Saturday, July 16, 2011

Worst Photo Contest

Many years ago, during my first and only photo class, one of the assignments was to make a bad photograph on purpose.

On the face of it making a bad photo might seem like a simple task. Don't we do that every day? I think for most photographers the bad ones tend to outnumber the good ones manyfold. Most of us weed them out quickly, and we'd never think of showing them to others.

Google Image Search Bad Photograph

But making a bad photo on purpose can actually be rather difficult. What does a bad photo look like? Is it out of focus? Boring subject matter? Poor composition? Misexposed? Scratches and dust specks? Chemical stains? Digital noise? Camera bumped during a slow exposure? Faces cropped? Derivative of other work? HDRed to death? Too slick and perfect? Some combination of the above?

Google Image Search Bad Photograph

No. Injecting a deliberate "error" won't ensure poor quality. In fact if the error is pronounced enough there's a good chance the resulting photo will be interesting. Artists have managed to leverage all of the above mistakes to make very good photographs, photos which have landed in the finest museums and collections.

Think of Miroslav Tichy, whose photos are so imperfect they wind up being sort of perfect. In the music world an equivalent might be a band like The Shaggs. Of course the opposite is also true. Photos which are too slick are often quite boring. Think of Kenny G., or his visual equivalent.

Google Image Search Bad Photograph

I want to see your worst photo. I'm hesitant to define bad. You might think of it as imperfect or as perfect or something else entirely. Any photo that is uninteresting probably qualifies.

Send your bad photo to me (taken by you, jpg < 200 KB) before August 15, 2011. I will run all submitted images together online, then open them up for polling. Whichever entrant receives the most "worst" votes will receive a hand-printed photo of one of my favorite bad images, the chance to run whatever images they want in a future post, and everlasting anti-glory.

This is all in good fun. In a world of best-of competitions, it's a chance to take yourself not so seriously.

Good luck. Now be bad...

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Trouble is, these days digital photography means we trash/delete our worst!

Blake Andrews said...

The next time you feel the urge to delete, send it to me instead.

jophilippe said...

TOP recently posted something about
AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com which is worth browsing.

Nice idea of contest Blake. I wish I could do more bad photographs rather than so many boring ones (which I never delete)

MarcWPhoto said...

When Richard Feynman, a Nobel-prize winning physicist, took up art (specifically he learned to sketch) he noticed something which really interested him.

In physics (and other mathematical sciences) problems have a Right Answer. Any answer which is not the Right Answer is, by definition, the Wrong Answer. Feynman, though he'd spent quite a bit of his career finding answers that people thought were wrong and showing they were in fact right, was firmly of this kind of philosophical school.

When he took up art, he noticed that the teachers were very, very hesitant to tell a student they were doing something "wrong." Maybe the assignment was to draw something and a student used such thick lines that the drawing was almost unintelligible, but the teacher knew that some artist somewhere had made what was considered to be great art with really thick lines and so forth. Not to mention all the artists considered to be great who made pictures which were more or less unintelligible. So it was really hard to tell what was "bad" and what was "personal."

Photography has fallen for this hook, line, and sinker. The fact that a badly composed photograph contains interesting geometric properties might make it art, but it's still a badly composed photograph. But you can't say that, so now, as you see, it's almost impossible to make a bad photograph at all.

My submission would have been one of the umpteen boring portraits I have taken where the DOF was slightly off. I suppose you can make anything art contextually but you'd have to talk pretty fast to convince me that a ho hum headshot with the tip of the nose in focus was a great contribution to the world's artistic vocabulary.

Blake Andrews said...

I love AFP. I wouldn't call those photos bad since usually they're bad enough to be interesting.

As for Feynman's dilemma, it gets at the heart of the contest. In photography as in physics I think there is such a thing as "wrong" or "bad". But the term is much more slippery. If something is bad enough it can actually be good, as with AFP. Maybe the best comparison is to subatomic particles where Newtonian laws break down.

christian said...

Well I submitted one. What a challenge! After a while of poring over my worst photos they all blur together and I don't even really see them individually anymore.

Philbert Lennon said...

A good photographer never shows his bad photographs.

Janet B said...

Blake, is there anyone you will not show your photographs to because you know they just won't get it?

Blake Andrews said...

I'll show my photos to just about anyone. Few people get them, regardless of whether they're good or bad.

As a general comment, entries have been slowly coming in and I have to say many of them are quite interesting.

Anonymous said...

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