BP Miller is an award-winning photographer and photojournalist, whose work has been published in several national publications, including The New York Times. He is the Associate Chair (Mid-Atlantic) for the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA).
It’s that time of year again. Resolutions are made and broken. Trips to the gym spark the “new year/new me” revitalization for one week only to fizzle out by week two, and forgotten about until week four when we see another $19.99 charged to our credit card for a service we really don’t use anymore, but won’t cancel because…“I’ll get back there next week.”
Oh…and worse than all of that? It’s picture competition submission time.
NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism, World Press Photo, whatever…these competitions are the single biggest trigger to photojournalists, second only to “you’ve been assigned to cover the Trump White House in 2017”.
In the last week, I have spoken to and witnessed photojournalists worldwide use their social media feeds to crowdsource feedback on the pictures they made in the last year. Epic threads on why “this picture” should or shouldn’t be considered for submission would go on for DAYS. Pulitzer Prize winners, staff photographers and freelancers alike…asking each other for judgment and busting each other’s chops. If you listened to the computer speakers carefully…you could faintly hear the strains of “I Hope I Get It” from “A Chorus Line”.
By Friday, I was curled up in a fetal position, rocking back and forth whispering, “I’m not worthy…I’m not worthy…”
So, the question begs itself. Why do we do it? For the recognition? For the bragging rights? For the love and adoration of our fellow photographers? For shits and giggles?
The answer is a little bit of everything, I think.
I was once told by a friend “it’s fine to be voted Photographer Of The Year…but it’s just a single award…if I don’t keep trying to outdo it…then I’m just a one-time winner with an award on my shelf and no money in the bank. It’s a great honor, don’t get me wrong…but the world spins on”. Deep thoughts, and proof that even a person with multiple awards and a Pulitzer to their name still needs a reset every year.
Look…I have “award-winning” next to my name in my bio…but no one has ever asked what awards I’ve won, and for what type of photography. For all they know, I won 5th place in 6th grade for a picture I made with my old Polaroid Land Camera. Let’s face it…if it’s not the world “Pulitzer”, most people outside of our little world don’t care what it is.
Photographers are normally fickle people who don’t want to be bothered with anything, and just left alone to do their thing…so why do we lose our shit every January? WHY do we do it?
I think it’s a nuanced cocktail of acceptance, recognition & respect. One part wanting to be accepted by our community, one part wanting to be recognized for the hard work we do to tell the story, and one part “LOVE ME…FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY…LOVE ME!”
But more than anything else, I think we all submit to this madness year after year because it’s a way to annually reconcile our photographic checkbook. It forces us to take a hard look at the pictures we made, really look inward, and chastise the shit out of ourselves mentally for taking (to our mind) such horrible imagery. Come on…I’m not the only one who does it. Embrace it…it’s ok to admit it. When forced to look back at the pictures taken the previous year…we see nothing but the flaws, and the things we would have done differently.
But then recently…a conversation between myself and another photojournalist about comparing our work to others, and not feeling worthy enough to be even called a photojournalist, yielded this little nugget of wisdom: “How do you know they’re not doing the same exact thing when comparing themselves and their own work to YOU and YOUR work?”
Well shit…I never thought of it that way.
So, at the end of the day, I’m submitting a few images this year to a couple of different comps. I’ve asked people I truly trust as friends and photojournalists to weigh in on my selections, and I’ll wait to be judged.
If I win, great…but I won’t hold my breath, and I won’t be shocked if I don’t. HOWEVER, the perceived exercise in futility will, at the very least, force me to rethink my actions this year while shooting and, honestly, I’m ok with that.
…Until next January, anyway.