After six months of doing the print competition thing, finally time to finish this entry about Print Handlers, with some extra behind-the-scenes goodness. (Guilty secret, we’ve published this before, but the story has changed now, so lets pretend it’s a brand new post. Ssshhh.)
A few years ago at the Queensland state awards dinner, Simon Hutchen introduced himself, and talked about how he was really excited for one of my prints. He’d been on duty behind the scenes as a print handler, taking prints off the stack, making sure they were in top condition before putting them up for judging. He spoke about carefully checking and dusting my print, and other prints, and we got to talking about all of the aspects of working as a print handler. He spoke about the whole thing with so much respect, respect for the work, respect for the photographers, and a love for just being a part of the process.
Of course, he isn’t the only one to feel that way. I think anyone involved in the awards knows people who have worked back there, and I’m willing to bet that they all sing the same tune. All my other friends that have had roles to play behind the curtain speak in much the same way. Opening a case of prints and being the first to see incredible work, prepping prints for judging, taking awarded prints and putting them up for display… They all talk about the process with that same sense of excitement and respect.
Now, as an observer of the judging for print awards, you never get to see any of that. That all happens behind the wall, and prints magically appear and disappear in the right order like clockwork. I wanted to fashion an image that gave a little peek in to what is going on behind the scenes… Something fantastic, something that conveyed that reverence for the work.
To me, this print is about respect – respect for the work of photographers, and respect for the people that take care of the images. In the finished piece, every print here is special; there are no stacks of prints, they each wait patiently until someone comes to take them for judging. It is an Event for the print handlers – t-shirts, jeans and regular photo-handling gloves replaced with glamorous black-tie dresses and suits with opera gloves. Something special and something to be celebrated.
The Print Handlers
So… preparing a print like this for the awards is interesting. Part of the appeal of this print has to be the impact it has on judges who aren’t really prepared for it, so it’s important to keep it under wraps. After identifying photographers that had actually done print handling, and weren’t too notorious, my pitch was something like… “Hi there! So… would you like to be part of a project? You can’t tell anyone about it, not even to say that I’m photographing you. And I’m not going to tell you what the project is yet. Are you in?” Had a 100% “YES!” rate, which is terribly cool. We ended up shooting these people-parts in our lounge at home, at a few studios (Studio Fascino at the Gold Coast and the Garage Studio in Sunbury), and even in other people’s lounge rooms (thanks Greg!).
The location was a happy accident. Wanda and I were travelling in mid-2015, and one of the shots I took in Sweden seemed to be a good fit. You can check the whole room out in a groovy 360-degree virtual tour (where the photographer stood in a much better spot than I did, dangit).
Colleen was my test subject and the first one to be shot. You might notice she has a red lanyard in the image below – I had an authentic lanyard from an APPA 2015 print handler to use as a prop. Unfortunately, not long after that, the APPAs had a sponsorship change, so my carefully procured red lanyard made way for a standard AIPP lanyard. (At the actual 2016 APPA judging, it was the Nikon AIPP lanyard with yellow squares every now and again. Sigh, can’t win em all.)
How’s this for super committed? I realised one evening that I had a few hours to kill in Melbourne the following day before flying home. I gave Fiona Handbury a call. “Hey, do you want to be in an APPA image? You have to organise a black dress, hair, a lanyard, white opera gloves, a print and a print case… and a studio.” One hour later, Fi says “Done. See you tomorrow.”
Tristam Evison has printed many many APPA-awarded prints, and a great many of mine, so it was quite a pleasure to get to include him in a print. “You’ve worked behind the scenes at QPPA, right?” “Yeah, but mostly delivering coffee.” BAM.
See Simon in there, with the blower, making sure that print is nice and tidy and ready for judging? That’s the exact print he was telling me about when I first met him, the one he was really excited to prepare. That seemed fitting.
