AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards 2018

It’s been a huge few weeks for the Australian photography community and an equally as big one in the Birth Photography community.

Every year, the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers (AIPP) holds National Awards at which the best of the best of Australia’s (and some other nations too!) photographers put their hearts on the line and put their beloved art forward to be judged.

The APPA awards are notoriously tough; some of you may recall me blogging about the AIPP’s State Awards earlier in the year. I submitted 4 images to the NSW Awards and managed to win 3 x silver awards and also take out the NSW Documentary Photographer of the Year title for my birth imagery (you can read about it all here).

I was completely taken aback by this, I wasn’t a member of the AIPP at the time and I had no aspirations of winning anything, let alone a title. I didn’t know how the judging worked. I didn’t know what the judges would be looking for. I didn’t even think I could win because I wasn’t a fully accredited member as yet.

I wasn’t even sure if I was going to apply to become a member.

I remember checking the AIPP Facebook page the day after the awards, I thought, I’ll just check to see who did win the Documentary category…. There was my name. I thought it was a mistake!

It all happened so fast that it resulted in me taking the whole experience for granted. I thought, oh, the calibre of work must not have been that great and maybe I just got lucky.

I love my work. I know my clients love my work. I know you guys love my work; but I couldn’t fathom that my peers deemed my work worthy of awards let alone a State title.

Afterwards, when I was contacted by the AIPP to congratulate me and to tell me that I had qualified to enter the APPA awards, I told them that it was my first year entering and that I wasn’t a member yet. They were shocked. It was only then that I started to think that maybe, this was something worth celebrating. Maybe I had achieved something of note.

To become a member of the AIPP you need to submit a gallery of images showing diversity in your work, using multiple lenses and a variety of settings, so soon after the NSW awards I did that. I was approved and am now a member of the AIPP.

With this now up my sleeve I thought longer about whether I would enter the APPA awards, I’d been told that the APPA awards were tough and that images that score well at State awards don’t always go on to succeed at APPA. Well, this may have been my undoing but I didn’t want to take that risk.

The images I submitted to my state AIPP Awards have a special place in my heart. They won me that State title and more than that, 3 of the 4 images are of my sister birthing my niece. They are special to me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to put them forward to be judged again and have them potentially underscore and not meet my expectations (which, honestly, were now pretty high given my success at the State awards).

I decided to put forward 4 completely new images to be judged. I chose these images carefully, I pored over them for hours deciding on which ones to put through and came to 4 images from 3 separate births. They were ones I loved and had received good interaction on when posting on my social media accounts.

Looking back now, this probably was not the best approach. I love these images. They’re good images. They all scored in the range of professional practice, but I didn’t assess and choose these images from a technical photography standpoint. It was almost purely emotional.

Still, I don’t know where I stand on this. I want to submit images that speak to me. Images that have an impact on me and that have had an impact on others. I want to submit images with subtle story lines that the judges have to search for and interpret. I don’t want to just submit images that I think will score well if I have no personal connection to them. I don’t think that sits right with me.

Come the day of judging, I was sporting the biggest hangover I could ever imagine and was solo “parenting” (a.k.a. lying on the floor with my boobs out so Clover could come up and feed when she wanted while I slept on the verge of death on the floor of the playroom. Intermittently getting up to spew into the toilet while Clover slammed the toilet seat down on my head.).

But I had enough sense about me to tune into the judging which is streamed live from Melbourne on YouTube. Thinking back now, I am glad I was hungover this day because it made the sting of my expectations not being met, a little less painful.

If you’d like to watch the judging, the livestream is still on YouTube. I’ll put the times that my images appear for judging beneath each image. Link here.

My first image came up.

(Image appears at 1:51:42 in the YouTube livestream.)

(Image appears at 1:51:42 in the YouTube livestream.)

This one scored 79.

Whilst I can’t disagree with any of the feedback I received on the image I was SO hoping this would score higher. It hurts to be SO close to a silver award but to fall short by one point.

Scores of 80-89 are silver awards, 90-100 are gold awards and no awards are given beneath silver.

My second image popped up on the screen.

(Image appears at 1:58:06 in the YouTube livesteam.)

(Image appears at 1:58:06 in the YouTube livesteam.)

This one scored 75.

This is the one I was probably most emotionally invested in. I wanted to show the absence of the chaos you see in hospital births. Just moments before the room had been filled with people. Doctors. Midwives. Support staff etc. I captioned it, “The calm after the storm”.

This narrative was completely missed by the judges, which is always a risk you take when submitting images that tell a subtle story; it is subjective and that’s okay.

My third image came up and also fell just short at 78.

(Image appears at 2:09:49 in the YouTube livesteam.)

(Image appears at 2:09:49 in the YouTube livesteam.)

The comments were that the arm coming out towards the camera was distracting; I agree now looking at it sober; at the time I may not have been so pleasant. But in all honesty, these were things I just had not considered when submitting my images. Something to note for next time.

My last image came up.

(Image appears at 2:29:57 in the YouTube livesteam.)

(Image appears at 2:29:57 in the YouTube livesteam.)

The image I had pinned little to no hope to when submitting. I knew it was an amazingly vibrant and gorgeous image but, I had little emotional connection to it.

But this one was my dark horse. It originally scored 77 but one of the 5 judges had scored it 83 and was given the opportunity to challenge the other judges to consider rescoring it. He strongly believed that this image should be awarded silver and urged the others to look at it for the beauty that it is.

I had captioned this image “Giver of life. The human body’s only transient organ. Serving life itself but often discarded as waste after birth.”

This judge said that when he first saw the image he thought “ewww” hahaha but then afterwards he came to see it as “absolutely beautiful”.

He championed this image and when it went through to be rescored it came through at 80 points. Silver award!

I guess I should take something from this whole experience. Maybe I should consider submitting images that I have less emotional attachment to and just submit images that are technically sound with leading lines and following some of the rules of photography….but I probably won’t. I want my emotionally invoking work to be seen and judged by my peers. I want them to see these images for the beauty that they show. And the bottom line is, that I’m not in this to win awards or state titles. I’m in this to show the beauty of birth and give my mummas and families beautiful images of a precious time in their lives.

Winning is just a bonus.

Having said that, I was totally devastated that I didn’t do better and it has spurred me on to thinking about how I can work on some more passion projects of mine and possibly submit those images for judging. There’s something so humbling about even being shown in the same arena as some of these images and other photographers.

Speaking of other photographers. This awards I was being judged alongside my beautiful friend and mentor Lacey Barratt. Lacey’s images went on to win her the National Documentary Professional Photographer of the Year award! In fact, all of the finalists in the Documentary category this year were birth photographers!

You can view and read about Lacey’s winning images here.

That in itself is a total win for me. A win for our industry and a win for every person out there hoping to have their births photographed.