The Photography Blog: Landscape Photographer of the Year

Alex Hare
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Tenements at Port Glasgow by Simon Butterworth (Overall Winner)

The Landscape Photographer of The Year 2012 (LPOTY) competition has announced its winner and we have a feast of photography all taken in Britain to admire and enjoy.

Simon Butterworth should be congratulated on being named overall winner of the competition. His photograph of some condemned tenements in Glasgow was awarded first prize and the £10,000 purse.

Unfortunately, the initial winning image was disqualified and Simon’s photograph elevated to first position in its place.

LPOTY isn’t the first major photography competition (and I doubt will be the last) to have found itself in this position – remember the leaping wolf in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition a few years ago?

In the case of LPOTY, the initial winner was deemed to have used image manipulation software in his photograph beyond what was allowed within the rules of the competition. This issue has inevitably led to sniping from some quarters being directed at both the judges (for initially letting this image through the net) and the photographer himself.

I can’t see that this issue should be allowed to overshadow the competition. The mistake has been identified, everyone has been open and honest about it and action taken to correct it.  Lambasting the photographer and the competition smacks a little of delivering a further blow when one is already down, which I find both undignified and inappropriate.

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Lindisfarne Castle by David Byrne (disqualified)

Of course it is a shame the image wasn’t weeded out earlier in the process and I imagine steps will be taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again in future. The photographer in question has been magnanimous in defeat (not to mention crestfallen at having initially been told he’d won) and I think the judges deserve respect for how they’ve handled the tricky situation they’ve found themselves in. They’ve acknowledged the issue, enforced the rules of the competition and simply looked down the list for the next in line.

For me this demonstrates strong decision-making under difficult circumstances and if anything, the competition deserves respect for this and should be viewed as having greater integrity for this episode. It’s hardly been a cover up after all and it shows that, when put to the test, the rules aren’t conveniently ignored in favour of a good image and to avoid a commercial problem with the book printing.  Completely the opposite in fact. Shouldn’t we all just move on now and enjoy the photographs?

So, to find out more about the winning images I spoke to judge and founder of the competition Charlie Waite.

We have a winner, what was it that attracted the judges to this image?

I just loved the chunky, urban look and feel and the way it’s been done in a fashion I haven’t seen before. We [the judges] mark the images independently of each other, so it’s quite extraordinary when an image you think is great is also chosen by a collection of other people. On an artistic level, it works for me in that it’s strong, powerful and yet really quite bleak. Visually, I find it works because of the linking relationship between the roofs all sloping in the same direction.

It’s an unusual image for a landscape. We typically think of our fields, valleys and mountains rather than tenement buildings. Is the nature of these condemned buildings important because this image is as much social documentary as it is landscape?

Yes, I think I’d agree with that. But look, no one’s tired of the sweeping vistas and it’s certainly not a reaction to this style of photography. It’s the elegance and the austerity of this photograph and it’s subject matter that made it a winner. Simon’s photo is really rather majestic and powerful, just as much as many sweeping views of the countryside [are].

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The New Forest, Hampshire by David Baker

Stephen Colbrook’s photograph in the Youth class stood out for me; that he felt able to take a picture at that time of day I find intriguing because he’s there responding to the light and produced a photograph with a real sense of mystery to it. I also felt very attached to David Baker’s photograph of the New Forest. I lived there for many years and I could never produce a photograph of my own which made me feel I’d done it justice. David’s photograph also relies on clever composition with the strong, dark trees on either side of the mysterious, misty space on the left third which invites us to enter into the scene.

We’ve had a change on the podium. Just briefly tell us what happened here?

It’s all been very regrettable but sadly, our original winner had used digital imaging software that was beyond what was allowed by the rules. It’s a very difficult line we have to tread, we live in a digital era so it’s unrealistic to say people can’t do some post production which they would have done in the old-fashioned dark room, things like contrast, dodging and burning. But then it’s hard to draw a line to contain it so it doesn’t stray into ‘digital art’ if you like, where the original image is no longer bearing any resemblance to the scene that was photographed. I think with this picture, the photographer just went too far for the rules of that category and regretfully it had to be disqualified. It was the right thing to do and the only thing we could do as a judging panel.

What would you say to the critics who think this has damaged the competition?

I just think it’s a shame that some people seem to like to deliver and dwell on bad news. You always need constructive discussions about these things but it does seem to be more important to some people than the fact the problem has been identified and dealt with. You see, within a matter of days of the first signs [that] there was a problem, we’d investigated and made our decision and announced that we had to disqualify this shot. Now we have a new winner and we should be focusing on this picture and the other category winners and just enjoying this collection of photographs rather than dwelling on an initial mistake that has been rectified.

Looking to the future, how do you see the competition working in terms of raising awareness and engagement by people in landscape photography?

Well I hope the competition can continue to go from strength to strength. I’d like to see it made more widely available and we’re hoping we can take the exhibition around the country so more people can see and enjoy it. I really believe that it does one a lot of good to see and enjoy a landscape photograph. I hope we can find ways to inspire more people to pick up a camera and invest in making a photograph of their own.

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Royal Crescent, Bath by Alex Hare (Highly Commended)

As for me, well your humble photography blogger’s entry into this year’s competition was Highly Commended by the judging panel. I’d love to have won but it wasn’t to be and I’m delighted at having my work recognised in this way. I certainly don’t feel any bitterness that someone was initially placed ahead of me having broken the rules. I think one has to accept that it’s a competition, the judge’s have their views and the final decision rests with them, which should be accepted with good grace, even if they’ve had to retrospectively change the winning entry in the interests of fairness and adhering to the rules.

I hope that attention can now focus on Simon’s winning entry and the other category winners and I wish everyone the best of luck for next year’s competition. All the winning photographs will be on display at the National Theatre from the 12th November 2012 to the 12th January 2013.  Entry is free.

Have your say:

What do you think of the winning image?

Did you agree with the judges or was there another entry you felt should win?

Do you think that it’s irrelevant that the initial winner was disqualified?  Shouldn’t it be a case that the next in line simply moves up a peg and we all move on?

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  • James Flynn

    My own landscape (or other) images that i value most are ones that look like the original scene. I have tried playing around on computers, to change this and tinker that, what i end up with is something that i cannot relate to.The manipulated image has no meaning.I could make a manipulated image from a blank canvas without buying a camera or ever going outside.What makes an image special to me is the special image i saw in the first place!

  • escoville

    I think you should amend ‘the original scene’ to ‘how I remember the original scene’. The original scene is gone for good. You are trying to reconstruct how you, yourself, subjectively remember it.

  • escoville

    “I believe all types of computer manipulation should be considered equal.” I think not. Whether you manipulate in the camera (by under-exposing, or by the use of filters, for example) or do it on the computer is hardly a significant difference. If you radically change colours or eliminate things from the picture, that’s a different matter. But surely the whole object of photography (except forensic photography) is to preserve a subjective memory, and you can only do that post hoc. So if you increase contrast (for example) to make your storm look more dramatic, because that’s how you remember it, that seems precisely what you should be doing. Of course any child can digitally manipulate an image, but not every child (or adult) can do it well, either technically or artistically.

  • jedi mind trick

    This is absurd! congratulating the judges for getting it so wrong! Did any of the judges ever look at the RAW file? it’s really not difficult to police!

  • David

    A nicely balanced write up Alex (I’m David of the New Forest shot). I saw your Royal Crescent shot on Monday and it looked rather fab printed large – congrats.

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