Monday, November 14, 2011


Last week I attended several CPOY judging categories, and as always it was a pleasure to be able to see all the great work as well as gain insight from the judges' feedback. The first category that I attended was Domestic Picture Story. I think the part that was most pleasing to me was realizing my own growth as a photographer and being able to quickly asses stories and analyze them for both their strengths and weaknesses. Everything that we've learned this semester came into focus, and I was able to utilize that knowledge while observing the category. I think the first thing that stood out immediately is the range in quality in the stories: instantly, one could either recognize a certain level of sophistication, or a glaring lack thereof. Because of this, a lot of stories fell short. In a way it also seemed like the judges had a bit of subject fatigue, as it seemed like there was an abundance of stories about either fighters or farmers. I think perhaps if the stories with subjects that are commonly seen started with something more unexpected, or surprising, they would have had a better chance. It's easy for all the stories with similar subjects to blend together, and while it might seem like an inherent disadvantage due to the subjects, it can also help you stand out. If among the stories with similar subjects you are able to tell the story in a unique way, and perhaps show great emotional insight, your story will certainly stand out within the category. Another example of this is the stories that dealt with natural disasters. The story that won bronze stood above the rest because the images showed true emotion, and had a more coherent style.
Another thing that stood out in the category was that it seemed like a lot of the stories had really loose edits that took away from its impact. There were a lot of visual redundancies that I noticed while the judges were quickly going through the stories. I also noticed the lack of lens variety in some of the stories, which upon quickly looking at overall images, stood out like an eye sore. Honestly, I think that a year ago, I wouldn't have even noticed it, but there was one story (something to do with a grocery store?) and all of the photos were equally wide, and it didn't seem like a stylistic choice. Equally as distracting was the surprising number of stories that relied on sign photos. When choosing the winners the judges placed a lot of importance on style and sophistication of shooting. The story (well, essay) that immediately stood out to me was the one about the San Clemente Pier. It was simple and effective, as I instantly got a sense of what this place was like, and all the different themes that function within it: isolation, young love, teen drinking, a community coming together. It evoked so many different emotions and feelings, and did so with really beautiful style.

The second category that I attended was Multimedia Project. The judges narrowed their choices down to ten pieces and then chose the best five to be awarded.
Born Into Coal. This story was awarded gold, and it focused on a W. Virginia mining town. The judges valued the fact that this story showed a different side of the coal issue, giving a human side to the issue. What impressed me the most was how effortlessly the story moved between subjects and stories. The pace of the story didn't really change throughout - it had a very steady and almost lazy pace that was reflective of the town. The fact that it stayed the same between different subjects was very indicative of the place, and its effect on the inhabitants. The opening shot of the girl in the pool, floating around in a circle was really gorgeous. Visually, the story was very strong and used visual continuity to move between the different families without interruption.
My Son's Eyes. An incredibly heartbreaking story told through a mother's point of view about her son's mental illness and a crime he committed. The story is incredibly gripping, and surprising. As the mother begins to tell the story, and as she begins to speak about her son - you almost feel like the story could be about something typically teen or juvenile. But the blows are gently delivered as the mental illness is revealed, and then the effects that it had on the son's behavior resulting in a violent crime. The camera work and the way the interview was shot is truly exceptional as it captures so much of the mother's emotion. During one moment, the mother leans back and her eyes go out of focus, and then as she finishes her sentence she moves back into the frame, her eyes once again in focus, but holding an entirely new set of emotions. The mother is such a captivating storyteller, and telling the story through her point of view really gave this piece an unusually expressive and poignant mood.
Grassroots. The piece about the Tea Party was very well done, and successfully weaved several different characters and points of view. I've never really attempted to tell a story with several different subjects, so I really admire the ability to move between them without losing coherence. However, this piece felt a bit too long. The part with the woman with the "art car" in particular felt too long. There were too many video portraits of her, and as the judges pointed out, it would have been nice to see her interacting and doing something, instead of just seeing the interview, as captivating as it may be.

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