Frills Not Needed: Out of a Ringling cannon at Madison Square Garden

Frills Not Needed: Out of  a Ringling cannon at Madison Square Garden
That's how it appears to me. I like the compositional clarity, the depth, the crowds in the seats. I'm guessing, the figure on the left is Harold Ronk; on the right, Trevor Bale. This Edward Quigley photo appears on Facebook's Circus & Fairground Art

Monday, March 31, 2014

Their Photos Failed Finals at the Last World Circus Federation Contest; They Remain “Outraged and Insulted”

Does cute and charming belong here?

Nobody likes entering a contest that feels to them rigged, or having their work pushed aside for that of an insider with connections to the powers that be.

Happens all the time.

When Photographer X (PX), a highly credible source who has asked not to be named,  e-mailed me to complain about the "most recent" World Circus Federation photo contest results (2013), I did not know what to think.  And, in fact, had I not been able to compare the 12 winning entries with a like number from a sampling of those that lost, I might not be addressing this issue at all.

PX and a number of fellow photographers were “outraged and insulted” by the 12  finalists, especially by the federation’s claim about “blind judging.”  My source believes it to be dubious. 

What PX and smoldering cohorts offer as prime evidence of biased judging is one of the finalists – the photo seen here of a little girl standing cutely next to a horse.  The little girl’s name is Chanel Knie.  Her godmother is Princess Stephanie. 

They believe she and the horse hardly exemplify the contest’s theme, “Circus: Strength, Balance,  Courage and Grace.”

What riles my source the most  is the girl’s close relationship to Princess Stephanie.  In fact, Stephanie’s intimate association with the Knie family goes deeper than that of Godmother.  Years ago, the Princess and her children traveled with the circus for over a year, and the Princess enjoyed a relationship with Franco Knie, Sr.

Do little Chanel and the horse even constitute an actual act?  PX could not answer the question for sure (PX believes they do not), nor am I about to go that in-depth on this.  Chanel, guesses our source, is “probably too young to perform yet.”

Now, if the judges were drawn to the young, that is one thing.  But this charming photo – possibly my personal favorite among the variable entries for its charm alone -- could have been easily upstaged by any number of images of kids a little older in compelling action, had such a photo even been submitted.  Kids in circus rings do remarkable things that constitute “strength, balance, courage, and grace.”  Except for perhaps grace, I see none of those qualities in the Knie photo.

 Eleven of the losing photographs, selected by Photographer X at my request.

Let me be clear:  There are some fine entries among the winners (you can link to them below), but altogether, as I view the lot, they foster a rather tepid redundancy not high on the Wow factor.

Of a total of 283 photographs entered (each photographer could submit up to four photos), judges from a number of countries, including the U.S,. selected the final 12.  Ten are European.  One each comes from Canada and the U.S.  Over, then, to the Princess of Monaco, who chose the grand champion.  In this phase, she did not favor her goddaughter.

Let’s let PX say a few things: 

“How did this photo make it into the finalists?  Coincidence?  Nepotism.”

Sure sounds more than coincidental to me.

Driving our photographer's acute discontent with the girl and the horse, is this: “Not a circus performance and does not even fit the theme.”

Well, I have to agree.

Is "blind judging" even possible?  “At some point in the judging, someone is looking at names to force it to be one per photographer, therefore the twelve best photographs are not selected but rather the top twelve photographers.”  Interesting thesis. 

I asked for examples of photos that were not chosen which PX believes to be superior to those that were.  PX sent the eleven images seen above, stating that all but two were taken by photographers beyond PX's circle of fellow shutter bugs. 

Here is mostly why I have gone with this story.  In total, the finalists create an impression of action more abstract than active.  They bring to mind the emergence of the “static trapeze,” making me wonder if our big tops will increasingly default to static sawdust, thus furthering the movement towards circus ballet.

I find the losing photos, on balance, a more engaging lot.  Together, they form a more diversified and interesting spread of circus action.

Surely the 7-high pyramid across the wire effectively addresses the theme.   And I don’t know who took the picture.

The official winner, below, leaves me baffled and wanting. Does this demonstration of proper and polite carriage driving supply exemplary evidence of "Strength, Balance, Courage and Grace”? Okay, grace.

Maybe next year they'll skip grace. Wait!  Next year is already upon us. They are now soliciting  2014 entries. The theme:  World Circus Day.

Thank you, Photographer X, for sharing your experience, knowledge of the rules, and insights with us.  May you and your cohorts stay in the running,  and hope for a better day.  

Here is Princess Stephanie's 2013 favorite:

The grand champion

Your link to the Federation’s finalists: www.circusfederation.org/photo_archive_2013

1 comment:

Douglas McPherson said...

Hi Showbiz,

I think your comment that the picture of Chanel Knie was one of your favourites for its charm alone really explains why it made the finals. It's a beautiful picture that to me captures the magic of the circus, and the fact that Chanel may be too young to be a performer is perhaps its strength; she could be seen as an audience member falling under the spell of the big top for the first time.
No, the photo doesn't fit the contest's stated theme, but it makes a great advert for circus and animals in circus.
Nepotism? Or coincidence? Circus folk are so inter-related within such a small community that it's sometimes harder to find people who aren't related in some way.
As for whether the theme of the contest should be a rigid criteria for judgement (maybe it should; and maybe the judges should think carefully about the wording of such themes) I think we have to ask whether a photo contest should be about the skill of the photographer or the skill of the photographed. A lot of the finalists (and the losing entries) show good acts but strike me as only average photos - technically proficient but the sort you can see in any circus program. The Chanel photo somehow tells a story and captures the essence of the circus and that, to me, makes it a better photo on an artistic level, even though it was probably easy to take from a technical standpoint. I might even have picked it as a winner.
Another favourite of mine is Christine Fairchild's white horse in the Canadian snow. Average circus trick but a beautiful photo. I'd put it on a poster or a Christmas card.
As for the winner, I can see why it won and wouldn't argue. Black and white is perhaps an easy way of making a shot look more special than it is, but there's something other-worldly, and very continental European, about the image that, for me, again conveys a very traditional view of circus. That it features a horse is probably a plus for traditionalists, too.
As a final thought, I didn't find the photo of handstands on an elephant overly appealing artistically, but it does perhaps tick all the boxes in the contests theme.