The only judging I was able to view in person at all was the documentary category, which is a shame, but I was glad I got to see this one out of all of the others. It’s a category with an extremely wide variety of subjects, and the winners from this category produce some of the best photojournalism I’ve ever seen. Documentary photojournalism to me is basically the essence of what photojournalism was created to accomplish. It shows people from all around world, particularly now in our modern age of high speed information sharing, issues that they couldn’t really see on their own. I think this category requires the most bravery and persistence. Because of this I’m usually in awe by what I see more so than in any other judging session.
This year there were a number of great stories, stories I would be particularly happy with being able to pull off. It amazes me how fast the judges go through these stories, considering the number of entries and how good most of them are. The judges are of course, trained professionals that have discerning eyes but it is nonetheless impressive to me.
In the first round of serious discussion and narrowing down in this category (I think they made it down to around 10 images), one of the judges remarked how difficult it was to choose. But what I really noticed was that the judges were largely in agreement. They immediately picked out a couple that they knew would be at the top of the pack, and spent more time discussing the ones at the bottom, and why they were there. They were doing this partially for our benefit, but I think if they had been sitting alone in a room together they probably would have said all the same things.
In my time as a photo editor at the Missourian I’ve found it’s useful to talk out what my initial reaction is, and to get the opinion of fellow editors or photographers. It’s reassuring, and it really explains where I’m coming from, which is useful from an editorial standpoint because we’re trying to show the most truthful image possible. If I have a reaction to something for a personal reason, that doesn’t benefit, or actually harms the journalistic integrity of the newspaper, then my opinion is pretty much moot and the edit needs to be given to fresh, less biased eyes.
The main justifications for stories being moved to the bottom of the pack were that the story didn’t have enough focus, and it wasn’t in depth or personal enough. If the story was too unfocused a comment such as, “it tried to do too many things,” was usually said. I find it hard as a photographer sometimes to just pick one thing to go for, but it’s necessary for cohesion. With words you can spell it out clearly to readers, with images they have to tell the story without words at least initially. The images have to be clear, especially when working as a group. There is no room for confusion or you lose the viewer. And it’s especially important for the documentary category to have depth. These stories are meant to be long term, with lots of time and research spent. You can practically feel the weight of the stories if they’re done well. As a photographer I sit in awe at how many hours the photographer had to spend and how much they had to care to do so much work. If the photographer doesn’t care about their work it shows, and it tells the viewer that they shouldn’t really care either.