Talent Or Luck: On Winning Fame Through Art Contests

To borrow the lotto saying, “You have to win it to be in it,” contests lure you in with that elusive hook…. you just might win, if only you played the game. For Lotto it surely is about luck when it comes to winning. What about when the contest asks something of the contestant besides just plopping down a few bucks for an admission fee?

When it comes to the arts, is it a game of odds or talent with contests that call for submitting  your photography, illustration, song writing, animation or any creative works? For ‘calls for submissions’ it’s more about the quality of work, and when it comes to art that can be subjective. But certainly a little luck wouldn’t hurt.

It is a journey of the unknown when anyone decides to submit work in the hopes of a nod from a judge, who usually is pro in the field.

“Wall’ Charlottsville, VA

Take the ‘One Life’ International Photography Competition underway right now. The judges are individuals from publishing and academia realms that include: Sarah Filipi, Deputy Photo Editor for Fast Company, Rebecca Kimmons, Photo Editor for Redbook, Michael Norseng, Photo Director for Esquire, John Gimenez Photo Contests & Events for Photo District News (PDN), Michael Stueven, Photo Editor for People, Rob Baid, Creative Director for Mother New York, and Steven J. Bliss, Dean of The School of Fine Arts at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

While online art contests don’t award millions they do give participants a chance to be seen by industry professionals and could potentially open doors for freelance opportunities. The prizes for One Life are a $25,000 grant, a gallery exhibition, a feature in PDN Magazine, a photo essay in the One Life Catalogue, and lastly, web exposure to a global audience.

Signage points to freaks along board walk, Coney Island, New York.

Digital publishing has created a niche market for numerous web ‘call for submissions’ opportunities. While entry fees are associated with the contests, the dollar amount usually isn’t too steep. Some might consider these organizations as opportunists similar to a vanity gallery practice, by charging high fees for the privilege of exhibiting in the space. I don’t think online art contests fall into that category of simply making money off of participants.

Online or brick and mortar, it doesn’t much matter where the venue is – what matters is the costs associated with putting together an event of this magnitude. In today’s markets any business endeavor comes with some expense associated with marketing your work.

Another contest of note that is free to enter is the Smithsonian Magazine 10th Annual Photo Contest offering Grand Prize of a Smithsonian Journeys trip or cash equivalent of approximately $3,000,  five category winner prizes of $500 and one reader’s choice winner of $500.

The National Geographic Photo Contest 2012  begins September 1, 2012 and entrants have to November 30, 2012 to submit work. The cost is nominal, $15 per image, and signed personal and property releases are required where photograph contains people or notable artworks or buildings within image. While these rules may seem restricting, they are intended to protect the rights of subjects for publication purposes.

To see the entire collection of images I submitted visit for One Life, visit: http://mwaage.see.me/onelife2012#.UDj3xsNvLvY.tumblr

Have you used online resources to promote your work? Contests are just one  way to get work seen. Personal web sites and posting updates to social networking sites like Facebook are efforts at marketing that at its core say, ‘look at me’ and that’s precisely what you want to do for your work.

A new site I just discovered is The Ground Magazine.  Artists signing up to the site can upload their work. Exposure opportunities like this are a good alternatives for gaining visibility within a like-minded creative community. To repeat the Lotto catch phrase – “You have to be in it to win it.”

What’s Mine Is Mine Unless I Share

March 1, 2014

Since writing this post I have been contacted by the photographer who asked me to remove it. I am also a photographer and feel copyright is an important issue. I wish Casey Keil every success. I do not wish to slander anyone or feel threatened because I expressed my opinion on the matter of how one photographer’s images wound up on another site. How it happened eludes me. If two professional photographers share a hard drive the files should be stored in separate directories. This is basic file management. If an administrator mistakenly posted works and attributed to the wrong person (as may be the case) I would hope the issue has been resolved. As written below in the original post, I spoke about screen grabs. That speculation was just that, a speculation how images can be grabbed from the screen and reposted somewhere else – I do not know what happened in the scenario that occurred between Keil and Falcetti. Again I hope this issue has been resolved.

I consider myself a reactionary person. I can cry at a moment’s notice. Every Friday at 8:25 a.m. NPR airs StoryCorps and as if on cue, the weight of world finds itself traveling down my cheek in the shape and feel of a wet teardrop.

It’s one thing to hear a stranger’s story and feel an emotional pull – from a ‘being human’ perspective. It’s quite another experience to hear a colleague’s complaint of finding his work  lifted by another, and feel outright outrage.

Being a professional photographer today is much harder than pre-digital days. A common misconception leads most to think otherwise. Film costs have absolutely disappeared and shooting hundreds of images has become relatively cost efficient with an initial investment of an 8-16 gigabyte film card.

Photographers have always had to be aware of licensing and copyright. A basis for any business is to price the product for the use, and that relationship is paramount to any professional service. The internet has provided a bigger audience for all media and while that serves to promote one’s work, it’s no secret that overzealous social networks can work against the very nature of ownership and rights to original content.

Digital versions of print editions of newspapers and magazines are what many publications are doing to sustain their businesses. That’s nothing new. Readership, is the end goal as is advertising dollars. When online sites become prey to ‘lifting’ images via screen grabs or when written content grabbing occurs without attribution, the line gets crossed between sharing and stealing.

Robert Falcetti found his photograph on Casey Keil’s site. There’s no doubt whatsoever that the original image belongs to Falcetti as shown in the photographer’s Photoshelter site. To see the images that were illegally claimed by Keil – click on the link to Facebook thread.

The image below appears on KCK Images site:

© Robert Falcetti

While I haven’t had the unpleasant experience of being so blatantly ripped off, I have had some of my own Facebook images turn up as gifts to others without even so much as a nod to me, the owner.

Lesson learned – Facebook is a social platform intentionally made for the purpose of sharing. If you, the owner of images do not want to share access to high quality files, don’t upload directly to Facebook. Post to secondary sites where you can control download permissions such as Flickr, Photoshelter, Smugmug, etc.

I suspect what happened to Falcetti cannot be avoided completely. Every computer whether MacIntosh or PC, has screen grab functionality. Because web viewing doesn’t require large resolutions, screen capture is easy enough to do and reproduce for similar presentation. The captured file wouldn’t be suitable for quality reproduction, but that is a small consolation when you see you image falsely claimed by another.

Sharing should be somewhat guarded in the age of digital reproduction. What measures do you take as a photographer, writer, artist or originator of any creative works, to ensure attribution, licensing and payment?