“Award-winning photographer.” Now, more than ever, I see the term popping up in a biography. But I wondered, does it hold any merit in 2018? With so many claiming to have received awards — most of which I’ve never heard of — it’s become a pet peeve of mine. Has the prestige of winning a photography award been diminished?
The problem with competitions and photography in general is that the market has become over-saturated. Contests pop up on a near-daily basis, to the extent it’s almost impossible to keep track of the reputability of individual awards or the boards dishing them out. The credibility of many is questionable at best, given that a large proportion now charge participants to take part.
For some photographers, it’s noted on their site or SEO banner even before their name, which feels like somewhat of a desperate attempt at grabbing the attention of potential customers, as opposed to relying on the strength of their work to book jobs.
What seems to be a recurring theme is the desire to omit the name of which awards have been conquered exactly. It raises concern that these photographers have perhaps won small-time, local honors and are relying on the general public — as potential clients - not being familiar with such awards. In that sense, anyone can be an award-winning photographer.
With all this comes a level of pretentiousness. One of my favorite lines that I’ve lifted from photographers’ bios included quotes about having “the unrivaled reputation.” Another talked of his “wealth of accolades,” while another put it bluntly when he referred to himself as “the best of the best.” All of this feels somewhat wishy-washy, a way of bulking out their About Me page in a largely competitive market. In truth, what is stopping me from listing myself as one of the most prestigious, acclaimed, and in-demand photographers in the UK? At this stage, despite that statement being fabricated and entirely subjective, not much at all.
The truth is, I actually prefer the work of my peers or some of the emerging photographers I’ve discovered through the likes of Instagram than some of the award-winners I’ve come across. One I discovered when conducting research for this article boasted of having over 70 awards to his name, and if I’m being frank, his work, to me, wasn’t anything particularly worthy of note. Adequate, sure. Happy clients, I don’t doubt. Worthy of 70 awards? Debatable.
I recently wrote about Steve Irwin’s photographer son receiving high praise at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards in London. It’s really encouraging to see someone so young have their work highlighted in this way. I highly rate his pictures, especially given his young age, and think he deserves all the attention that’ll follow such a mention. So it’s not to say that award ceremonies are entirely defunct, I just feel they are too heavily relied upon to try and create some sort of false credibility. Photography is subjective, and photographers should be judged on their work, and not the praise of a small board of judges.
I had to ask the question: is there any correlation between winning awards and attracting new clients? In other words, does the average member of the general public with little-to-no photographic experience actively search for a wedding photographer with a series of accolades? From experience, it’s never come up in a topic of conversation with any clients or potential customers. I’m self-taught, and never have I been asked to present my academic achievements or proof of photography education. More often than not, word of mouth and a recommendation from friends will do more for you than any award.
The pictures are what matters. A portfolio and your recent work are what people care about. Everybody has different tastes, and will select a photographer whom they feel represents their style.
Ultimately, it depends what each respective photographer is seeking to attain. But in the digital age, as photography becomes more accessible to the masses, there’s a notable shift away from the importance of winning awards, and thus, you shouldn’t evaluate your success based on how many awards you (haven’t) won.
Photo inset: my own.