No, this is not a post about a rugged vigilante crusader for the forces of justice! Rather, it is a few of my meandering thoughts on the experience of being a judge at this years NZIPP Iris Awards.
It was my second year judging, although in 2011 I was what is known as a ‘trial judge’, which means that I only went on the panel for short periods of time so that the powers that be could assess my judging abilities and make sure I was up to the task. Well, I guess I passed the test because this year I sat on four different categories, judging for a full two days from 9am – 6:30 each evening. It was pretty intense… but I absolutely loved it.
An Iris Awards panel consists of five judges, and these judges are cycled around by the Panel Chairs who do an exceptional job of ensuring that no judge is sitting before their own work or the work of any other photographer they have opted not to judge. (You are, of course, not allowed to judge your own work, your spouses work or anyone who works for you, but in addition to this you are able to nominate photographers you do not want to judge. For me this means choosing not to judge any other professional photographers on Waiheke Island.)
During the process, the judges are being watched by a room full of hopeful photographers, the creators of these wonderful images you are assessing, all waiting with pounding hearts to hear the scores that their labours of love will receive. The occasional time I looked behind me, I was desperately hoping I wouldn’t recognise anyone in the audience, knowing that there was a chance I may dash their dreams by not loving their image as much as they did.
As a judge, you get so involved in the task at hand that the time goes by really quickly, and the apprehension of ‘passing judgment’ is soothed by the opportunity set before you to fight for an image and potentially talk it up into a higher award.
To explain this further; a print is given an initial score and if the judges opinions differ, a discussion ensues during which you have to defend the reasons for the score you have given, and have a chance to argue for an image and attempt to change the opinions of your fellow judges. Being able to talk an image up to a higher award, sometimes even a Gold is a wonderful feeling. On the flipside, it can be bitterly disappointing to believe strongly in an image and find that you have failed to convince any one else!
As a matter of fact, it took a full seven days following Print Judging for me to stop waking from my nights slumber fighting for images that had come before me. Images that I wished I had found better words for. Trust me, I know that a lot of people are disappointed with the scores their prints may receive, but judging the Iris Awards is serious business and the judges put their heart and soul into it. No decisions are taken lightly.
And THEN I would take my turn as a member of the audience when one of my own images would come up, and I would suffer the same fiercely pounding heart as the other watchers in the darkened room. The pounding that seems so loud in your own ears that you are sure the person sitting next to you can hear it and will surely realise that the image is yours due to the cold sweat that has just broken out on your brow.
If one of images didn’t score as well as I had hoped, I would mutter ‘blimmin judges, what do they know anyway’ in my head. Funny! We’re a sensitive bunch, us photographers, but after many years I have mellowed enough to know that this ‘judging discontent’ is just one of the many charms of attending a NZIPP print judging, regardless of if you are sitting in judgement or sitting in the audience!