Jan 22, 2014

Mobile Photography Awards - Are They Fair?

The build up to a competition is always exciting. Everyone who throws their hat into the ring is hoping for a chance to take home the prize or at least get a mention. Today is one of those days when hopes will be crushed as eyes scan the winning list of the Mobile Photography Awards and don't see their name among them. I know I was hoping against hope that one of my images might miraculously appear as an honorable mention. Oh darn! Maybe next year.

I have had a few people ask me about the results of this year's competition:

Was it fair?

Should one artist get several honorable mentions in one category?

Should one image get an honorable mention in more than one category?

I kind of remember a similar discussion last year. Here's the way I look at it. A competition like this is subjective - if there had been a different set of judges, there would probably be a different set of winners. It's not like a foot race where the first one across the finish line is the winner. Not every image was my cup of tea, but then again, that's why they make different types of tea! That said, each of the winners and those given honorable mention are deserving by mere virtue of the fact that they were chosen by the judges in what must have been a very difficult process.

Now, to answer the other questions about one artist getting several honorable mentions or one image getting an honorable mention in more than one category. I thought a bit about how I would organize a competition like this one. The "mom" in me wants things to be fair, so I would probably limit the number of honorable mentions to one per category, although I would allow a photographer to be mentioned in more than one category. But I imagine the organizers of the MPA wished for each image to be judged on merit alone and therefore allow an artist who is particularly accomplished to be mentioned several times. And, let's be honest, if I were one of those artists to get more than one honorable mention, I would be over the moon!

While I'm discussing this year's results I do want to congratulate all of those who won or were mentioned. There were names that are quite familiar - people I consider my friends although we've never met, and some  new names to investigate. Each and everyone of you must feel particularly proud to be recognized for doing something that is close to your heart.

So to the winners, a hearty "Congrats" and to those of us who didn't win or get a mention, we will lick our wounds and continue to create in this wonderful art form that allows us such a wide variety of expression. I started this journey because of the love of it and it is for that reason that I will happily continue.

Here's to next year!

(Please feel free to share your comments below.)


  1. Thank you for this observation. I am too licking my wounds but am extremely happy for all of my friends who have won.

  2. As someone who organizes contests myself I know that they are very, very subjective, and there's no way to pick the objectively best winners.

    I wouldn't call the competition unfair, but everyone participating (including the winners) should understand that this is just another photo contest and not a leaderboard of the best mobile photographers.

    Also, let's not forget that many deserving artists didn't participate because of cost.

  3. Yes Armineh - when we get hopeful it's hard to be let down, but we have to remember in the big scheme of things it's all small stuff =)

  4. So true Emil - I do know of several people who could not enter due to cost. Others just don't like competitions which doesn't make their work any less beautiful!

  5. You're right that it's just another contest - but it is by far the biggest and most widely entered for our genre. It's the only one with a track record of fine art sales and has organized nearly a dozen exhibits in some of the best galleries on two continents. Yes, it's subjective - it's not football. But with consensus comes a kind of accountability, whatever value you place in that depends I suppose.

    We must judge blindly. People wonder why some get 5 HMs and others none. It's because names aren't attached to the images. It's not about rewarding people, or depriving people, it's about images. Judges look at pictures, they consider, they discuss, they argue, they defend and, sometimes, they agree.

    I think the work across the board is wonderful. A picture that didn't get an HM is ok less worthy than one that did. Of course, it's subjective. The MPA is an attempt to wrestle with subjectivity and try and give it some objectivity through consensus. Sometimes it works - sometimes it doesn't.

    Love y'all either way!!


  6. So glad to have your comment Dan. I wrote this post to answer questions people were asking me. I figured you were judging each image on its merit and not by who the photographer was so it's highly likely that an artist could have more than one HM. I would love to be a fly in the room when the discussions are going on.

  7. I was just going through the galleries and thinking pretty much the same things you have written here, Geri.

    Before I carry on with my thoughts below, I wish to clarify that I do not want to detract ANYthing from ANY of the fantastic winners of the contest, and to all of them I wish to send my best congrats for their acheivements!
    That said...
    Seeing the usual names and some photos being featured in more sections makes me feel this is not completely fair.

    I have been a judge myself to national and local photography contests here in Italy, and as a judge I could never accept that one (or more) photo(s) can end up in more than one section, either as winners and/or honorable mentions. As much as a photo can stand out, this is taking away space from other contestants and their works.

    As for the usual names... well, they certainly are amongst the best ones out there, but this is starting to look like year after year there is only more exposition to a restricted circle of names on one side, and to missed exposition for new and different talents.

