NVAL 2020-21 Regional Juried Photography Show Awards

Juror Jon Lynn McCallum’s Statement

Judging artwork is a curious endeavor. It is highly subjective—one may simply “like” one image over another without being able to describe the reasons why. Effective images often carry an unspeakable magic that defies the language of words. However, there are also certain factors that can be observed and scrutinized. Sometimes strong works are supported by these factors and sometimes they defy them.

Some of the factors in photography include:

  • The composition, or formal arrangement, of the Elements of Art (line, shape, texture, color, etc.) through the Principles of Design (unity and variety, balance, rhythm, directional forces, etc.).
  • The subject matter and its underlying message or meaning.
  • The emotional and psychological effect of the work.
  • The particular moment(s) in time.
  • The technical handling of the camera and image-editing tools.
  • The quality of the final print—how the chosen materials and processes affect and support the nature of the work.

If an image rates higher in these factors than others, it becomes a “better” image. However, the weight of each factor is another question. Is a strong composition as important as emotional or psychological impact? Is a certain subject captured at a certain moment as significant as the quality of the print? And so on. Judging thus quickly shifts from an “I like it” kind of activity to something vastly complex. Even once the selection is narrowed down to the prizewinners, the venture is puzzling. One image is seen as “better” for one reason, but another image is seen as “better” for another reason, and yet another image is “better” because of something altogether different. At some point, intellectual reasoning is no longer of service and becomes replaced by an instinctual knowing. Art, after all, has a logic all its own. Who is really fit to judge it?

Eighteen months have passed since I first saw the images online and selected the top thirty percent for this exhibition. I did not see them again until they were printed, framed, and hanging on the gallery walls. My first impression when entering the gallery was—“Wow! They all look so good!” I felt much excitement in being able to see them in person. All of these images are interesting and good for various reasons. I appreciate each of the many photographers and artists who engaged in their creativity, time, and energy to bring their work to this point and share it with us. And thanks to those who handled the many details of installing and hosting this exhibition. I am grateful for this opportunity to play “judge.” Thank you!

~ Jon Lynn McCallum, September 2021