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Inside The Judging Process: Sony World Photography Awards

The Sony World Photography Awards is the biggest photo contest in the world. This year there were more than 230,000 total entries to the competition. For the photographers who submitted images, the goal is making your work stand out. Understanding the judging process can give you some insight on what they are looking for in a winning image or series.

On the professional side of the 2016 Sony World Photography Awards, the competition is divided into 2 broad categories, Documentary and Art. There were over 130,000 professional entries divided between seven Documentary categories and seven Art categories.

We wanted to know more about the judges’ process of sifting through, reviewing and evaluating more than 130,000 photographs. Sue Steward, Chair of the Art Categories judging panel for the 2016 Sony World Photography Awards provided some insight. In addition to her work with the Sony World Photography Awards, Steward is the photography critic for the London Evening Standard and a long time judge, photo editor and lecturer on photography. She describes how the panel worked at arrive at this years’ winners:

“Judging this process is really a major thing because you go in the room and you know that you're going to be there for three days for a start and it's going to be a process where we gradually bring it down. The figure of it—to start with the numbers—is enormous.

“There are three people who are doing the work in the art section. There's Mariko Takeuchi. She's a photographer, a critic and she's also a professor at the university. She moves around. She lives in Kyoto and she moves around a lot of Japan and also other places. Jean Jacques Naudet is in France and also lives in New York. He runs a magazine called L’Oeil. The other person is Karen Knorr who lives, again, between places. She's in Puerto Rico and New York and London.

“She's a photographer and a lecturer and she gets lots of work in the different universities.
It’s the three of us, plus me as the chair. Of course, I'm not allowed to make any judgment. I have to be there, but I keep quiet. If there's something that comes up, I can step in and sort of interpret what's going on with them.

“The four of us sit in a room and we get lots of cakes and coffee all the time. On the screen we have three little boxes at the bottom of the screen. We have a laptop on the table and the screen with the photographs. We have ‘keep,’ ‘reject’ and ‘pending’.

“We just click what we're going to take and what we're going to get rid of. The "pending" is there if it’s something we think we might want to go back to. If somebody then says, "Well I think we should go back to that particular photograph. Don't you?" Then we discuss it and then we put it back in or we take it out.

With such a diverse panel, each with their own interests, tastes and endeavors, consensus is never a given, but it does happen more than one might expect. Steward explains,

“It's an unpredictable situation. There are certain things that come along every year. We were working in the Art section and the other judges that were close to us were evaluating the Documentary section. With the Documentary, it's very different from the Art section in that there are great arguments that we could hear from them in the next room. There were three people in that room who were taking a very different approach to it. [In the Art section] we had several where everybody knew ‘this is the winner and it has to be the winner’. It was really fascinating to see that.”

See our article on all of the Professional Winners here

The photo above was made by the Landscape winner, Maroesjka Lavigne as part of her series, Land of Nothingness.

"Named for its desert, Namibia is one of the least densely populated places on earth, visually defined by rich colours in a barren, yet constantly changing landscape; the vast brown plain of scorched earth, the white surface of the saltpans, the gold tones of the sand dunes. Patience is required to discover Namibia's subtle scenery. Hours of driving reveal more emptiness; the sight of other people is rare and only the strategically-located gas stations serve as a reminder of the world beyond. Captivated by delicately washed out landscapes, you drive for hours chaperoned by herds of giraffes or zebra, shadowed by flocks of flamingos.

Copyright: © Maroesjka Lavigne, Belgium, Winner, Professional, Landscape, 2016 Sony World Photography Awards


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