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Master of Photography


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Master of Photography

26 Mar 2021 9:35AM   Views : 622 Unique : 413


I’ve written more than once about Sky Arts’ painting competitions, and this week I made contact with a show that I’d heard of, but have never seen before. Tuesday evenings at 8 offer the photographic version. And I have to say that I like it less, for a couple of reasons. The good reason is that it’s working the opposite way round, like Strictly Come Dancing, with one photographer eliminated each week, so that there’s an element of the negative (perhaps appropriately…) about the competition.


Fewer people are involved in the competition, end to end – starting with eight, and whittling down. And the whole thing operates with (I suspect) a comparatively vast budget, both for prizes and running the show: the first episode I saw involved a two-day trip to Sicily. High stakes, and a big cash prize (and Leica cameras everywhere).

And here’s the less good reason: I can watch painters painting without making any direct comparisons with what I‘d do in those circumstances: but here, the pressure is really on. Could I do better, or even nearly as well? If I applied, would I even make it to the first round? And the judges are doing precisely what I do as a member of the Critique Team here. Doubly scary!


As far as I can gather from the Sky website, the programme I’ve seen is the first from the second (of four) series. Sky subscribers can, I think, see all the programmes any time: the rest of us need to watch or record as they are shown. One of the judges, Caroline Hunter, is a picture editor at The Guardian – and criticised one picture for a lack of cropping options (or as we say in the Critique Gallery, for ‘precise cropping’! Other pictures lacked contrast, and there was some fairly random EXIF data, so we can all take heart.


The other judges, Darcy Padilla (an American photojournalist) and Olivero Toscani (Italian advertising photographer) were joined for the programme by David Alan Harvey, used to be a member of Magnum, and provided advice to the contestants. Maybe this is something for the ambitious to aim for if there is a further series – though it was notable that all of the entrants were quite young.

I shall be glued to future episodes – even though the programme makes me quite painfully aware of some of my own shortcomings. Time pressure is the least of the contestants’ worries, I’d say: and it is interesting to see the various approaches to a creative view of a challenging assignment.


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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
26 Mar 2021 9:38AM
The credits of Master of Photography hint that there will be different genres covered - but the first episode is about travel (involving street images, portraits, and even some set-up still life). I hope that if you haven't seen the programme, you'll give it a try on Freeview channel 11: and if you know it well, you'll add some wisdom below.
nellacphoto Avatar
26 Mar 2021 10:19AM
I was hooked on this programme. Saw them all at the time
The judges could be quite harsh
I thought the mentors each week were much kinder

They had a Nudes category in, I think ,the first two series, and then dropped it

I remember in Series 1, one girl photographer organised a few male and female nudes, piled on top of each other in the studio ... and then stripped off and dived in with them!

Very arty! Pretentious?! ... Moi?! ... surely not! Grin

But such a compelling watch. And the 150k euro prize was pretty impressive too!

Let's hope they bring it back sometime

Colin Smile
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
26 Mar 2021 10:41AM
Thanks, Colin.

Maybe having a judge called Darcy should have been a warning of things to come. And yes, the mentor was kinder. It's interesting that you imply that the series has been discontinued: I'd say there's room for a much more domestic version, with more of the positive attitude of the Painter programmes.

Mind you, in one sense harsh judgment is something we should all develop some immunity to: so many people (and this includes those on the extremes of the political spectrum who might disparage liberal views as those of 'snowflakes') can't take criticism, whether friendly or hostile, constructive or vitriolic. As I've said at various points before, working as an internal auditor was good for me in that sense. At the first ever council committee I attended, a Tory member, well known for being better before the pubs open, prefaced his question with the old idea that 'auditors are the people who come on the battlefield after the fighting is over to stab the dying and steal their gold teeth'. After that, I was pretty bombproof.

And auditing also taught me that offering criticism always works better if it's presented kindly: so maybe the programme is more interested in ratings than improving picture-making.
nellacphoto Avatar
26 Mar 2021 11:18AM
Sorry John ... didn't mean to imply the series was discontinued

Just the Nudes category ... I think

Only remember it being in series 1 & 2

I suspect the series has been put on hold for now ... especially with the international travel involved

I like the way they were all given the same cameras and lenses ... and the little sealed boxed to drop their cards into at the end of each session

Not sure how I'd cope with tasks like that under time pressure. Like saying to an author "Write me a short story ... and do it now!"

PaulCox Avatar
26 Mar 2021 11:19AM
Thanks for the freeview reference for us mortals who don't have Sky. Paul.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
26 Mar 2021 11:29AM
I am a mere mortal - long ago, I decided I'd not pay a penny towards Rupert Murdoch's ill-gotten gains, and it's only recently that I've realised he no longer controls Sky. Even now, it's an investment I won't be making, as I'm not interested in wall-to-wall sport. I still regard the BBC as the benchmark for all broadcasting: it's not perfect, but the improvements to be made are more about ensuring independence from commerce and government, so I pay the licence fee gladly. It occurs to me that I probably pay more to other broadcasters through the cost of advertising included in the price of things I buy...

