Over the last few days there has been much soul searching and existential angst amongst the modern quilting community as the results from the jury selections for the Quilt Con competition have come back. Around 1350 quilts were entered, and around 350 were selected to go through, so consequently there were a lot more rejections than acceptances coming back. Those that were rejected have in a way started to panic a bit, ‘Am I not modern enough?’, ‘What did I do wrong?’, ‘Should I only have made a quilt in solids with lots of negative space?’, and more, especially when some people had multiple entries accepted and many others none at all.
Now I didn’t enter, partly because I’m not a member of the Modern Quilt Guild, so I’m not entitled to anyway, but I still wouldn’t have, even if I had been, because I don’t have the time to come up with something suitable right now. And here’s the rub, you need to have created something that satisfied the jury that was making the decisions.
I’m going to take a step sideways here, because although I didn’t enter Quilt Con, I did spend a few years in a camera club taking part in their competitions, so I completely understand the concept of someone making a subjective decision on a photo (it was 2 photos per quilt for Quilt Con). In camera club land, every member of the club could enter 2 images per judged round of competition, and of the 6 rounds each year, 3 were for prints and 3 were for projected images. There was a league, and at the end of each round the two marks out of 20 that were received for your images were entered in the tables. Separately from this, at the end of the year there was a final year competition where most people entered their ‘best of the best’ from throughout the year. Each round had a different trained judge from a different club who presided over the competition, and who gave marks with feedback on every photo entered. Those were long nights…
Now as a beginner to the club, and as there were no themes to the competition, I just threw in 12 images that first year, some that I’d taken that year, but most that had been taken beforehand, many in the 6 months I’d just spent living in South Africa. I had no knowledge of the judges, beyond names on the programme for the year, and no real sense of my fellow competitors. What I did find though, was that the more experienced club members, those in the ‘senior’ section (mostly in age as well as experience!), knew those judges intimately. They knew who loved wildlife, who preferred portraits, who positively wet themselves over a good landscape, and they entered accordingly. You could tell, looking at the entries as we went through them, that the Beginners section, bless us, had a rather schizophrenic approach to entering, with perhaps a wildlife shot for one entry, and an architectural shot for the other. That first year I came 3rd in the projected image league and 7th in the print league out of around 25 (I couldn’t have finished higher for the prints as I’d missed the first round, only coming back from South Africa in early October).
Here are some of the images from that year:
By the second year, I had more of a sense of what judges wanted as far as the format of a photo – things lined up on the thirds, splashes of colour on a dull background (there was a bit of a standing joke about someone in a red raincoat, heading up a path on a hill, standing perfectly on a junction of two thirds, while the rest of the image was greens, greys, and maybe the odd splash of blue in the sky). There was a defined layout, if you like, and I was starting to view things as ‘good competition photo subjects’, even if I didn’t know the particular subject loves of the judges. That year I won the league for both print and projected image and also the end of year prize.
Here are some of the images for that year:
The following year I gave up about 4 months in.
Why did I give up? Well there were a few things, firstly that the job I had at the time was demanding 80 hour weeks out of me, so I didn’t have much time for taking photos, but mainly, since I could have made time for it if I’d tried, because I’d lost all joy in taking photos. I didn’t want to go out with my camera just to take competition photos, I didn’t really want to touch it at all. I had gone from being a beginner using her camera on full Auto mode with jpegs (and winning individual rounds of competition with some of those images) to knowing my camera backwards, forwards and inside out on full Manual mode in RAW format where each image has to be processed in the digital recreation of a darkroom. I kind of felt like I’d cracked it though, or at least I’d cracked camera club judges, and now what…
Now, nearly 5 years down the line I’m picking the camera up again, and even contemplating processing some of the images. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I haven’t taken photos since – I took hundreds on our post Sewing Summit road trip 2 years ago, but I didn’t feel like processing them. I looked at them again as I started to try and find photos for this post, and actually, they weren’t bad. I think the issue was, that at the time I was critically viewing them as ‘they weren’t as good as the professionals that camp out day and night and track the weather for weeks’, so therefore I didn’t want to touch them. I have done that BTW. Tracked weather and, judged the best time to go out and literally freeze my arse off in the middle of the snow on Rannoch Moor for a good sunrise over the mountains. Or stood in a lake in freezing temps to get a good sunrise through the mist:
So back to those quilts. I suspect many who entered have never had to sit there while someone pulled their work apart in front of them to justify a mark they decided to award. If you can step back and take it abstractedly, it helps. The judges in both the Quilt Con jury and the camera club don’t know the names of the entrants, so it’s not a personal attack on you, it’s merely that your submission doesn’t float their boat. That’s the hard thing about subjective competitions, you are appealing to the whim of a judge, and no matter how much distance the judge tries to take from influencing factors, there are internal preferences that will always surface in their decisions. Sometimes you don’t actually want to hear their thought process either – see that photo of the leopard at the very top? It won a round during the league competition, but in the end of year exhibition it scored 4 points lower (and out of 20 that’s a lot!). One of the reasons the judge gave was because it had a silly title ‘Settling Down For A Post Dinner Nap’, and how on earth could the photographer possibly know that? Well that’s because its dinner was also up the tree a few feet to the right of the photo, you can still see the blood on her nose and I personally saw her eating it… But you can’t ever talk back to the judges, so you just have to fume silently!
