Jed Wee on his experience as a Judge on the West Coast Print Circuit

Those people who know me well know that it takes a lot to get me excited. Last Saturday was one of those rare occasions, as I got into the car in the pre-dawn hours to make the two hour drive more or less due west to judge in my first salon, the West Coast Print Circuit. Early morning mist and fog threatened my arrival, but I eventually made it after first witnessing the beautiful scenary that is the Lake District. Even from the outskirts on the A66, the colour on the hills was still amazing in mid November, reinforcing my notion that some day I want to live somewhere amongst the hills. There is something magical to being surrounded by the land towering around you, especially for someone who spent his childhood in a teeming metropolis.

After a sat nav mishap sent me two miles from where I should have been, I eventually arrived at the venue with about 15 minutes to spare, and the hall was already abuzz with helpers and judges. Being fairly new to the scene, I was comforted to see some familiar faces in the form of Pax Garabedian, the chairman of the NCPF Judges Subcommittee who had invited me to the event, as well as Dave Illingworth, who had “graduated” with me from the same NCPF Judges Seminar a couple of years ago. I also recognised Keith Robertson whom I’d met at Hexham PS a few days before, having given a talk there. The Circuit Chairman, Tony Potter, gave me a warm welcome and gave me a quick introduction to the day’s events.

Being a circuit, there were actually five salons being judged. As a result there was a large number of judges (nine at any given time, split into three groups), and a good number of helpers from the various clubs that comprised the circuit – West Cumbria, Carlisle, Calder, Derwent and Hoylake. There was a healthy buzz about the place throughout the day. I was originally down to judge in two sessions, but ended up helping in three of them – Open Mono, Open Travel and Open Colour.

People with some experience in these things will tell you how little time judges have to assess entries. Despite being forewarned, I was still a little surprised by how fast images had to be appraised due to the sheer volume of entries. The whole process was a slick and well practiced endeavour, with one volunteer scanning a barcode which would bring the entry up on the computer, before it was shifted to a viewing station for the judges to appraise. Each of the three judges would assign a score from two to five using a handset, and the total score recorded. Another helper would remove the print, and the process repeated. Prints scoring well would be placed aside for consideration of awards at the end.

The entries were varied and generally impressive, hailing from all over the world. Still, every so often a familiar subject would pop up – the Newcastle/Gateshead Quayside, Goths from Whitby, and the Northumberland coastline for example. There was a smattering of nudes, a good selection of studio portraits, and the now familiar theme of backlit, dusty, misty images from faraway lands. Our little groups would quickly slip into a rhythm; scan, place, score, remove, rinse, repeat.

Eventually the time would come to pick the award winners, and there were three placings and a few highly commendeds in each section. The highest scoring prints that had been put aside would be brought in again, and the three of us would have a quick confab about our preferences and reservations about the various images. It is a particularly difficult process when the photos in front of you are all excellent, and flaws are few and far between. Occasionally a stunning image would unite the judges, but quite often it came down to a matter of personal preference, which some might consider a strange and subjective method for picking the award winners. Yet this is unavoidable as photography is a subjective art, and the reassuring thing is that I have every confidence that every image on the “shortlist” was of a high enough quality to be deserving of its recognition.

In between a lot of images and the odd coffee break was lunch. A fine spread of pork pies, ham and beef sandwiches amongst other delectable food, followed by a fine selection of cake, spent in good company chatting about ukuleles, the Lakes, sailing, and yes, even a little bit about photography. Eventually proceedings had to get back underway, so away we went.

The judges are mixed for each session, and it was interesting to get a feel for how fellow judges felt about the images. Although individual scores are not disclosed, we do find out the total score so it’s possible to get some idea about how your fellow judges view the photos. As a new judge it’s possible to get a bit nervous about whether you are making the right calls on images. However the most important point stressed to me by both Tony and Pax was that age old saying, arguably first made famous by that most famous of English bards, in Hamlet – “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

Before long my three sessions were done; and I was making my way home as twilight was making its way in. All in all a very good experience that certainly gave me a better appreciation of what goes on, on the “other side” of the salon entry!


Jed Wee is a pro sports, landscape and wildlife photographer renowned for his photographic expertise and ability. He is a member of Durham PS and a popular judge and lecturer on the NCPF circuit

Contact Jed if you would like to know more

Find out more about Jed and his work from his web site here

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