My initial response to the now-disqualified winner of the 2012 Landscape Photographer of the Year was that I liked the image very much. A black and white had come top of the pile too, and it wasn’t really a cute dog picture, unlike one previous winner, or belong to another genre which happened to please the sponsor Network Rail. This year I was glad to see the judges had chosen a picture that was unequivocally a landscape.
Maybe their decision would have passed unquestioned had the photographer’s web site not mentioned he’d been trying to copy a friend’s photo of the same scene – and had succeeded in doing so. Alex Nail and then Tim Parkin deserve credit for digging further and demonstrating that clouds and other landscape elements had been added in Photoshop, breaching the rules for that section of the competition, and as a result the winning picture and two others by the same photographer were disqualified. The objection wasn’t to the photographer, and you could readily accept that he hadn’t read the rules if you saw his grasp of spelling and grammar in online forums where he defended himself. The real beef was with how the organisers had not succeeded in enforcing their own rules.
In fact earlier this year I’d met the organisers of another of the major UK photo competitions and advised on methods for validating shortlisted images. So I’d been thinking of where I would personally draw the line. For myself, I’ve always thought in terms of “darkroom rules” and feel less-satisfied if I know my Photoshopping has extended too far beyond what one could achieve in the darkroom. Yet you don’t need to know much about the history of photography to know how much latitude that might give the unscrupulous. So how does this definition work – if you could perform the manipulation in Lightroom / Aperture / C1, a picture rightly belongs in a photography competition. If that’s not the case, and the image is the result of compositing layers, surely the picture would feel much more at home in a Photoshop contest?
Anyway, I wasn’t so keen on the eventual winner. The photo had initially caught my eye, and I liked the choice of subject and its foreshortened treatment. But I keep thinking it’s let down by the messy trees in the lower quarter, and the photographer Simon Butterworth has certainly done far better work. Seeing it this week in the exhibition at the National Theatre, my view didn’t change. No, my winner was this Peter Laurence shot of redwoods in Scotland which was printed at a metre tall and looked magnificent. Black and white too. There’s a surprise.