Saying all that about the anonymity, actually there’s a good chance that if you’ve been around for a while and have a style that’s easily picked out, that the judge really does know, whether consciously or sub-consciously, who you are. Take the Bloggers’ Quilt Festival as an example – it’s a named popularity contest through and through (and I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that if you have loads of friends to appeal to along with good work, it helps a lot more than if you have few friends and good work), but have you ever tried looking at the links in a category to vote and not looking at who submitted them? Would that ever change your mind about who you voted for? Or can you pick out the styles of your friends quite easily, and love them anyway over and above people you’ve never come across before?
I guess the moral of my introspective is this – you can’t please everyone when you enter subjective competitions. If you want to please the judges, then you will force yourself down a road where everything you create is a slave to what those judges define as the ideal subject matter for the competition. If you do that, you may end up hating something you once loved. Don’t do that!
Love the photo of the horse. The facial expression is just wonderful. I agree with what you've said here. It's a shame that we judge our work by someone else's opinion rather than our own. I would hate to get to the point where I no longer loved what I did just to be able to say I won some arbitrary award.
Thank you, the woman in the photo is a friend of a friend, and the horse is a friend of hers.
Yes, it's a fine line between being recognised as being good at something and sacrificing everything to to becognised
Well put. I think in art of all kinds from quilts to music via, painting, photography and theatre, there is that part of us that wants be set apart from the others.
As you know I still do photographic competitions, but in a half hearted way and I do reasonably well in them. We don't know our judges and we try to rotate them so we can't play to the gallery. This is a good and a bad thing. Good in that we put in a more varied selection of photos, but bad in that you can get a judge who doesn't like your style. Last year I gave up too after one idiot looked at a time exposure of fireworks and said that it was obviously a composite, and when I did talk back he wouldn't believe me. What an idiot. So I quit.
For me photography is about building themed bodies of work, projects if you want. They give me much more satisfaction. Like you, I know I'm a competent photographer, so I've looked for an additional outlet and I've found it in the Contemporary Group in the RPS in our region, and I'm about to start a circle within the club so that we can discuss our passion without having to listen to judges and their opinions.
Of course some people love competition and entering salons and so on, and to them I would say, "If you like it fine, but we aren't all the same." Sadly these people often set the club agenda, aiming us at producing what judges in the current climate see as the perfect single image – yawn.
Competitions do have a role of course. They can help us to gauge how we stack up against current trends, and for those starting out, there are basic points any competent judge will make. The best ones are very helpful, and I do learn from them even now, particularly when they provide useful technical advice.
Back to quilting. You seem to have a gap at the bottom as it were. Photography comps do tend to run at club, then work up through regional to national and international salons. This gives beginners, and those trying competition for the first time, the chance to get external feedback on their images, without the glare of floodlights that comes with big open competitions.
Sadly, internet feedback that we get daily tends not to be critical. You know the thing; "Wonderful quilt," "Very colourful," "love it," etc. All well meant but not helping someone to improve. Contrast that with a real competition where judges have to make their subjective and to some extent objective views known. Photographs of quilts don't really enable good judging either. A judge can't see the quality of the finished product. They can only guess at it, and a bad photograph of a brilliant piece doesn't help the contestant.
By entering an international competition based on photographs you have to do what photographers do if they're really serious about getting into salons. They examine the current trends and follow them up to the point at which they start to stand out from the competition. Then, and only then, can they start to make the trends.
