Looking Back and Ahead
Black & White Contests
Words: Henry Rasmussen
Yet the enormous response to that first contest surprised even us: 898 photographers submitted a total of 4,949 prints. Yes! Prints! We had not yet embraced the digital era, and the stacks of shipping packages ended up filling an entire room, space we could hardly manage without in those days. Winners were announced and their images reproduced in a special issue titled B&W Annual 2005. The 22 image we chose for the cover of that issue — a tightly cropped close-up of a foot with a horseshoe attached to the heel (“Rickshaw Puller” by Dilip Bathia of Bombay, India) — still lingers in the visual memory of many readers.
With the success of our contest format clearly evident, that first effort was followed by many more. From the beginning, we employed a dual format: a single-image contest followed by a portfolio contest. The former was divided into 15 image categories and featured Gold, Silver, Bronze and Merit Awards. The latter was open to all genres, from which we awarded 20 Spotlight Awards (and featured those photographers in our regular issues), along with Excellence and Merit Awards. When we began COLOR magazine in 2009, we naturally ran contest issues for B&W’s sister publication as well. Those formats have stood the test of time.
The total number of special contest issues — including the upcoming 2013 Single Image Contest — now stands at 20. In the course of these seven years, 12,000 entries have been received, representing 32,000 images in single image contests, and 96,000 images in portfolio contests. Altogether, 3,400 winners have been awarded. Considering these numbers, it is doubtful that any other fine art photography contests have had greater impact.
To learn the personal stories of winners and their successes following the publication of their images, we contacted a number of repeat entrants, chosen for the diversity of their geographic location as well as for the exceptional quality of their photographs. The following is a sampling of the many responses we received.
It was in the early spring of 2007. The first warm rays of the sun had just begun melting the snow in the main square of Krakow, one of the largest and oldest cities in Poland. Alicja Gubala, still bundled up in winter wear, enjoyed the signs of the changing season at one of the outdoor tables of her favorite cafe, nursing a cup of tea. Between sips, she turned the pages of a photo magazine, studying the images with intent concentration. She had bought it at a newsstand in the Dworzec Glowny, the city’s main train station. It was the first time she encountered B&W and its contests.
Alicja continued to read B&W for inspiration, and eventually decided to find out how her work would fare in an international setting. Entered in the 2011 Single Image Contest, an intriguing image from Cuba earned her a Merit Award; in the 2012 COLOR Single Image Contest, a brilliant water scene earned another Merit Award. “It gave me great satisfaction to see my images printed in the magazine,” Gubala writes from Krakow. “My family and friends were very proud of me and imagined my photographs being seen all over the world. I was surprised that my work made it, coming from such a faraway country with such a small fine art photography community. We don’t have many photography galleries here.”
New York, NY
Tabaei first encountered B&W in 2000, while studying at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “I saw Issue #7 at a newsstand and was impressed by its layout, content and images. Since that day in June, I have never missed an issue. When the contests were introduced a few years later, I was ready to participate.” Tabaei was chosen for a Merit Award in the first contest issue. Subsequent wins include a Gold Award in Issue 56 and a Merit Award in Issue 92.
“I think the publication of my images in the magazine has had a tremendous impact on my career,” Tabaei writes. “Right after my first award in the Single Image Contest, I received phone calls from potential buyers. In addition, my images were selected for exhibitions at the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado; and at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art in Novato, California.
“The B&W contests give photographers increased awareness of what good photography is,” Tabaei adds. “Participation in the contests improves our understanding of how other photographers, especially our peers, view the work.”
A veteran Italian fine art photojournalist, Sommaruga bought his first issue of B&W at a newsstand in Milan. “I immediately fell in love with the magazine. It was so different from other photo publications. The graphics and the layout were great. That first issue got me hooked, and I kept buying single copies until I finally subscribed.
“After I had been given a Bronze Award (B&W 2011 Single Image Contest) and two Excellence Awards (COLOR 2011 Portfolio Contest and B&W 2011 Portfolio Contest), I was invited to show my work in several galleries in Italy. This spring, for instance, I was offered the opportunity to exhibit more than 50 of my photographs in Riva del Garda, the charming resort on the shores of Lake Garda. Later this year the show will travel to Casa delle Culture del Mondo in Milano.
