Seven people from across the world are brought together. They have never met before and are placed in a long high ceilinged, second floor room with blacked out windows in Amsterdam. They are asked to make judgements on 373 pieces of work over six days. Each person has a wealth of experience and knowledge within their areas of specialization and careers. Each person is aware of the professional backgrounds of the other people in the room. For the next six days these people will become and be referred to as the jurors.
Whichever way you look at it viewing work within a judging room is unnatural. The work you view has not been created to be judged or experienced in such an environment. And yet the work has been entered by its creators with the hope of winning a prize, being recognised and/or raising the profile of the maker and in the case of the World Press Photo Awards the profile of an important subject matter. Judging is not to be taken lightly. It brings with it a moral obligation not only to the creator but also to the subjects of the work. The jurors are serious about the task that lies before them.
To believe or suggest that a juror would bring any personal agenda to the judging room would require a complete lack of understanding of the mutual respect for fellow professionals we should all have. It is clear from the moment we met that we all share and understand this concept of moral obligation.
I have judged many photographic award’s other the years and each has had its own specific format for judging. The recent trend has been for online voting; an impersonal approach in my opinion that can often reward the mediocre. World Press Photo ‘keep it old school’. It’s judging in the raw where heated debate is to the fore and the experimental, unexpected and the down right strange all get a fair hearing, consideration and defence. The jurors are a true jury.
The 2014 World Press Photo Multimedia jury consists of Ed, Gabriel, Liza, Marianne, Luis, Jassim and myself. Alan keeps us in ‘check’, he’s the jury secretary. You can find out our surnames, what we do, where we are from and what we have done on the World Press Photo website ( www.worldpressphoto.org/2014-multimedia-contest ) if you feel the need to do so. To me we are just seven people who have got together to be objective, passionate, engaged, questioned and informed. All of those gathered could be potential champion poker players as their faces give no sign of their voting preferences whilst delivering their anonymous marks via the hand held device.
The process is straightforward. On day one we sat down with pens, notebooks and an electronic marking system control. The idea is to watch one and a half minutes from the beginning of each short feature film entered (the long feature category with fifty six entries dictated a first round three minute viewing). At the end of the one and a half minutes we are asked to vote between zero and five before moving on to the next submission. We did this 254 times over the next two days. Now before you throw your hands into the air with indignation at a viewing time less than just two minutes. I ask you to try something.
Choose a film at random from Vimeo or Youtube and watch exactly that time of your chosen film. I guarantee that you will quickly decide whether you want to see more or not. That was exactly our criteria and we watched every single piece of work submitted. If we wanted to see more we marked high if not well the of course the mark was low. After we all submitted our marks twenty-eight of the highest scoring pieces of work passed through to the next stage.
This of course puts a lot of pressure on those first one and a half minutes to engage the viewer, to capture both their interest and attention. Is this an issue? Well I don’t think so when judging a film that may only last between five and seven minutes. It reaffirms editorial content good practice and the need to swiftly capture and engage with your audience. Remember that one of the main criteria of submission for this work is that it was created for online consumption, where concentration and patience are both severely tested.
The chosen twenty-eight were then viewed in their entirety. It is at this point that expectations are either fulfilled or dashed. We are asked if we have any connection with the film, its makers or producers. The possibility of conflict of interest is both open and taken seriously. It’s a small world and the jury have been around, they’ve met people, worked with people and are aware of projects before the judging. All this is laid on the table in the smallest of detail before any discussion is had. Themes start to image, problems with work replicated. The cream begins to rise to the top. We vote after each discussion on our hand held marking devices between zero and nine. It’s a process that produces a final eight.
It is at this stage that positions are taken but arguments are still listened to. The next stage is to get the eight down to the final three. It’s the point of no return. If you feel strongly about a piece of work it’s your duty to put a passionate, cohesive and logical case for its inclusion. This I did and both failed and succeeded. The rest of the jury approached the process in their own idiosyncratic ways. Personalities came to the fore. Some softly spoken, some with wry humour, some with measured consideration others with no nonsense statements of fact. It was not at any point a shouting match based on clashing ego’s, instead humour, mutual respect and a willingness to listen was the order of the day.
It is inevitable that personal favourites will be dropped in a democratic process but I can safely say that not at any point was anybody unhappy with the films that were chosen. At two points in the process films not selected can be put forward for inclusion by any jury member and offered up to a group vote. Honorable Mentions can also be suggested. Some were and were discussed, debated, voted upon. All suggestions were dismissed.
The final three were decided upon and discussed. Where we happy with the three? Did we want to vote another piece into the three? The process could become cyclical and endless but not with this jury. The final three were accepted each time and a winner was chosen from that final three. A collective sigh of relief before the next category to be judged appeared upon the screen.
On Judging the World Press Photo Multimedia Awards 2014
Part Two: Themes, Dreams and What To Do
© Grant Scott 2014
You can read more of Grant Scott’s insights into the world of professional photography in his new book Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained published by Focal Press and available form www.amazon.com