So, don't give up if you aren't featured in a competition. If real feedback helps you to improve then keep going, but start with competitions on a more local level if you can. If you don't like the feedback, remember it is only one or at most a few people's opinions.
If there is a huge entry then the judges only have a few seconds to pass your image on to the next stage. They haven't time to give good feedback.
We all enjoy our artistic pursuits and passions and it's a shame if failure on the international stage puts you off. What matters is that you enjoy it and that you share with people who also have the same passion. That way you learn and you improve or you change direction. In the end it's what you think of what you do that matters.
Such sage, wise words and such beautiful images. You Katy are a marvel.
So much food for thought here and I think you've covered it well, and I love your dad's additions too. I find the subjectivity in any kind of competition tricky to handle – even something which in theory could be be objective, maybe like a car race, isn't because there's the money, skill, time, training etc gone into it all behind the scenes. It is very rarely possible to have a truly even competition……..but as long as you are aware of it, and prepared to accept it, then that is fine. I remember a Guides flower arranging (I have to admit here that I wasn't cut out for guides and lasted about 3 weeks, scouts would have been much better) evening where we had to bring in an arrangement and they were ranked by some invited keen florist. Mine wasn't ranked because she said my mum must have done it for me. She hadn't, it was all my own effort, I didn't argue as I knew it was pointless (and I guess I didn't really want to justify myself to someone who wasn't open minded enough to think I could have done it myself – but I came away completely disgusted and have taken anything like that with a pinch of salt since. Not to say I wouldn't ever enter, or potentially be miffed if things didn't go well but I am well aware now how much is down to personal judgement.
Thanks for speaking up so well. And if you can find a way to pick up the camera again you should. In my, highly subjective, opinion your photos are wonderful! Juliex
These are all good reasons why I say that I am not a show quilter but rather I enter my quilts in shows. I am so pleased and proud when a quilt is included in a show and if not, I do not think it appropriate to then criticize the show, the judges, the rules or the overall premise. I just make a decision as to whether I want to try again or try somewhere else or what. As you did with the photos. By the way, your pictures are spectacular and when you are ready to share more with us I will be pleased to see them.
Wow! My quilting world is so small! And here I've been participating in the Bloggers Quilt Festival for the fun of it all this time 😉 and that is how I vote too…whatever strikes me the day I am voting. I am not a very competitive person tho, so these things generally never even hit my radar 🙂 Your photos are breathtaking, and must be a treasure to have, especially with the effort to get them!
Well said Katy. I'm not competitive and I don't want to feel the angst of having something rejected when I've poured my heart and soul into its creation. I'm finding it disconcerting when so many can display their anger, annoyance, etc when they are not successful. Once upon a time you were only awarded something if you really deserved it, unfortunately in this day and age of political correctness there seems to have developed a sense of entitlement regardless of the worthiness. I'm not saying that many of the quilts are not worthy of being shown at Quiltcon, but seriously, if there is only space for 350 quilts, there's going to be around 1000 that aren't going to get there. Thats not great odds, and there's going to be a whole lot of disappointment.
I love your photos, please, please share more of them.
You are one wise lady, thanks for sharing your thoughts and your photographs; I never knew about that skill of yours (is that because I don't pay enough attention?) they are really stunning, well that's my opinion and I know nothing about photography!
Excellent post ! The photography is out of this world! Maybe it is just the tonic you need? Xx
Womb, not only are your photographs wonderful (the horse! The mist on the lake! The leopard!), but your words are wise and well informed. I personally don't like competitions where popularity is a factor, because the most popular (not necessarily the best) wins.
Damn auto correct! That was supposed to be WOW (not womb) in my last comment). **facepalm**
A brilliant post Katy, very well said with lots of valuable points. Your photos are really beautiful, what a treat for us to see them.
Excellent post. One of the annoying things must be hearing that others have had multiple quilts accepted. Your photos rock btw x
I love your photos. We need to see more you are so talented. About your topic, it is the same in any competition you go in. What appeals to one judge may not appeal to another. Take the critique on as a learning tool and in the end do what pleases you.
Katy! BRILLIANT photos!!!! I hope you find that love again and embrace it as you obviously have the eye and the talent to create some of the most stunning images ever!
