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Back to Black

Back to Black
Photo: Ephemera by Annette Lepple Since Competition 5 we started the year with the Monochrome Photo Project, which became one of our two main annual Photo Projects, encouraging photographers to focus on a particular photographic skill. Fast forward to 2017 in Competition 11 and the IGPOTY team have . . . decided to turn the Monochrome into Black & White. Here’s why. Monochrome has produced some fantastic imagery but the overarching job of the photo projects, as stated, is to really ask photographers to focus on just one area of photography and make the task as elegant and as simple as possible, resulting in similar outcomes. Clearer objectives often result in clearer artistic expressions, which definitely helps judges when trying to work out the meaning and message behind an image. Indeed there are different skills involved in monochromatic photography than black & white, because of course, there is colour! The move to black & white seemed logical and relevant, particularly as black & white has so much more to offer the ever-growing genre of garden photography. To reinforce this message, it’s important to make a differentiation and champion the many qualities of black & white as an essential part of the competition oeuvre. Mark Bentley, deputy editor of Black+White Photography magazine, said: “Gardens and the natural world can often look stunning in black & white. When colour is removed from an image, the shapes, textures and patterns become stronger. And when the weather is grim, the light can play a crucial role in the mood of your picture.” This strength which Mark alludes to is present in many garden scenes and has the potential to produce potent images. Shoot for black & white with the intent on seeing black & white - don’t go for the easy conversion of a shot you thought looked good in colour. This is about tapping into an underlying presence that enhances an image and makes us feel something different. But don’t be scared to push the boundaries. Black & white isn’t the sole preserve of bleak winter scenes. The opportunity to develop a positive mood through the lack of colour still feels bold and refreshing. The underlying darkness of black & white is much too easy to associate with negative emotions; indeed it may take some effort to see through this darkness and feel uplifted by the subject matter. It is this effort which often gives us that sense of satisfaction and it is this sense of satisfaction that gives an image a winning emotional response. Black & white is rightly considered a classic way to present photography, yet classic garden and nature scenes both in print and online is still predominantly the realm of colour imagery. This seems natural and right, we are after all, a species which enjoys life through the visible spectrum of colours and enjoy having that full visual experience repeated back to us through imagery and art. So are we naturally biased toward colours in all visual pursuits? It may be that our biological origins reflect our current cultural and technological traditions. It is a shared responsibility to question these predilections and there is no better medium for this than photography. Black & white is more than the removal of colour, it has the potential to tell us about us who we are and the kind of art we seek to produce. You never know, the next true classic garden shot you take may very well have no colour at all. Sometimes black & white can dwell in the past, at other times it is a product of modernity, but at all times it has the potential for immense inspiration. And inspiration is what we’re all about.
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Of Birch and Belief

Of Birch and Belief
Photo: Left by Lee Acaster The winner of the International Garden Photographer of the Year Competition 10, Lee Acaster, entranced judges with his challenging yet beautiful photograph of autumnal birch trees, entitled Left. Its depth, detail, character and mystery, elevated a drizzly Snowdonian day . . . into a scene with spiritual, even religious connotations. Judges were impressed by how the photograph encourages us to perhaps spend a little more time than usual in order to understand its meaning and merits. This is not to say that striking summer colours or spectacular sunsets are no less valid or skilful, it just means that our normal associations with winning shots are challenged and this is a good thing. Susan Brown, Representative of the Royal Photographic Society said: “Those of us that spend our lives surrounded by photography see many competent and inspirational images regularly. IGPOTY submissions showed a wide range of potentially winning images, but sometimes a photograph just jumps out as being different, from a photographer who looks at the world in an individual way.” To express a distinct yet appealing individual style is more difficult than it may seem and can take a long time to get right. Lee’s work shows a commitment to his own style and the winning picture is a clear representation of this vision. The shot, whilst highly original remains extremely faithful to the subject matter: the trees themselves. There is a great sense of honesty about it, existing both on the surface and through an invitation for further exploration of nature’s truths. Its muted inky background tones may, at first glance, invoke curiosity, even scepticism, but then the dazzling leaves throughout the central plane impart an undeniable intensity which binds the composition together. As Clare Foggett, Editor of The English Garden puts it: “It demands closer inspection.” We realise the darkness of the lake acts as the perfect canvas for the birch trees to display a last defiant act of colour. And perhaps this is even why so many of us love autumn. Not because of the colours alone but because of what they represent: the defiance of death; and the assurance of new life and new beginnings. To reveal this level of meaning in a photograph is one of the joys of the competition, and part of this discovery of course goes beyond the immediate technicalities of photography. Indeed, there is a wider comment to be made here about how photography can remind us to take notice of the world in a different and more profound way. Above all, judges believed it answered one very important aspect of the competition criteria. Does it inspire others to go out and take photographs of plants, gardens and green spaces? Whilst located in Snowdonia, the subjects of the scene are very accessible and widely known, adding to a sense of familiarity. It just goes to show you don’t need to jet off to a far away location to capture something special. The answers may be much closer to home. Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary is a hallmark of any good artist, but so is the willingness to put in the hours, as Lee said: “I’m a big believer that practice makes perfect, and after countless hours in forests and knee deep in hedgerows I feel I’ve become much more visually attuned to the elements of a scene that appeal to me.” Even though the end product of our endeavours can be breathtaking, when it comes to anything artistic, we all have to start somewhere. It is from these beginnings we can develop a sense of belief in what we’re trying to achieve. So what are you waiting for? The hardest part is yet to come.
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