Why you should enter the RPS International Photography Exhibition next year
Early in my photography career I really benefitted from entering competitions. The British Journal of Photography ‘Project Assistance’ Award, the Magenta Foundation ‘Flash Forward’, and the Photo District News ’30 under 30′ were important milestones when I was learning my trade. Crucially, at the time they were all free to enter.
Free to enter photography competitions are increasingly hard to come by, and after investing in a few paid competitions (for instance the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize) without any success, I’ve come to realise that I can’t justify the money spent on entry fees unless there is a really good reason to enter. This year, I made a collaborative entry to the Grand Prix Images Vevey – the entry fee was high at €60, but the entry process was time consuming and rigorous. While the proposal that I made with Francheska Melendez was ultimately unsuccessful, we now have a well researched and thorough project proposal that we will attempt to move forward with in the coming years. Without the pressure of a deadline and the money that we invested, I wonder whether we would have made the time to shape our vision in such a dedicated way?
This leads me to the Royal Photographic Society’s International Photography Exhibition. Held continuously since 1854, the International Photography Exhibition is the worlds longest running photography show, and this year will be it’s 163rd iteration. While there is a ‘pay to enter’ element to the call for entries, the RPS have recognised that entry fees can be a barrier for younger photographers or artists from low income backgrounds, and a turn off for people like me who simply don’t want to pay to play anymore. Their solution has been to allow a single free entry of one image to anyone who wants to throw their hat in the ring. While this might not work for every competition, I think it’s a great initiative that really opens up the entries to a more diverse range of artists from different backgrounds.
This year, the RPS received over 4000 entries, and shortlisted 279 photographers from 50 different countries. I entered a single image through the free to enter pathway, and was lucky enough to make it onto this shortlist. At this stage, the RPS required that photographers supply a print of their work for judging. When entering the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize in the past, the requirement to supply prints on top of the already extortionate entry fees saw the costs spiral, but the RPS have this covered – they cut a deal with The Printspace where shortlisted photographers had a £30 credit to get a print made and delivered to the RPS headquarters in Bristol. A simple, elegant solution that took the financial load off the photographer. This was also an optional solution – artists weren’t obligated to take this offer, and could also supply their own bespoke prints.
The hardest part for me was choosing a single image that could stand alone and tell a story. I chose a photograph of a group of Spanish teenagers chatting in a secluded part of the Rio Duero. During the pandemic, with socialising curtailed by lockdowns and other restrictions, young people have had to find alternative places to meet and spend time with their friends. I took this photograph during an editorial assignment about wine production in the Ribera del Duero region – it’s a true stand alone image, not part of any project, but for me it has a couple of qualities that give it strength – it speaks to a moment in time, and has a stillness that makes the viewer pause.
I’ll be delighted if this image is ultimately chosen for the final exhibition, but ultimately that will be a bonus. For me it has been a pleasant surprise to take part in a competition that offers a free-to-enter pathway that sits alongside the ‘pay to play’ orthodoxy. The next call for entries for the IPE will be in January 2022 – you can sign up to the RPS newsletter here to get updated.
The RPS have curated a small selection of shortlisted images in an online gallery, it’s well worth a peek.