Preparing for the judging

An interview with Emily Bates

25 January 2012

Have you ever wondered what happens to a photograph or multimedia production after it has been submitted to the contest? Read an interview with contest coordinators Micha Bruinvels and Anna Lena Mehr, and with the coordinator of the registration process, Emily Bates, for a behind-the-scenes look at how we prepare the entries for the judging.

During the first week of December, the World Press Photo contest opens and photographers around the world begin to submit their work to the contest. Now in the 55th photo contest, the process of registering the entries has changed drastically over the years. Gone are the days of carousel slides and packages of black-and-white prints. Today, all submissions are received through the online entry site. But what happens once a photographer presses the final ‘submit’ button?

For a closer look at what takes place once a photo or multimedia production has been submitted, we spoke with Emily Bates, who joins World Press Photo in January to oversee the two-week registration period. During this time, a team of 41 people inspects each entry to make sure that each entry has been submitted correctly.

In addition, we talked with contest coordinators Micha Bruinvels and Anna Lena Mehr who work throughout the year planning the contest and all related activities. They oversee the entry period, the registration of all entries and ensure that everything is prepared when the judges gather in Amsterdam.

How long have you been working with the registration team?
Emily Bates: This is my tenth contest. My first year was with entries from the year 2001 as part of the registration team.

How would you describe the process?
Emily Bates: Together with my colleague Robert van Waarden, we train the registration team to look for issues with the quality or the content of the image, whether it conforms to the basic rules of the contest. The main team is looking for these problems then sending them on to another queue. We have two checks for all entries and it is always a different person checking so we don’t miss anything. Then they go to a file that is ready for the judging. At that stage, they are coded and become anonymous.

What are some of the problems that the registration team looks for?
Emily Bates: Things such as duplicate entries, a watermark or copyright or some other reference to the identity of the photographer. We remove borders with text. Check for photographs that are composites or multiple exposures. We look to see if a photo needs to be rotated, which is a minor thing, but we want a nice flow for the jury when they view it. We also check the creation date, whether it conforms to the rules or whether it looks like it has been manipulated to be allowed in the contest. We also read captions, to make sure that they match to the images. If there is a question we can’t resolve, the contest team will contact the photographer to discuss it or get clarity. We’re there to support the registration team, but then also deal with the bigger issues.

Who works on the registration team?
Emily Bates: It’s quite a diverse team of 41 people, a mix of people of different ages and backgrounds. The work has progressively attracted more people who are interested in photography. It is an educational process for them to see the diversity of approaches, how professional photographers edit their work and the array of stories around the world. It can be very intense, but offers a great insight particularly if you are a student of photography or setting out a career path within that arena.

How have things changed with the new website?
Emily Bates: It has changed a lot. With the new website, it’s a lot simpler. The website has blocks in place that prevent most duplicate images from being loaded, gives warnings and asks for real confirmation that the dates are correct. Photographers are confirming the details, claiming that they’re giving truthful information.

What is the most interesting thing you deal with?
Emily Bates: We see so many different styles of photography and sometimes it’s dubious whether it’s a real shot or manipulated. We’re also learning about the trends, issues that should be discussed by the jury. It seems that each time a new approach or style wins an award, there is a rush of people trying it out. This year we have a lot more entries which we refer to as this year’s Michael Wolf entry, people working with photographing the computer screen or TVs a lot more and working with things created with Google Earth or satellite imagery. Things like that are tricky, grey areas of who is the photographer, what is the authorship of that content, how much did they interact with it to make it their own? We bring these entries to the attention of the contest team so they are informed of the type of work that is there and so that we can prepare answers and topics to discuss with the jury.

Learn about the World Press Photo Contest, its history and the setup.