Your commentary is wonderfully written! I did submit a (only one) quilt and it was not chosen. I was at first sad because I am human and no one likes to be told no, especially if they have worked hard on something. But with so few spots and so many entries, I am just happy I am not one of the committee that had the task of choosing. Not an enviable position for sure.
I wish all the entrants good luck and look forward to seeing some really amazing quilts!
Thank you for a fresh take from a different perspective!
Your photos are amazing!! Show us more please 🙂 I enjoyed the story of the leopard and that's why I like blog reading so much, I love the stories and processes not just the end result. Quilt shows are such a difficult thing and of course it's all down to personal taste. I am not at all competitive and if I entered a show it would have to be something I was really proud of (and so probably wouldn't because I couldn't then deal with rejection!). I do this because I love it but then I understand people entering to push themselves and how horrible it must feel to be rejected after all that work. When I started quilting I had lots of ideas of what to make after seeing amazing inspiration on blogs; things that were very popular, like negative space etc but then I realised I actually don't like doing a lot of those things and my taste is more chaotic. I was trying to make things other people would like rather than what I like, which is just silly!! I keep reminding myself that this is my fun hobby and I will only do something if I'm enjoying it, regardless of whether it is 'good' or not!! I'm tired and rambling so I will leave it there. Great post Katy!
i think you are so right Lucy. I'm not in the slightest bit competitive, this is meant to be fun and relaxing. Anything else is a bonus.
Art is in the eye of the beholder. Your photography is amazing, beautiful and I have enjoyed seeing all of it. Never stop.
I have to agree on the Blogger's Quilt Festival being more of a popularity contest; I especially think it's not helped with the stipulation of having to repost your entries in order to link because then the quilts are fresh in everyone's mind of what they've recently seen in their blog following. Quilts I knew from friends or blogs I follow did stand out to me more because I recognised them but I did also try to look through all the listings as a whole.
Maybe it's because I've only been blogging more seriously for the past 18 months so haven't had much exposure until recently, but I don't recall this amount of obsession with entering into Quiltcon before? Is it a yearly event? I really don't remember, from this time last year, so many people being obsessive over entering into the show, or even the amount of people planning on going (the complaints from people trying to sign up to classes and what not selling out so fast made me think that those putting on the show were also not expecting such large numbers compared to other years). I suppose that just shows how much bigger the quilting community has grown but from what I've seen a lot of the people becoming obsessive (most particularly with entering a quilt into the show) are fairly new at this as well so it does also come across as "I have to do this to fit in" kind of thing. So where you've compared being a beginner and not knowing the judges so entering whatever to the more experienced photographers, I think you've hit the nail on the head because I can definitely see that with this round of quilts.
Your photos are really great! I really want to be better at photography but have never really put the time in it to properly learn settings (and I'm fighting with my camera at the moment for not doing what I expect it to do lol) and layouts (I always tend to notice better image cropping after I've "finished" with a photo). Taking off points for the title of the photo seems kind of silly when the title is no reflection of the work you put into creating the actual photo itself (which I would assume is what is being judged in a show — the image–) and even if you didn't know the leopard had eaten I think it's just being creative by telling a story! You could have named it anything and it wouldn't change what the photo looked like. I'd want to argue with a judge about it too!!
Great post Katy, and I totally agree with what Lucy has said. Also, your photos are amazing!
Just got internet again after nearly 2 weeks without, so having a lovely bloggy catch up! Love the lone star and the animal quilt, thus post is fab, really interesting, and the photos are amazing! XXXX. My oldest took a sunset pic with a siloette (!) of church, trees and houses at the bottom, a judge reckons she should have photoshoped it to bring out more detail in the blackness – we reckon he's talking twaddle!!!!!!
Great post, Katy! I so totally agree. Trends come and go, and I have to admit some of them have influenced what I of and don't like, but if I like something I like it, whether or not it's on-trend, whether or not other people like it. I've seen modern quilts I really don't like, and very traditional ones that I adore.
I'm still thinking I might enter a quilt in a show next year, but I'm not going to get too hung up about it. If I love my quilts, that's good enough for me!
And your comments about photography cliché shots made me chuckle, as I thought of my lovely Uncle John, who is a very keen photographer. To this day, my cousin can't bring herself to wear a red coat (though she loves red and looks great in it) due to being constantly photographed in red coats in various scenic locations when she was little. Emotional scarring via the medium of photography…
Well said! Your photos are stunning, you should definitely consider publishing them. Jxo
Very well said! I wondered how many entrants there were when I saw all the rejections. I've been in a photography club for a year now … And it sounds just the same as yours … People entering just to please the judge! Also the voting for the bloggers quilt festival is also mainly about how many followers you already have, so I go along and vote purely on the ones I like best.