“Among a dozen of my photographs published in B&W was a portrait I made in Cuba in 2008. The subject was Margarita, an old farmer in Vinales. When I returned to Cuba the following year, I brought a copy of the magazine for her. She was surprised and delighted, and in the next few days I saw the magazine being passed around among the residents of the small town. I suspect that was the first time an issue of B&W had been seen in Cuba.”
The American-born photographer who alternately lives in California, Utah and Mexico, and whose work has garnered international acclaim, writes: “The first issue to catch my attention was the B&W Annual 2005. The foot with the horseshoe was on the cover. I simply had to have it. Michael Levin won a Merit Award for the image “Storm Clouds” in that issue. I love his photography, so it hit home with me. For the next Single Image Contest I entered “Balanced Rock,” and to my delight was given a Gold Award (Issue 48). Very shortly after the publication of that issue, I received an order for that print from a collector, who has since purchased another of my photographs. Turns out the second one also received a Gold Award (Issue 72).
“The exposure in B&W has helped me tremendously. I’m certain it helped me get my first solo exhibition. I also believe it played a part in encouraging curators to take a closer look at my work, which has led to gallery representation. I have since entered several times, and have been awarded one each of the Gold, Silver and Bronze Awards and several Merit Awards. The honor of receiving these awards has not only helped to fill my curriculum vitae, but has verified my faith in my artistic eye.”
Saljic was almost expelled from his high school for spending too many hours in the darkroom, but circumstances conspired to send him on a different career path until 2006. He writes about his first exposure to B&W from Split, an ancient city on the Adriatic coast:
“In my town there was a small shop specializing in international periodicals located on the south wall of the Diocletian Palace, where I liked to go often to check new arrivals. It was the Special Issue of the B&W 2008 Single Image Contest that first caught my eye. It was love at first sight. Shortly thereafter I subscribed, and have stayed loyal ever since.
“I entered a few images in the B&W 2009 Single Image Contest, but without success. This was a time in my artistic development when I returned to photography after a pause of 18 years. I was an old dog from an analog age and I was still searching for a ‘style’ and learning digital skills.
“Everything changed when I was chosen for an Excellence Award in the 2010 Portfolio Contest for my “Birth of a Ship” portfolio. This was my first major international award. I got confidence as well as confirmation that my work was indeed good enough to be awarded and published in B&W. Since then I have had a Spotlight Award in the B&W 2011 Portfolio Con test, two Gold Awards and one Merit Award in the 2011 Single Image Contest, as well as three Merit Awards in the 2012 Single Image Contest.
“These successes have provided international exposure for my work, and as a result I made my first sale to a private collector, and was given gallery representation as well as a show in New York. I consider this a huge accomplishment — to a great extent due to the exposure in B&W.”
Cole Thompson says his love of black and white is rooted in the fact that he grew up in a black-and-white world. According to his website: “Television, movies and the news were all in black and white. My heroes were in black and white and even the nation was segregated into black and white. My images are an extension of the world in which I grew up.”
Writing from Laporte, he relates that following a hiatus, he “returned” to photography in 2004. “One of the first things I did was head to the newsstand to see which publications were serving the black-and-white world. I found that there were just a very few really serious publications, and prominent among them was B&W. I started submitting my work and was given a Silver Award in the first contest issue. Then, in the April 2006 issue I was awarded a Spotlight feature. Over the next couple of years I had several images featured in the single-image contests. But the crowning jewel for me was the publication of “The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau” portfolio in the March 2009 issue.
“There’s no doubt that success breeds success, and being featured in B&W increased my confidence and expanded my vision of what I was able to do. The exposure I received was enormous, and even to this day I’ll receive a note from someone who saw my photographs featured in B&W years ago. The magazine has great longevity, with people reading issues long past the publication dates.
“I’m self-represented, and several years ago I started advertising in B&W, and have done so continuously for the last several years now. This has been a cornerstone in the promotion of myself and my work.”
Anne Lynam reflects the international nature or our demographic. Born in Dublin, Ireland, she lived in New York for nearly two decades before moving to Australia. She first encountered B&W in 2002 while learning the art of printing at the Point Light Gallery in Sydney, Australia.
“The publication of my images in the 2005 and 2011 Special Issues increased my confidence as a fine art photographer as well as my passion for black-and-white photography,” she writes. “After earning awards in the 2008 Portfolio Contest, I was picked up by the RYF Gallery in Zürich, Switzerland. My work is now found in several collections in that country. I also sold prints to the United States as a result of being published.