Freeview for ever!
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
26 Mar 2021 11:31AM
Colin -

Thanks for the clarification. Shame!

I reckon that sometimes (but not always) time pressure helps. I may do a blog about my two-hour outing with Amateur Photographer and Mike Maloney - and in a sense, these blogs are writing under pressure, especially when I wake up without one written and polished of a morning.
pathrover Avatar
pathrover 8 60 United Kingdom
26 Mar 2021 11:51AM
I watched the first series with some mixed opinions, there was a lot of running around and very little photography. The first episode of series 2 which started on Sky Arts this week is better. In series 1 the mentors were edited out to the point of extinction. My main gripe in series 1 was the judging which was dominated by Oliver Toscani who is the most destructive and obscure judge I have ever seen. On the basis of episode 1 of series 2 he seems to have been pulled back in the edit although his comments are still negative and dense. Caroline Hunter seems to provide a bit more balance. The competition allocates 2 and a half hours in a new environment, and given that it was overcast and rainy, it seems a little obtuse to criticise the photographers for not taking bright, sunlit images!

I will continue watching!!

SlowSong Avatar
SlowSong Plus
15 11.1k 30 England
26 Mar 2021 12:42PM
They've all been on Sky Arts, which can now be watched via Freeview.
Oliver Toscani is quite up himself IMHO, and not a nice piece of work at all. Very negative.
The later series were "spoiled" somewhat by introducing Isabella Rosselini to "host". Just awful.
The photography was interesting, but variable. They are under time restraints though.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
26 Mar 2021 12:43PM
Thank you for the perspective of having seen more than I have, Gordon.

We can't control the sun - but we can adjust contrast. I'm not a camera club person, but I believe that some judges can be very negative... At least Olivero Toscani criticises from a position of demonstrable personal excellence. And I strongly suspect that it's the producers who set the tone!
dark_lord Avatar
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
26 Mar 2021 3:35PM
I had heard of this series as it was mentioned in the forums here when it was first on. So not having Sky (for very similar reasons to you John) I didn't watch them (though I have a suspoicion timing wasn't good for me) but I'll try and catch it now.
The need to make it 'good for tv' leads to the time pressure and obnoxiousness, unfortunatwely.
pablophotographer Avatar
pablophotographer 12 2.2k 450
26 Mar 2021 6:45PM
I think it is Oliviero Toscani's show and studio, that is why the show is filmed in his home country.

Toscani is as edgy as his pictures. Who else would photograph an African man holding a human thigh bone amidst war chaos for an advert of an Italian clothing firm?

Further down the series, the cameras were being changed from Leicas to Canons. Good PR, Canon. I think participation was quite an experience for all the contestants.
JuBarney Avatar
JuBarney Plus
12 36 7 United Kingdom
26 Mar 2021 7:45PM
Smashing shots especially the first
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
26 Mar 2021 9:42PM
Thank you, Pablo (and others) - that explains a lot about it. And presumably, following on from that, the change to Canon was the result of a better marketing deal for OT...

Mick Payton, who used to live just up the road (making a living from erotic images, loving motorbike shots) changed in around 2008 from Canon to Nikon for a better deal. I note that his profile picture on a modelling network site now bears the words 'Sony Alpha 7R IV' - which is intriguing.
pablophotographer Avatar
pablophotographer 12 2.2k 450
26 Mar 2021 10:44PM
I think the change of camera provider happens on the fourth series. I guess Leica got involved in the first place to showcase the models which they had brought forward that time. It was good they had dedicated an episode to shooting with film, first three series with Leica film gear, not on the fourth series when they used Canon.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
27 Mar 2021 7:48AM
I was hoping that would be part of the overall picture, Pablo. As you and I know, being able to shoot film pictures is an important part of photography, and illuminates what we do digitally...
Stevetheroofer Avatar
28 Mar 2021 8:11AM
I have watched all the episodes and been annoyed that the judges assume everyone who enters a photography competition wants to do photography for a full time job.
I am passionate about my hobby but I am fully aware there is no chance I could earn the same amount of money as i currently earn in my chosen career path even with a leg up from Sky arts.
We all enjoy sharing our images on ephotozine, having fellow photographers like your photos is reward enough for me. Roofing feeds the family.

dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
28 Mar 2021 10:54AM
Steve, that's precisely how I felt about auditing: food on the table. And being an amateur leaves me free to photograph what I want, and not what a client wants.

I also, actually, derived a lot of satisfaction from what I did, especially when I was able to finesse a good way forward out of unpromising circumstances: I reckoned that many internal auditors were either too focussed on looking good, pleasing management, or adhering to an ever-increasing set of professional rules that were often in nobody's interest, except those who wanted to prove that they had never done anything wrong. These tended to be the people who never did anything terribly good, either... I rather suspect the same holds true in every trade and profession. And in one sense, all professions are like the oldest one.

Occasionally, the constraints of work added to the glow of success - as working to a timeframe can be good for your pictures.

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