Well said Katy, and your dad sounds eminently sensible too. Logic dictates that with 1300 applicants and 350 entries some, no many, are going to be disappointed. I am nowhere near show level, but I thought quilting was meant to be fun, relaxing, an artistic and creative outlet from the stresses of life. ~And what happened to the old ways of congratulations to the winner and being a "good participant through the disappointment"? Love the photos too. Absolutely brilliant to my eye anyway.
Wow. You hit the nail on the head. My quilt was rejected, a quilt I'm proud of and has been extremely well received. I was shocked and a bit angry when I saw some pictures of quilts that were accepted. But I came to the same conclusion you did. I quilt because I love it, and I have my own style, and that's great. Competition isn't important enough to change for, my quilts are too special to me. I won't make something for some strangers taste.
Your photos are extremely impressive! So professional, so beautifully done.
Loved seeing your photos and appreciated your words. Good reminder! Thanks for sharing…
Awesome pics! Every time I see all those posts about being rejected it reminds me of one quilter that didn't come in first place but second! She was all like who are these judges anyway to judge my work. I was so disappointed by her behavour I had to unfollow right away. I also do agree with some comments that people are becoming slightly obsessed by entering shows. It is all part of the community I guess and I'm currently unsure where I stand, lol.
Fabulous photos Katy and a really interesting post. I have never ever thought of entering a quilt competition but can readily understand how an understanding of judges preferred styles could inform submissions. It would be a shame if the opinions of a small group of individuals however august in their field inadvertently influences the direction that modern quilting takes.
Great post Katy and of course I love all your photos! I have no interest in entering competitions because of the whole subjectivity thing. A while back a friend at a camera club felt the need to PM on Facebook to critique the photo I'd uploaded as the cover of my fb page. Totally unsolicited. She went on to try and get me to join her camera club and when she explained about it, it all seemed to be about the weekly competition. Even if I did have the time to go to club and take a picture each week on the chosen subject and get it printed to display in the competition; I actually take photos for me not other peoples benefit so I'm not really interested in photography to compete with others. Some of which are seriously experienced photographers from what I've seen, so I'd be on a hiding to nothing! I'm sure I could learn a lot from these people but it's just not for me. Same thing with quilting or other creative things.
First off: awesome photos! I love them all, even the "unprofessional" ones. I completely understand how you came to lose the joy of taking them though when having to concentrate too much on others likes or the "right" way to take a photo.
I rarely vote in bloggers quilt festival, but when I do, I ignore who the quilts are by and pick those that I like the best. Even if it means voting against friends. But I agree with you that this is probably not the norm.
And yes, visual preferences are very subjective. I see plenty of quilts in blog land that do nothing for me that others rave about. And of course there are those that I find stunning, even if I'm not a fan of the colourway chosen, that others pass by. We all have different styles and preferences and we should celebrate that rather than trying to fit into a required style. How boring a cookie cutter quilting world would be
Okay. I am completely blown away by these amazing photos. I love the second one with the trees. You have an incredible talent.
Thanks for writing this post. We all need a reminder every now and then to take a step back and remember why we do what it is we do. 🙂
Holy cow lady, you are so talented. I really appreciated this post. I felt a bit down about not getting in but feel sincerely better now that I have taken a step back. I can say that I didn't take it personally, knowing that it is a blind process truly helps.
Really good comparison with the camera club and I agree with your sentiment entirely.
wow, Katy!!!! Your photos are amazing, truly AMAZING!!! Great post, too.
Katy you are an AMAZING photographer! I knew you were good, but these blew me away. Your thoughts on the whole QC thing are so sensible, and I really agree with you. I think my disappointment mainly stemmed from working my arse off to meet the deadline (on a quilt I would have made regardless of the show, just perhaps not quite so quickly).
Your photos are goooooorgeous! I love the leopard and rocks one!
I like that you took so much time towrite this post. I agree with the show thing and the judging, but you really hit the nail on the head with blogger's quilt festival. Your photos are lovely. I am glad I just quilt for me to make me happy. That's all the recognition I need.