“Knowing that B&W is a worldwide publi-
cation makes it all the more exciting to have
had my images included in it. I feel that I’m
part of a global photographic community, and
that I have my finger on the pulse of creative styles from around the world.”
Woodman is a multiple award winner (Silver Award in the B&W 2008 Single Image Contest; Gold Award and two Merit Awards in the COLOR 2012 Single Image Contest), and describes the impact these contests have had upon her artistic growth and recognition.
“The B&W contests have given me, a complete unknown in the photography world, a level platform to introduce, share and compete in both the national and international arenas. Because of the contests I now have gallery representation, contacts galore and a level of confidence that secures my want of becoming a professional photographer.
“The B&W contest is the only forum I know of where you can go freestylin’ in any subject matter, technique and creative style — can’t get better than that! The photographic fine art community has become a closer place (and more visible) thanks to the contests.”
Smithtown, New York
Alen Henriksen discovered the premier issue of B&W during one of his lunchtime visits to Barnes & Noble, subscribed soon afterwards, and still has every issue. “In one of the 2004 issues I read about the open call for submissions. I began submitting portfolios in late 2005, and received my first Excellence Award in May 2007,” he writes.
“Shortly after my first publication in B&W, a curator who had seen the magazine invited me to participate in a show at the Art League of Long Island. This led to an invitation to hang a print at the Islip Art Museum. Later, a serious collector purchased a number of my prints, including one of my ‘Point Lobos’ images he had seen in B&W. The experience of being published repeatedly in both B&W and COLOR has been very important to me in a number of ways. I have come to think in terms of photographic projects, and have given a great deal of thought to what makes a well-integrated portfolio. My work is now represented by the Alan Klotz Gallery in NYC (www.klotzgallery.com).
“I have been very impressed with the high technical quality and great diversity of images, in terms of both concept and execution, in the contest issues. The effect of publishing work of that caliber can
only be positive, in several respects. First, the photographer aspiring to gain access to the fine art market can take the important step of submitting work to the contests without having to be concerned about being locked out because of personal style. Second, it has been said, ‘An artist paints a tree not because he has seen a tree, but because he has seen a painting of a tree.’ In this regard the range and scope of the published contest images help to stimulate the photographer to consider new ideas. Third, and perhaps most important, seeing work that is in a style foreign to your own can help to keep the mystery of what we call ‘seeing’ alive, in the sense that it continually reinforces the fact that there are indeed ideas out there waiting to be discovered.”
The proven impact of the B&W contests, illustrated by the real-life winners’ experiences related above (which represent just a few of thousands) makes this forum the most effective means for photographers to have theirwork discovered and appreciated by a worldwide audience. The fact that the B&W contests reach an international audience is noted by virtually all respondents to our survey as a very important aspect.
However, beyond the recognition received by the winners, there is the contest’s perhaps most important function: that of an educational tool. With their wide circulation and their massive number of images reproduced — representing all varieties of subjects, styles and techniques — the contests have become taste and trend builders in the fine arts photography community.
The value of the contests is further enhanced by our website (bandwmag.com), where not only winners are announced and their work showcased, but where images by every entrant are archived and made accessible for viewing.
In a move that will add to the number of winners in future contests, we have recently created a panel of lay judges who will select their favorite photographs in each of the single-image categories. The winners of these People’s Choice Awards will be featured in the special issues. Furthermore, the panel of peer judges has been expanded. Each of the judges now act independently, and winners are chosen from a merged lists of the judges’ choices. Additionally, the winning image in each of the single image categories will be featured in regular issues of B&W, accompanied by a bio of the photographer and background info about the photograph.
These recent changes will help to further improve the contests, making them a must for every photographer with ambitions to have their work exposed to the wide world of fine art photography.
Entries Received From 74 Countries
Argentina Australia Austria Bahamas Bahrain Bangalore Barbados Belgium Brazil Bulgaria Canada Chile China Colombia Costa Rica Croatia Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Dominican Republic Finland France French West Indies Germany Greece Guam Guatemala Hong Kong Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Ireland Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jordan Korea Lebanon Malaysia Mexico Montenegro Namibia New Zealand Norway Panama Peru Philippines Poland Portugal Puerto Rico Quatar Romania Russia Saudi Arabia Serbia Singapore Slovenia South Africa Spain Sweden Switzerland Syria Taiwan Thailand The Netherlands Turkey Ukraine United Arab Emirates United States United Kingdom Uruguay Venezuela