I am happy to announce (late) the 2nd place win of DMN senior photojournalist David Leeson in Spot News Story at the World Press Photo competition. This is one of the hardest/strangest competitions for Americans because it is a huge competition (open worldwide entry with no fee and a big cash prize) held in The Netherlands. Most Americans are not really sure what the heck their judges want (lots of blood helps though). Nonetheless, this is yet another huge accomplishment for this highly acclaimed photojournalist.
We are also forced to say a heartfelt "good luck" to Damon Winter who has gone on to greener pastures at the Los Angeles Times. He is a truly great photographer who will be missed most for his gentle nature.
This means ... our editors will start pouring over all the contest winners from the last few years to see who they want to contact. Now do you understand why these darn contests are important?
When I was a kid, my family raised miniature schnauzers. Our "kennels" (I shared my bed with five dogs) didn't show dogs, but we had the finest available. My mom didn't think the way schnauzers are groomed for show was kind to the dog, so we didn't subject our buddies to this torture. However, we wanted to provide the best possible puppies. So, we purchased dogs with the best possible pedigrees (mostly champions).
Before we purchased a puppy for Fuzzyland (the name of our line), we would research the lines on several top dogs. We would look for dogs with clear medical backgrounds and the most solid championship lines. We gave extra credit to any CDX (child disciplined excellent) obedience champions. These were smart and well-behaved dogs.
So, we got and produced smart, cute puppies. We paid a premium price to get these critters because we knew we could charge a premium for their puppies.
On a puppy pedigree, each parent is listed for up to seven generations (128 names - 2^7). The names of champions are listed in red and the names of non-champions are listed in black. A great dog will have more red than black names. We tried to get puppies with no black names.
Now is when some photographers will hate me because I am comparing photographers to puppies, but I do so in a happy mental state. :-)
When editors are picking future photographers, they will want someone with proven performance (ie. competition wins). The better the newspaper, the more they will pay their employees because they will have a high expectation on their performance (see note 1 above) and will not want to lose them to the competition (see note 2 above).
In puppy terms, this means the photojournalists chosen at big papers have all-red pedigrees. So, if you have 128 major competition wins, please send a resume to the photo department.
For those starting into this field, have a little fun with the process. Buy a blank pedigree and track your success. Set some standards and fill in the form. For example, if you compete in the NPPA monthly clip contest for your region, write in black on the 7th generation "NPPA monthly clip-Jan 2004." If you win, place or show, change it to red or mark it with a highlighting pen. You'll have the seventh generation filled out in no time if you keep at it.
Research other various competitions and put them at different levels or generations. Photographer of the Year at POY or BOP means you are a champion, so generation 1 becomes red and you can apply to any paper. An individual category win might be generation 3 or 4, whereas essay and portfolio categories are higher generations (it's yours to choose).
Don't freak if you have mostly black contest names. The point is to have entered the competitions and filled in all the blanks because for every winner, there are thousands of non-winners (not really losers per se).
Personally, I am still considered a mostly-black pedigree shooter, but I am working on my red names. ;-)
Enough for now,