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The Ethos of Access

The Ethos of Access
©Sunny Shady Perch by Eric Roth All IGPOTY categories are meant to encourage positive and creative action with nature in a similar overarching objective. This is of course sharing the beauty and importance of a green planet in the most uplifting and inspiring way possible. In the last blog post we . . . touched on the theme of accessibility and why this is so important in achieving this aim. Accessibility is such a key competition tenet that finding new ways to engender this and the trends and behaviour of modern photographers becomes not just important, but necessary. It has therefore made perfect sense to fully support and encourage use of mobile phones in garden photography. The ubiquity of smartphones, their processing power, creative flexibility and increasing affordability means that capturing gardens, plants and green environments has never been more natural or more enjoyable. And that’s exactly how photography should feel - natural and enjoyable. This is also when we feel most creatively confident. So accessibility moves beyond mere descriptions of barriers, it starts describing a headspace for interpreting the world and our freedom to do so. The mobile phone has opened up new ways of communicating with each other in ways we never thought possible. Indeed, images are a fundamental part of this digital conversation and we’re determined to play an ever increasing role within it. In the coming years we want to take accessibility to new heights and give photographers even more opportunities to grow and be inspired. Gardens on the Go is just the start of this process. This means moving beyond the use of the mobile phone to better understand what accessibility in photography and competitions really means and implementing more future facing ideas to bring gardens, plants and people ever closer. To bring things together like this is not the preserve of individuals acting alone, but as a community. We’re much more successful when we have the support, encouragement and recognition of others. Competition ethos then is not just something we support or believe in, it’s a road map for the future and we can’t wait to see you there.
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Capturing Joy

Capturing Joy
© Autumn down on the Allotments by Mark Bolton A central pillar of the competition is about making photography as accessible as possible. Accessibility engenders engagement and engagement creates the environment needed to bring out a vast potential of creativity. And this creativity has a huge role . . . in highlighting the wonders and importance of the natural world. Similarly, gardening is also about accessibility, particularly as our lives become ever more sustainably viable and necessary. Just as we all have the ability to engage with nature on a creative level we also have the ability to engage with it on a horticultural level as well. Finding new ways to celebrate this relationship is central to our mission. That’s why our new special award with Thompson & Morgan is rather important to us. It neatly joins together various strands of gardening and photography which complement each other in so many ways. The new special award is all about the ‘Joy of Gardening’ and using the products of Thompson & Morgan as a gateway to explore our relationship with plants and gardens. If you’re a keen photographer but have never had green fingers, the special award may inspire you to plant a few seeds and discover the marvellous similarities for yourself. The expectation of planting a seed and envisioning germination has vivid parallels to pressing the shutter release and envisioning the potential of the final processed picture. The origin of that beautiful plant portrait becomes just as vital as its future capture. We’re also looking to uncover more of those brilliantly personal gardening experiences which can pass us by without full acknowledgement. As is often the case, we are tempted to travel to beautiful gardens with expertly maintained landscapes and borders (rightly so!) but we can forget about those little moments of green success stories we’ve had at home, whether on the windowsill, veg patch or patio and how we can use photography to tell a very compelling, visual story. This leads on to something that we want to promote as a competition and that is the recognition of positive emotion. It is sometimes the case that a photograph can be technically brilliant, but can fail to convey a real emotional message. This special award, ’The Joy of Gardening’ encourages an exploration of the emotions one feels in gardening and growing your own and how best to capture that within a photograph. That then is the challenge of this special award - how does one go about capturing emotion? Here are some key points to bear in mind when photographing that prized specimen or garden scene: -AttentionFocus on the part of the plant or scene, which best corresponds to how you feel about it. What do you want judges to see and why? -LightUse light to emphasise your choice of capture. Is it dramatic, uplifting or exciting? Don’t forget to use post-capture processing effectively to emphasise this choice through exposure, contrast and colours. -ContextWhat is surrounding the subject? What is in the background? Is the angle and composition original? Does it reinforce a feeling or detract from it? Watch out for unwanted objects in the frame. -FocusExperiment with different apertures. Where is the point of focus and why? -RepetitionBe self-critical and keep taking pictures until you’re happy. If you’re not, change one of the above variables and keep shooting! And the final key similarity between gardening and photography? Both are reflexive activities which force us to instinctively take account of our own presence, our own actions, and the consequences of what we create. It doesn’t get more emotionally relevant than that.
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A New Visible World

A New Visible World
© Enchanted Forest by Anna Ulmestrand “The first thing to be undertaken in this weighty work,” said Robert Hooke in the preface to “Micrographia”, an investigation of minute bodies published in 1665, “is a watchfulness over the failings and an enlargement of the dominion of the senses.” Hooke . . . realised that our reason and subsequent interpretation of the world can be misled by our fallible senses, but through technology “the footsteps of nature can be tracked” by “adding artificial organs to the natural”. Hooke’s discourse on the use of the microscope was to reveal a world which people had never seen before. Although we are now accustomed to many spectacular images of nature, on every level, the principal behind macro photography remains the same: to experience the wonder of enhancing our senses in order to study and celebrate the many and diverse forms of flora and fauna. Similarly, Hooke’s mission to improve our senses has not changed. We develop more accurate, more sensitive, more wide-ranging methods to record and capture the world around us. Macro lenses are testament to our fascination with wanting to find this place we know exists, and wanting to personally experience it. Indeed, it isn’t enough to just see these pictures, sometimes it is the process itself which leads to that feeling of discovery, of new meaningful knowledge. This sense of emancipation and reason was a trademark of the Enlightenment; it is also why macro photography as a sub-genre of photography is so loved and admired. It has the ability, or at least the potential, to invoke a powerful notion of sensory control. It is this sense of control that so inspired Enlightenment naturalists who used technology to confirm their dominance over an ordered and structured universe which could be named, categorised and systematised. This sense of control is still an important feature when analysing the relationship between art, technology and nature, and it continues to shift and change with our expectations and knowledge of the world. Although we know a great deal more today than in the late 17th century, it can be said that we still crave to have more experience of that knowledge, which escapes the ordinary realm of sensory experience ie the everyday. Macro photography is a way to bring this experience back into our fast-paced and knowledge filled life, the demands of which mean we lose the joy of self-discovery. As Hooke said: “So great is the satisfaction of finding out new things that I dare compare the contentment…which most men prefer of the very senses themselves.” We have the opportunity to reconnect with nature in a way that Hooke and contemporaries never thought possible, not just on a technological basis, but also on a spiritual. This longing to take part in a great exploration of natural discovery will never simply end, it will continue to present itself in yet more fantastic and wondrous forms. Macro photography represents a part of this journey in a new personalised natural enlightenment, which has been made possible by technology. The outcome for this future may mean even greater detachment from second-hand knowledge and an even closer relationship to the joys of self-discovery and first-hand experience. It is only then, that the “watchfulness over the failings of the senses” may finally come to an end. But there’s no need to wait for perfection. If we keep on looking, the power to realise a “new visible world” exists right now.
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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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