Canon Photo5 - An Artistic Evolution?

In the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of my spare time thinking about, planning, shooting, editing and uploading photos for the Canon Photo5 competition. The challenge of this competition has stretched me artistically in a way that I never even intended to happen.

The Competition
The Photo5 competition is where Canon send you five everyday objects in the mail and you are challenged to produce and submit one photo containing each image. To make it exciting, you don’t know what the objects are until they arrive and, even better, Canon puts up $5,000 worth of Canon products for the best image of each object.

The objects this year were:
. a ribbon
. a crayon
. a cocktail umbrella
. a tealight candle; and
. a small bottle of bubbles.

I believe that this year 10,000 boxes were sent out and over 1,300 photos have been submitted for each object. What’s more, Canon have enlisted David Anderson and Montalbetti+Campbell as judges – world-class photographers who I anticipate will have huge expectations for the images that they’re prepared to present as finalists.

Creating My Entries
In retrospect, I’ve realised that my photography up until now has always been subject-focussed; I would see a subject that I thought was visually interesting and so I would take a photo of it. This had often turned out pleasing results. With the Photo5 objects, however, I was facing the challenge of taking photos of subjects that were visually uninteresting, even trivial.

I realised pretty quickly that these objects wouldn’t make an interesting photo. To turn them into something engaging, I needed to come up with some theme or story that would make an interesting photo and that could incorporate each object. This is probably painfully obvious to anyone who listened in Art class, but to someone whose best subject was Physics, this was a major revelation for the way I take photographs.

I got pretty excited about this new concept of capturing themes. The consequence of my excitement was that I suddenly became open to trying all kinds of things I’d never tried before: I spent a whole lunchtime squatting in an alley photographing a wall; I asked one of my work colleagues to model for a photo; I tried (with fairly poor results) to turn my living room into a studio; I stayed up until 2 in the morning trying to do things in The GIMP that I’d only ever read about. I spent hours on each photo because I was excited by the idea of using photos to say something rather than just show something.

You can see the photos that I entered into the competition by clicking on the thumbnails below, but they’re not the sum total of what I achieved by entering the competition. The challenge it presented has done more to advance my art than any book I’ve ever read or any gear I’ve ever bought. In fact, it’s caused me to consider how few things that I’ve created up until now have actually been art.

It seems quite unlikely that my images will make any great impact on the competition. While I’m really impressed by what I was able to create, statistically there is a 5 in 1300 chance that any of my images will be picked to be a finalist. If I am picked, it will be a fantastic feeling, and will go a long way to compensating for the damage done to my knees in that alley. But the real win for me has been finally realising that photography is about more than just the visual subject; it’s about the story.

Having said that, I’ll also say that it’s not too late to register to vote for the winners. So if you think I might have a chance of being a finalist and that you might like to vote for me if I am, go to the Canon Photo5 site, then click on ‘Competition’ then on ‘register to vote’.

Lastly, I have to say some thankyous: to Mark, who entertained my bizarre request of modelling for a photo on a city street at lunch time; to Bec, for answering my urgent call to borrow a lab coat; and to my lovely wife, Amanda, for her modelling, her patience, and for refusing to believe that I had gone mad despite much evidence to the contrary.
Cheers, guys – I couldn’t have done it without you.

I hope you enjoy my photos.


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