  8. Thanks for your response Dan!

    I'm not trying to downplay your contest, I think you're doing a great job and I know you're trying to make it as objective as you possibly can.

    Of course, there will never be a contest determining the overall best artists simply because it's not possible, and that's what I was trying to say.

    Best of luck next year!

  9. Each image is entered into three categories. Therefore, with different judges for each category, it's possible the same artist or image will appear in two categories.

    Also, I must disagree with the assessment that these are the same winners as always. I think if you look carefully you'll see a lot of names that are unfamiliar. I've been on the scene for 5 years and thought I knew everybody. I'd say 3/4 of the winners are folks I don't know.

    Anyway, it's all in fun. Emil is right that no competition will ever be definitive. But it's worth trying!

  10. Indeed, Dan, indeed - my intention was far from implying that these winners are "all the same", only some was noted.
    I agree, it's only one competition - and there are many around to be part of.

  11. Hi Ale - Thanks for your comments. I like you hope that this discussion does not in any way detract from the fabulous works and artists that won or placed in this year's MPA. My post was really in response to questions I received from other people asking me whether I thought it was fair. Dan so graciously explained to me that the images are judged blind with no names attached and judges from different categories do not confer, so with that in mind it is possible for the results to include several honorable mentions or an image receiving HM in several categories. I don't know if there is a fair way to organize it. Regardless of names not being attached some artists have such a unique style that I can spot their work without ever seeing their name but hopefully that doesn't enter into a judge's mind as he or she deliberates. Eliminating a work because an artist has already been mentioned could be a possibility but why should that artist be penalized for being good? I curate a biweekly Painterly Mobile Art series here on my blog and I go through the images on FlickStackr WITHOUT viewing the names. I select the images - if I have chosen more than one image by a particular artist I choose only one and then look for another image to feature. My thinking is that I want to expose as many artists as possible each time I post. This may not be the best way either, but it's how I've chosen to do it.

  12. Geri, I agree on every word you said.

    Responsibility for a contest is never to be put on the participants, of course, and I'd like to point out that my criticism was just a small train of thoughts that was reflected in your post - to which I added my reflections, but I did not mean to sound too harsh.

    I am aware that managing a contest is an awfully tough thing to do, and we never say "congrats" to people like Dan or you or all those who keep doing these things.

    In my experience, I also know that there will never be a way to manage a contest and avoid criticism - there will always be someone unhappy with the results and the outcomes 😀

    I am very happy that these contests are always raising the bar of the quality of the works presented.

  13. Hi Ale - I know we both had the best of intentions and were merely discussing a different point of view. I know there was no animus in your heart =)

  14. The judging of images was blind. Each photographer enters his or her images into up to three categories. Each category has a head judge. Blind shortlists are made of all images entered into each category. The group of judges for each category shortlist select those images they find noteworthy and those that win.

    This is actually the fairest way to do it, given multiple categories.

    That an artist receives multiple images in the same category indicates that the judges found those images to be among the best in that category. Some of those images might be obviously from the same creator, but blind means blind. We're a judge to say, no, no honorable mention for that one, as I can tell it's from the same artist, well, that would be judging based, not on the image itself, but on the artist. Which isn't blind.

    As for honorable mentions in several different categories, the same goes there. Blind, and with the added element of possibly different judges in each category.

    I base my knowledge that different judges had different categories on Star Rush's Facebook comment about being head judge for black and white. A comment from MPA, I believe on twitter, stated judging was blind.

  15. Hi Jacob - Daniel and I have had a discussion both here and personally through email and he explained how the judging is done. This post was a public response to personal email I received asking the questions posed in the article above. I know Daniel truly desires for the MPA to be done in the fairest way possible. And like he explained each artists pays for each entry so he/she expects each entry to have a chance to win or be given mention. I appreciate your comments. It's always good to have an open discussion.

  16. I agree with all the posts on this subject. I had questioned the organizer about including multiple images from one winner in each category - I do not think that one artist should have multiple selections - pick the best. I also don't think that an image should be a winner across multiple categories, but the way they have the judging and entry set up, this would be difficult to avoid. I only point this out BECAUSE people pay to enter, and my feeling is to give more opportunities for individuals a chance to be selected. This was my first and likely last time I will enter a paid competition. Thanks for broaching the subject. My comments too, are not to detract from the winners, judges or the competition, just my two cents :)

  17. Hi Tracy - Thanks for contributing your two cents. Like you said it would be difficult to avoid multiple wins or multiple categories due to the blind judging. I'm glad this subject had a lot of input from different people.


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