November 15, 2010 Erin Sutherland

Picture Story: Reflections from a dark room

[picture coming soon]

I spent much of the last week hiding in the back of a dark room watching pictures go by and listening to someone announce “Out. Out. Out. Out. Out. In. Out. Out. Out.”

Yes, it was the best week in photojournalism at the University of Missouri – CPOY judging week.

We saw thousands of images in singles, stories, portfolios and multimedia presentations get voted out of the running to be considered the best of the best, with only about 1% of entries making it through to the second round of judging. A handful made it to the finals, winning awards of excellence and the coveted gold, silver, and bronze awards.

For Picture Story class, I made sure to sit in on the picture story category and an entire day of multimedia sessions. Each has to deal with the issue of storytelling in an effective manner, either through single images or a multimedia presentation. The two categories, while quite different in presentation and final product, have very similar requirements for what constitutes a winning project.

First, they both need to have a solid story. Moving, compelling, heartbreaking, joyful, and intimate were just a few of the words used to describe the stories which ultimately won in each catetgory. A project could have beautiful images, but if there is no story to support the photographs, the judges voted it out. I saw many stories in the first round that I would have voted in just on looks, but the judges saw past that and knew the story may not live up to the visual skill.

Alternatively, even when the imagery was not quite as technically adept as the other entries, a story went on to the next round if it moved the judges. I saw this in the final Multimedia category, in which there were three very polished video-based projects from the News21 program and one individual story “The Great Wide Open” about an adopted boy and his unique family situation. The adoption story was pointed out numerous times by the judges that it did not stand up to the same polished look as the other three stories, yet it won a bronze award because of the intimacy and unique storyline presented.

The judging of the categories was quite harsh, with the panel voting many entries out within only a few images, never quite reaching the end of the photographer’s edit. In picture story, I didn’t mind it so much. It was quite obvious whether or not a story was strong because we could see all the images presented as thumbnails together. Although we didn’t get the captions for all the stories, we could see if the visual story was strong.

However, in the multimedia judging, all I wanted was to see the second round selects in their entirety before voted into an awards round. The judges only watched maybe 30 seconds of the project until they got to the final rounds. While I agree that we should not have to watch the entire project due to time constraints, I think that there were a handful of projects that were voted out just because the intro was more than five seconds. One of the projects I really wanted to see in its entirety was “Growing up Girl”, which was voted into the first round of selects, but cut before the awards of excellence round. Although I agree that the beginning was a bit cheesy or TV-esque, I really wanted to see how the photographer took their winning photo story and turned it into a multimedia piece. There was so much that I thought could be expressed with audio and video and we didn’t get to see it because the judges were so caught up with the introduction.

What does this mean for the next generation of picture stories and multimedia pieces? I’m not sure. Every year is so different, yet so similar. It’s hard to know if your work will rise above the rest, because you can’t know what the rest will look like. I think that the most rewarding part of this competition is watching the work go by and listening to the judges make their remarks about the winning (and non-winning) work.

And hopefully, I’ll be able to use this new perspective in my work for the coming year. All I want is one ‘in.’ They’re worth more than gold.

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