Snakes and Ladders

Meeting Report

Dahlia by Liz Barber“Best of Year” is always an evening of reckoning for our images and never more so than this time when the judge was an unknown quantity to all in the club. Don’t get me wrong – we are all very grateful to Ian Brash for stepping in at the eleventh hour due to Trevor Gellard’s ill health but Forest Gump and chocolates come to mind – “you never know what you’re gonna get”.

We needn’t have worried – what we did get was one of the most erudite, expert and detailed critiques of our images that I have seen in recent years. Ian’s expectations of images were very high and he didn’t spare the photographer’s discomfort when these weren’t met. But it was always constructive and helpful. Even though my own marks were disappointing, I didn’t, as sometimes happens, come home vowing to sell my camera immediately and take up crochet.

And as Ian said several times “we all see images in different ways” which is why we have the disparity in marks between different judges for the same image. And this disparity was very marked this year – snakes and ladders.

I think we all now know that Ian favours a key line round projected images and round prints too if the print boundary doesn’t reach the mount border – but do it subtly – not more than 1 or 2 pixels. The wildlife photographers will also note that the subject should be on active duty of some kind rather than giving a taxidermy impression for such a photograph to get full marks from Ian.

I liked Ian’s phrase describing post-processing as “value added treatment” with its inference that a photograph has to be of sound composition and technical standard before it can be made into something extraordinary on the computer screen. Silk purses and sows’ ears of course. And similarly “zing points” – most pictures need them but not necessarily where conventional wisdom decrees. And most of all I liked Ian’s method of critiquing all the pictures first and then marking separately – this worked very well.

So the prints – where did the accolades go from the 25 entries? I kicked off with the first 18 awarded for “Shepherd from Nanjangud” – a portrait which gained high praise from the judge and then a slightly disappointing mark I thought. But sharing 18 with Kevin for his “Looking out for Mum” made me feel much better as this was an excellent picture of 3 young lions. Di’s 18 for “Common Blues (male)” confirmed that 18 was pretty exalted company as did Martin’s lovely landscape “Tuscany”, also an 18. And Derek’s “Redshank Probing” was doing enough probing (and in difficult lighting) to be awarded 18 as well.

Anne’s kingfisher had been ”Out in all weathers” and was the first 19. Terrific colours and made by the background of an almost unbroken bokeh of the “right” shade of this most difficult colours. The next picture was also a 19 Kevin’s “Plain Gazing” – a portrait of a lioness which was almost a hologram it was so 3 dimensional. But neither of these was doing anything other than being a kingfisher/lion otherwise I’m sure 20 would have been appropriate. Di’s “The Alleyway” also scored 19 being a picture which encouraged “looking into”. And Anne’s “Tulip Splendour” marked 19 was the first of several floral subjects to score highly in BoY 2017-2018.

So to the 20’s. Liz’s coastal landscape was the first to gain top marks – a serene pastel scene which would look well on anyone’s wall. Then Liz again with “The Final Curtsey” a floral with a strong diagonal composition – and printed with Liz’s usual high skill. Finally Martin with his symmetrical view of the ceiling of the Alcazar in Seville also gained 20 – again beautifully printed and made by the central blue panel.

We had to wait until after the interval for the “opening of the envelope” to reveal Ian’s choice of Print of the Year. Liz’s “The Final Curtsey” was Ian’s choice with Martin’s architectural print as runner-up Liz again in third with her seascape.

The PI’s followed and yielded just the one 18 – Janet’s “Comings and Goings”. I know about this picture as I was with Janet on Photo24 when it was taken. I have similar pictures but with the inclusion of figures which Ian suggested as an improvement. I agree with Janet – better without.

19 for Audrey for “Bad Hair Day” – on the part of a red squirrel, not Audrey herself although that could be excused as she’d just stepped off a plane from Japan. Kevin’s “Black-bellied Plover (winter plumage) also gained 19 and was praised for its detail. And Alex gained 19 for his powerful monochrome “Storm Coming” – much value added by the treatment and everything in the right place.

The 20’s were dominated by more flora with just a solitary jackal representing the fauna. Liz was represented twice over with “Explosion” and “Dahlia” both great examples of the floral photographer’s art. The first had almost startling impact whilst the latter was all pastels and smoothness. Anne also represented twice with “Tulips with Raindrops” and “Young Jackal” The first was criticised for being too cramped in the frame – the latter for having too much negative space and all to one side – although the lighting was great. Both still 20’s though!

Ian chose Liz’s “Dahlia” as the best of year but didn’t rank the other 3 photographs which scored 20.

So well done Liz for sweeping the board with her lovely images and claiming both titles – great photography. In fact it was a night for the ladies with Anne also doing very well. And a good night for floral photography as well. For the rest of us it was a case of “Snakes and Ladders” with the marks being very different between the competition rounds and the BoY.

Thanks to Ian for his excellent judging – please come back even though it’s a bit of a trek down from Croydon – and thanks to Sharon for keeping him company. And come on chaps – we can do better than this next year!