One of the fun easter eggs for me in this print is the selection of images playing the part of APPA prints – each one of them printed and re-photographed as an award print, prints that could conceivably fall in to categories like Travel, Landscape, Portrait, or Illustrative. (None of these images have ever been in the awards, although I’ve shortlisted a couple of them have been shortlisted when preparing award submissions in the past.) There are photographs of my gorgeous wife Wanda, our son, my Dad, plus some of our amazing theatre clients including ImproMafia, The Sexy Detectives and BangNation, one of our wedding couples Caitie and Luke, and some other personal work including a smoke-painting-shoutout to Kelly Gerdes. And a sunrise shot from a Landscape Masterclass in Victoria where we met a bunch of pretty legendary photographers that have become good friends. (Does this mean these 13 prints have also scored awards at a state, national and international level? I think yes!! 😀 )
Judging volume 1 – The Mat. Sigh.
Ever have a good idea that turned out to be not so great?
For the 2016 APPA print, I acquired some of the material that was used to create the judging wall – offcuts from the exact batch that the judging walls are made of – and used that instead of a traditional mat. The fabric and the stitching pretty much exactly matches the rest of the wall. For the few minutes that the print was on the wall, it was intended to be a sneaky look in to what was going on behind the scenes at that exact moment. I was pretty taken with the idea that the print would be contextually correct for just a few moments, a little window in to that back room, PART of that wall instead of a print sitting on the wall. Surely that whole convention-breaking thing would be celebrated by the judges! Surely!!
Um, no. Just. No.
That was a risk that did not pay off. Pretty sure the unusual mat was the least appealing part of the print for the judges. It was distracting, and made it harder to connect with the image; it’s hard enough to clear your mind between one print and the next, without having this distracting mat poking you in the eye while you’re trying to read the print. I don’t think anyone tumbled to the idea that the stitching or the material was the same – I think it’s probably normal to judge a thousand prints and have never really looked at the judging wall! But – that’s what taking risks is about, so it’s all good.
Huge thanks to Tristam and Wanda for the mat help. They both went WAY above and beyond to make this thing work. If either of you want to punch me in the shoulder and tell me to mat things normally next time, go for it.
Also – can I complain about the score? No I cannot! The print scored an 87, squarely in Silver with Distinction range. Not too shabby.
Judging volume II – Vegas, Baby
This print had a run at the WPPI 16×20 awards in Las Vegas. One notable improvement – no crazy mat. Too late I realised that I’d kind of botched some colour around the window, but time had gotten away from me, so the print went in as it was, and it came home with an 83, Silver Award. Nothing to sneeze at.
Judging volume III – Back to Brisbane
This print started life in Brisbane, and for the very last time we are able to take prints that have been to APPA and give them a run in the state awards. So – no crazy mat, colour issues fixed, feedback from the judges at both APPA and WPPI actioned, and an intense edit-print-examine-curse-edit-print-examine-curse-repeat cycle later – super excited to watch the print score a 90, Gold Award, at the Queensland awards, and also become part of the Illustrative Photographer of the Year portfolio!
One of the best bits? It is understandable that this image can look like a bit of a piss take on the awards, but the intent is anything but – it’s supposed to be about respect. Hearing Kaye Davis from New Zealand challenging and talking this print up as a something of a timeless tribute to photography was just excellent.
I think most of my APPA prints are a team effort, and this one more than any other. Thank you to my amazing wife and partner in crime Wanda for being super supportive, and for being extra patient with me when stitching the crazy mat. (And for not divorcing me after my back-seat-driving while she was sewing. “Too close! Wait too far! Too spaced out! Too neat! Too messy!”), Dan for the material, Tristam for the matting (yes it STILL smells, Tristam) and APPA+WPPI printing, and Shane for the QEPPA printing. And to my a+ assistant Tara who is always super keen to be part of these projects, despite my hassling her all the time to clean her room.
Massive thank you to the photographers that very enthusiastically signed up to be part of this image – Simon Hutchen, Alycia Angel, Fiona Handbury, Colleen Harris, Roxanne Gorman, Greg Hanlon, Ralph Brown, Tristam Evison, Megan Rizzo and Sue Lewis. All of these guys have actually done this job, working behind the scenes at state or national awards. You guys put a lot of trust in me, and I hope this print is something you will value for a long time.