Yesterday I attended the Irish Times Amateur Photographer of the Year Award Ceremony.
The winners had already been announced in the press. I had entered several photos but hadn’t won anything. I hadn’t expected to. Entering was a long shot as I had only taken up photography in earnest last year. So when the invitation popped into my inbox I decided to accept, as I thought that I might learn something from the winners and adjudicators. The event was 5 minutes from where I work so it wasn’t a big time investment.
I was a bit surprised when I got there that only a handful of people were at the event, especially as over 7,000 photographs were entered. There was tea and cake, which I resisted, it felt a little odd being there amongst the winners, excitedly talking to each other about their winning entry. Everyone seemed to have come with friends and family. I came alone and I didn’t feel at home. In fact I felt that I didn’t belong, that I was an interloper and along with resisting the cake I had to resist the urge to leave.
Frank Miller, award winning photographer, and chair of the judging panel, told us that this was the largest number of entries that they had ever had, that people had entered from all over the world and that the standard was very high. He described how the team of judges rated every photo and totted up the scores to make a long list, and then how a short list was made from the long list, how a list of finalists was drawn up and finally how ensconced in a boardroom they debated and discussed these photographs until they came up with the winners for each of the 7 categories (Street; Colour; Nature; Portrait; Monochrome; Open; and Travel).
He then went on to say that before they handed out the trophies that he wanted to make an honourable mention to three people in the room whose highly commended photos came within a hare’s whisker of winning. When he mentioned my name, I honestly don’t know whether the squeal of delight I heard in my head actually escaped my mouth. I was completely and utterly gobsmacked.
Listening to Frank explain why the judges had selected each of the winners took on new meaning as I wondered which one of my photos had come close to these truly amazing photographs. Was it my Dahlia in milk (Nature) that I use for my blog header, or Wooden Eggs (Colour) or Loch Lein (Travel). Looking at the winners on the large screen it was difficult to imagine how any of mine had even been noticed.
After the prize-giving I asked if I could find out which of my photos had been highly commended. Frank Miller seemed surprised that I didn’t already know since they said that they had published all of the finalists on line at the end of June. I told him that I had looked at the galleries for the categories that I had entered but none of my photos were there. Then an awful moment passed between us where I thought that perhaps a mistake had been made.
Thankfully, there had been no mistake, Frank Miller kindly emailed me to tell me that I had been highly commended in the Portrait category. ‘Portrait’ I had totally forgotten that I had even entered that category. I was completely blown away, I don’t take portraits, I don’t really like photographing people and had not intended entering that category but decided on the spur of the moment to enter the photo, much the same way that I had decided on the spur of the moment to take the photo, wait for it….. with my iPhone!!
My 86 year old mum had been in hospital since July 2013. All she wants to do is come home. The doctor had told her the week before I took this photo that she will never be allowed home because she can’t look after herself anymore. I take her to my home each weekend and do my best to make it a special time – the day of the photograph, I did her hair and gave her a massage with sweet smelling lotion. Then I wrapped her in my duvet to relax. She looked so beautiful and seemed so at home on my bed that I snapped this photo. I call it ‘Home’.
I hadn’t looked at the gallery for the Portrait finalists simply because I had forgotten that I entered that category. So I looked this morning and discovered that there were 16 finalists in the Portrait Category, Gold, Silver and Bronze were awarded to Lexi Novitske, Danielle Houghton, and Ian Blount, and my photo was short-short-listed to the final 6 and so highly commended. In fact the winning photo from this category also won the travel category and went on to win the overall prize for ‘Photograph of the Year’ and the photographer who placed second in this category went on to win the overall Irish Times Amateur ‘Photographer of the Year’ award for the body of work that she submitted. So I was in excellent company and had I known in advance that I was a finalist (doh!) I might have felt a little more at home. I am honoured to have been given an honourable mention and inspired to photograph more.