, why am I going to college now to study photography? For me it is the chance to meet new people and to learn about new things. Photography is something I do on my own. I want to learn from others, and the award has helped me realise this.”
Her message for anyone considering entering the Irish Times Amateur Photographer of the Year contest is simple: "There is no real technical advice I can give. You have to figure things out for yourself. The best advice I was given was to just go for it."
This competition is open to amateur photographers worldwide. Full terms and conditions are here. The competition home page is here