Judging Judges

Camera clubs are a setting for people with a shared interest to come together and interact with respect to photography.  Club members’ goals include education, mentoring, offering field trips to a variety of settings, promoting photography as an art form, and finally, competing.

So, enter the judge.  A judge engages in thoughtful consideration of the candidate images, and then renders his or her judgment on entries in a competition.  Basically, the judge’s task is to determine and award relative merit for images based on particular rules (e.g., composition, technical achievement, color, etc.) or other artistic components. 

Judging of competitions is informal, rather than employing a structured or numeric process, and is therefore not rigorously objective. Subjectivity potentially enters into the photographic critique, based on personal preferences, experience, taste, or values, and different judges may reach substantially different conclusions regarding the same set of images.  Even if a club attempted to apply a structured review process for a photo contest, it would be unlikely to eliminate subjectivity from the process or result. 

The competitor’s subjectivity and pride of creation can potentially conflict with the judge’s subjectivity. Judging is not for everyone; it requires considerable patience and generosity, and involves risk, responsibility, and trust. We need to remind ourselves that judges bring a substantial body of knowledge that adds to our learning, and we should be grateful for their efforts. 

To provide for quality and consistency of judging for member clubs, MPA has developed a Judge Certification Program to provide training of judges with respect to analytic foundations, judging principles, and practices.  We commend Roy Sewall and his MPA students for this effort to raise the bar for photography contests and judging success.

Stephanie Banks

A Hands-on History of Photography

The Smithsonian Associates offers many enriching classes, lectures and workshops.   A number of photography courses are available through its studio arts programs, including a History of Photography: A Hands-On History.  This was a four-week class, which surveyed early movements in photography, from tintype, camera obscura and daguerreotype to the pictorialists and surrealists. One of the components of the course was to produce a project representing one of the early processes in photo development, which included constructing a camera obscura, preparing cyanotypes, photograms and hand coloring an image. In addition, the instructor covered a few well-known men and women who contributed to photography’s development or who invented a number of these early forms and styles in photography.


In week one we used a cereal box or small packing box to construct a camera obscura, a process which had been used as far back as the 5th century BC, where rays of light reflect from an object and pass through a tiny hole and into a dark chamber.  We learned cameras obscura were used as an aid in drafting and used by painters such as da Vinci and Caravaggio.   Artists traced an image from the camera obscura for their painting.  When film or photographic paper is used inside a camera obscura, this is pinhole photography.  Abelardo Morell is a contemporary photographer known for creating camera obscura images.

The next week we created cyanotypes. The paper, either Fabiano 5 or other suitable paper which is acid free and of sufficient weight, is prepared with a solution of ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide, and exposed to UV light. It was immersed in a wash, producing a cyan-blue print. Around 1842, Sir John Herschel invented the cyanotype photographic process.It was originally a low-cost process employed as a photocopying technique and later to produce blueprints.All of the supplies necessary are available at www.photoformulary.com and at www.bhphotovideo.com..


Man Ray is known for his contributions to surrealism, but also for his work with photograms, also called rayographs.  They are made without a camera by placing objects on the surface of treated photographic paper then exposed to light, usually under an enlarger. We used Ilford multi-grade resin-coated paper, because it is quicker to process and dry. Other chemicals involved were developer, stop bath, and fixer, plus a safe light. A very good source for the preparation of photograms can be found at Digital Photography:  Step by Step Guide On How to Make a Photogram.

Hand coloring a photograph was our final project.  Oil or colored pencils can be used to color an image.  This works best when applied to a matte surfaced paper such as Moab Entrada Fine Art or Epson Enhanced Art.  Other suggested supplies include cotton balls, q-tips, brushes, and waxed paper.  There is a fair amount of information available for hand coloring photos.  It can be found at www.freestylephoto.biz.

Hand Colored Photo.jpg

I do not intend to supplant digital photography with 19th century processes. However, they are uncommon and interesting activities and provide an extracurricular digression from contemporary photography.  In order to prepare a couple of these projects it will be necessary to find a photographer with a darkroom and enlarger.

By Stephanie Banks