Worth a read: Disphotic on photo contests that cost money

Members of the audience hold out dollar bills for stunt riders to grab during the performance of the Wall of Death traveling show at Evel Knievel Days in Butte, Montana, USA. - photo by M. Scott Brauer
Members of the audience hold out dollar bills for stunt riders to grab during the performance of the Wall of Death traveling show at Evel Knievel Days in Butte, Montana, USA. – photo by M. Scott Brauer

Photographer Lewis Bush, on his blog Disphotic, has a great little piece about the photo contest industrial complex, published in September of last year. Calling paid-entry photo contest the “cash cow” of photography, Bush raises a lot of valid points.

He writes, “to my mind any organisation that is overly reliant on artists and photographers to raise money for it relies on a questionable (and perhaps unsustainable) model. Equally the tired excuses that charging fees helps to filter out weaker work and keep standards high simply don’t really hold water, instead all these practices filter are those with money from those who don’t.”

He also does the math on just how much the Taylor Wessing prize generates through submissions alone, nearly 8 times the prize money they give out. And there are many more photo contests that charge substantial entry fees and don’t have nearly the size of prizes or possible exposure for the winners.

Check out Disphotic’s list of free or almost free contests and grants. And Disphotic should be on your reading list if it isn’t already.


It’s photo contest time, by the way, so make sure to check out our deadline calendar. I’ve just added a bunch of new ones this morning. Contest time means a lot of time spent considering which images to enter into which categories of which contests, but equal time should be spent considering whether a particular contest is worth entering.

Not all contests are a good idea to enter. We try to only list the best contests on our calendar, but occasionally a bad one gets through. Be careful to read the terms and conditions or rules of entry. Some contests are rights grabs. Smithsonian’s annual photo contest is a notable bad actor; National Geographic’s used to be bad, but I’ve noticed they just added language that they can only use submitted images in relation to the contest (though entrants still “consent to Sponsor doing or omitting to do any act that would otherwise infringe the entrant’s ‘moral rights’ in their entries.”). And some are just cash grabs with little return to the entrants even if they win, such as most of PDN’s contests besides their Annual.

Be smart about photo contests!

Must listen: A Small Voice podcast – Ben Smith talks with photographers

A Small Voice - Conversations with Photographers - A podcast by Ben Smith
A Small Voice – Conversations with Photographers – A podcast by Ben Smith

You have got to listen to Ben Smith‘s new podcast, A Small Voice. There have been thirteen episodes so far. I’ve only listened to one–the first, with long-time favorite Ian Teh–but that was enough to know it will be essential listening. The website is a little confusing; the email subscription and donation section sits on top of links to episodes. First, make a donation, but then scroll down to the episodes where you can find conversations with the likes of Vanessa Winship, Kalpesh Lathigra (previously on dvafoto), Guy Martin, Peter Dench, Abbie Trayler Smith, and others.

I’ve long been a fan of Ian Teh, and the episode with him did not disappoint. He speaks about how he got into photography, why he photographers in color, how he approaches subjects, the thinking and process that goes into making his books, early formative experiences and influences, and so on. But somehow it’s not a conversation about photography. Photography is a big part of the discussion, certainly, but instead the episode is more like an examination of Teh’s relationship with the world. Just do yourself a favor and listen.

You can subscribe to the podcast on itunes.


On the podcast front, check out Abbas’ recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. Other photography podcasts I’ve found that are generally worth a listen are The LPV Show (free-ranging discussions with photographers) and The Photo Brigade podcast (mostly American photographers and editors).

I also recently wrote about some of my favorite non-photography podcasts.

Worth a watch: Vice News’ Selfie Soldiers – Russia checks into Ukraine

A couple weeks ago I wrote about Bellingcat’s efforts to learn more about wars through social media images, satellite imagery, and other sources. Now, Vice News have just released a 23-minute piece (embedded above) by Simon Ostrovsky tracking down a single Russian soldier through some of his social media posts from Ukraine. This provides evidence that Russian soldiers have been fighting in Ukraine, especially in the critical Battle of Debaltseve in January and February of this year.

Ostrovsky finds geo-tagged images from a man in a Russian soldier’s uniform who posted pictures in Ukraine and untangles his social media posts, eventually leading him to Ulan Ude in central Russia where he meets the man’s wife and eventually speaks to him on the phone, asking about whether or not he was in Ukraine. Ostrovsky’s journalism in this piece is wonderful. He finds the exact locations of countless photos from the soldier’s social media profiles, both in Ukraine and Russia, and recreates the photos himself. He confronts European observers with some of this evidence and challenges them as to why they won’t definitively say that Russia troops are in Ukraine. Watch until the end when Ostrovsky shows his matching photos to the soldier he tracked down.

If you haven’t been watching Simon Ostrovsky’s Russian Roulette series on the conflict in Crimea and Ukraine, by the way, you’re missing out. It is some of the best television journalism I’ve ever seen, and as of this writing there are 108 videos in the series. The pieces get in deep, have a bit of humor, and really personalize both sides of the conflict. Vice’s HBO news show is good, but Russian Roulette is on another level.