Learning from set backs / by Hilary Hann

The AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards have been and gone and once again, a whole lot of photographers are wondering why they put themselves through the experience.

Masochistic some may call it and the reasons we do it are varied indeed.  Some may just enjoy the opportunity to party, others are more likely to admit to a desire to stand on a National stage whilst yet another group will acknowledge the need to have a goal and deadline to produce anything at all. 

I think I definitely fit into the later group as each year I look towards the entry deadline to pull together a disparate selection of images and make something award worthy out of them.  Sometimes I feel pulled off track by a myriad of competing projects and then, like this year, I struggle to complete anything at all.

The Australian Institute of Professional Photography grows from strength to strength. It is undoubtedly binding it’s members together in an ever increasing web of professionalism and with its annual Australian Professional Photography Awards the quality of the photography improves every year.  Sometimes one can feel numb just looking at the depth and breadth of ideas and the execution of those ideas.  It can be hard to stay focussed on one’s own path.

For the first time in 4 years I didn’t win a Gold award and I didn’t manage awards with all my entries.  How did it feel?  Surprisingly liberating.  I think the pressure of trying to win at least a Silver with all 4 prints every year was artistically debilitating.  I would have preferred to have won with them all, I’m only human, but I think it will serve me better in the long run to have it this way.

Bring back the passion.

My highest scoring print was one I’ve called Dust Falls.  It scored 87 for a Silver Distinction.  It was also selected for a new venture called the Luminous Collection whereby 15 images were selected from all the entrants (over 2000) to be auctioned over a couple of nights, the proceeds going towards providing student grants to further their photographic education.  That was quite a surprise and I felt very humbled that the selection panel chose one of my images.  It attracted strong bidding and sold for $900, making it the second highest selling print just short of the $1000 for a black and white nude.

This is what I wrote about Dust Falls:

Dust Falls is one of the signature prints intended for my first major solo exhibition, Arrhythmia, which is currently in production.

Every time that I’m privileged to sit and photograph elephants, there is a shame that sits like a heavy shadow over each and every image, that I am a member of a species that is presiding over the dying days of these magnificent, intelligent, sentient creatures.  It hits me like a knife through the heart. 

The wonder of it all and the all encompassing sorrow that it should have come to this.

One of the great and life affirming experiences left to humans is to absorb nature by osmosis: letting the spirit of wild places filter through into our hearts and minds so that it can excise the troubles and difficulties of a stressed, urban lifestyle. The heartbeat of nature can be felt whenever you are deep within its embrace, far from the distractions of the modern, built environs.  For some people, it is a spiritual experience that they can’t explain with logic or science.  Many indigenous people have lives that are so intertwined with the natural world that they have no concept of the separation of their community from nature that most of the developed world considers normal.

In a very real sense, this image is part of my tribute to a world that is rapidly disappearing and the grief that I feel is as real as anything else that I have experienced.




The other print which achieved a Silver Award is called Living Trophy.

This magnificent pride lion was photographed in Ngorongoro Crater and I specifically chose to present it as if he were a trophy hanging on a wall.  In a small way, I was making a statement about the continuing practise of hunting mature breeding males and how much more beautiful they are as living creatures.  Perhaps one day a photograph will be considered more valuable than a dead, lifeless trophy with glass eyes hanging from a wall.