A few weeks ago I discovered that a photography club meets once a month in our town, so I went and checked them out. They meet in a large conference room at the town senior center where they can set up a large screen and project everyone's submitted photos for the month. That first time I went they had a guest speaker talking about the finer points of street photography, and after that they scrolled through everyone's pictures.
The guest speaker was ok, but the follow-up presentation of members' photos.....zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
I couldn't believe it. There must have been 40 photos put up, one after the other, and after each one....dead silence. No discussion of the picture's merits by the members, no explanation of what was happening by the photographer. Just 30 or so people sitting with their arms crossed staring dully at the screen until it was over when they all put on their coats and left.
What the heck? I thought these were supposed to be enthusiasts. Where was the enthusiasm?
I decided to join anyway.
Every month (I found out) the club posts a Theme, and the members are supposed to bring pictures representing that theme to the next meeting. When I inquired about membership they handed me an application, and also a sheet detailing what each month's theme would be. For April, it was "Transportation". I also had to pick what level photographer I was, Beginner, Intermediate, or Expert. I'm probably really a beginner, since this is my very first DSLR. But you know how men are. I chose intermediate. They'd never know.
For the April meeting, then, I knew I'd be in for 2 hours of people staring glumly at picture after picture of cars, bicycles, horses, trains, and all the other obvious choices. But I came up with a plan: I was gonna submit 5 pictures (the maximum allowed), none of which on the surface seemed to be about transportation at all. Then I, a professional wordsmith who's not embarrassed to show it, would stand up and spin a tale around each of my pictures explaining why it actually did conform to The Theme. That would get conversations going amongst the peanut gallery, then others would do the same with their pictures, and all would be right with the world! I couldn't wait.
So yesterday was the April meeting, my first as a paid member and contributor. I had my script for each photo memorized, and I was raring to go. I was gonna save the Vernon Camera Club single handed!
Or so I thought.
To my surprise there were easily twice as many people seated around the tables in the meeting room as there were the previous month. And they were all chattering away, lively as could be. What was going on...?
Then the president of the club stood up. "Please sit down everyone" she said, "and if anyone hasn't submitted their entries yet, please do so now it you have them on a thumb drive. The judge will be here in a few moments."
Entries? Judge? What was going on?
I went trotting up to the president to find out.
"Oh yes" she said. "This month is a competition event. I believe we ran out of notices when you were here last time, so you probably didn't know. But don't worry, I included all 5 of your pictures in the Intermediate category."
So not only was I not gonna be able to deliver my well crafted remarks to wild applause and guffaws of appreciative laughter, but my pictures were about to be judged against 60-odd others in a category that I shouldn't be in. Judged, I soon found out, by the soon-to-arrive guest professional photographer who has also been a professional photography judge since 1975. On top of that, during the judging no one was allowed to talk. I couldn't explain why my pictures really were about transportation, even if on the surface they didn't appear to be.
I braced for impact.
The pictures were put up on screen in random order, with no attribution as to photographer. That, at least, was good. Nobody would know it was me who put up all those pictures which seemed to not fit the Theme.
First up were all the pictures in the Beginner category. I groaned. They all looked better than mine. The judge studied at each one in turn, discussing what he liked and didn't like, and giving it a score. At the end he put his favorite five up on screen together and decided on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place from them. Everybody clapped.
Then came the Intermediates.
My first picture was #7 in the cue. It went as badly as I thought.
"What the hell is this?" said the judge. "I thought the theme of the competition was 'Transportation'. Didn't this member get the memo?" He gave my picture the lowest possible score.
It the same reaction when my next picture popped up. And the next. And the next. I could tell the judge was getting more and more peeved every time he had to ask if someone didn't get the memo. I just sunk further into my chair and tried not to make eye contact.
Finally, near the end of the pile, my last picture went up. It was a shot I took this past Christmas Eve. I'd gone into town to take pictures of Christmas decorations, and just as the sun was going down a commuter train from NYC pulled into the station. There was only one guy on the entire train, some poor schlub who had to go in on the holiday and was now finally going home. As soon as I spotted him I sprinted down the tracks as the train was pulling away, then laid down between the rails to get an interesting perspective and took the photo as he crossed the street, all alone. I had to rush it, and I didn't think it came out very well with a somewhat skewed horizon and other technical difficulties. But I included it anyway because I wanted to spin the tale about it to the audience. I expected to get shot down again.
"Now THAT is a great picture" said the judge. "The guy in the photo is a little too dark - it took me a moment to spot him. But otherwise the composition is terrific, and it really conveys a story." He gave it the top mark possible.
A few more photos, and then he put his top 5 up on screen.
Mine was one of them.
"Ok, let's take these two out" he said, swiping away two that weren't mine.
Now there were three. I was guaranteed at least to get a ribbon!
"Ok, this one is third", and he picked...not mine again!
That left just me and some loser who shot a picture of a row of golf carts. I held my breath.
The judge studied both pictures for a solid 2 minutes or so. Finally he said, "If the guy in the train picture wasn't quite so dark, it would have one. But he was, so I'm giving it 2nd place. First goes to the golf carts." Everybody applauded, and the president handed me my red 2nd Place ribbon. (BTW, it really was a very good golf cart picture. There was no shame losing to it.)
After that he judged the Expert category, and those were some REALLY spectacular photos. The winning shot was far and away the class of the entire competition, and handily won both the Expert division and th "Best in Show" award. The judge said it was good enough to be displayed in a professional gallery, and I wouldn't argue.
I got second place in the Intermediate category! Against63 other people! In my very first photography competition! A competition I didn't even know I'd entered, and with pictures I never would have entered if I'd known!
Can you tell I'm a bit excited? I've got a room full of motorcycle racing and fencing competition trophies, but this stupid little red ribbon now draped over my desk makes me giggle with delight more than anything I've won in quite some years. Life is funny, huh?
All the other meetings scheduled for this year are just regular ol' Show-n-Tell stuff with a few guest speakers and an outing or two. Except one. Later in the fall it looks like they're gonna have one more competition. And when the do, that blue First Place ribbon will be mine! MINE, I say! BWAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAA!!
Not that I care, of course. I'm too suave and sophisticated for that.