Trend in Past Selected Photographers

Six Years On

As ONWARD heads into its sixth year, we thought it would be interesting to reflect on many years of great submissions, and look for any trends that may have developed as the competition expanded and judges changed. We reviewed each selected photograph from the past five years and collected data regarding its subject matter, the processes used, and whether or not the image was monochromatic or in color.

The results were generally inline with the changing technological trends, but they also revealed certain universalities in subject matter that we found interesting.

For the record, our previous judges included:

Subject Matter: Portraiture, Still Lifes, Landscape, and Abstraction

We categorized the works according to essential tropes found in visual art—portraiture, still life, landscape, and abstraction.

The essential subject matter of photographs, which is so undeniably tied to our visual culture, does not change, and for all five years at ONWARD, portraiture has maintained the highest quotient of the selected images. Although each of the ONWARD judges came from different backgrounds with varying aesthetic tastes, they all, without fail, found portrait work to be the most compelling.

This is not to say that each year’s worth of work was homogenous or stagnant. On the contrary, the translation of this subject matter through each juror’s personal lens manifested itself as a varied collection of images, tied together by a distinct underlying theme.

Blurring the Lines

While most of the past ONWARD photographs could be identified as featuring one distinct subject matter, the lines separating these categories were at times blurry, and easily challenged upon examination.

The categorization of images is the synthesis of several filters; the intention of the artist, the work’s meaning to the viewer, and what is physically present in the work.

By these terms, Chelsea Hamilton’s ONWARD ’12 piece “Self-portrait #7” is a work clearly towing the line between portraiture and landscape. We see her back to us standing at a crossroads, arguably making more use of the landscape than the human form to construct her self-portrait.

Looking back at ONWARD ’08, Carol Dragon’sLake Como #1” depicts a still life, yet an intimate suggestion of human presence can be seen in an unmade bed. Although this work contains no living figure, the implied actions of a person linger, forcing the viewer to contemplate this unknowable character.

In our daily lives, most people love and share a fundamental relationship to portraiture as a subject matter. Some people want to retain the image of someone they are personally connected to, whether a family member or an inspirational hero.

In general, it is easier to empathize and identify with the image of a person. We are predisposed to recognize and react to the human form, and this predisposition has the tendency to permeate all other images we create.

But What Does It “Mean”?

While there are certain forces which change how photographs are produced, the kind of images we gravitate towards is essentially unchanging. This statistical analysis is meant to give a general understanding how ONWARD has unfolded over the last five years.

Though, regardless of the subject matter, every entrant has shown commitment to his/her subject matter by deeply engaging with it on a personal level. That is what makes the judges take notice, and what really counts. Be sure to keep this in mind, and check out our other blog posts for more helpful advice about your submission