Interview with UPR Jury Zurab Kiknadze
One of our longest standing Jury members dives into what it means to be a Jury for the UPR.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your relationship to photography. How would you define yourself as a photographer?
Photography is my passion. My "professional" interaction with it was on the business side of things. But photography as a visual communication form is purely personal interest to me. I shoot, I'm interested in the art form, in techniques, technology, history, and above all good pictures. My drive is storytelling photography. I don't work on assignments but shoot personal projects that interest me. Later on media that is interested in these topics may pick it up.
Being a member of a Jury panel must have brought a new sense to how you see photography in general, having to be so critical about others work. Has this experience changed your perspective on photography in any way?
It hasn't changed my perspective. But it has showed me other interesting perspectives - hundreds of people exploring the same city, at the very same time, with more or less the same goals. It was very interesting to see so many individual takes on the familiar environment, how much is going on around, how many impressions you can make on any single day, there's so much eye candy this city has to offer, makes me want to go out and shoot more.
You are our longest standing Jury, going all the way back to 2013. How do you see the evolution of the UPR and in particular the participants overall quality?
Unfortunately the science has failed us - there was no new photographically enhanced genome implanted into human gene pool in the past 4 years. Participants and their photo quality remain spread evenly. Of course there is an aid coming from technical improvement of the equipment used, but I consciously ignore it in my selection process.
I don't want to give someone a preference because they used a nice expensive and therefore more capable camera over a cheap point-and-shoot or a cellphone. A couple of years ago one of participants in my final selection had horrible technical quality photos (cheap cellphone) but content of the images was good. Of course it does help to have capable gear that doesn't technically constrain you, help you express yourself and enhance the quality of images. But at the end most important is that your images have interesting content. Gear should be the means, not the end.
I remember talking to you about one of our winners, Virginia Zoli who won our 1st prize in 2015. You said you were quite curious to talk to her and see if she knew how good she was. Do you think the UPR is a catalyser for new talent?
It probably is. If nothing more, UPR shows that there are many passionate people who are looking for new outlets for their interest. And if passion didn't bring out talents we'd be stuck. There are few UPR photographers' selections I come across every year that make me hope they do this beyond just casual infrequent "snapping". It can happen, someone might not realise that they have a good eye and their photos have visual potential. Or you may have a person that is good and knows it.
We, the judges, see photos annonimously and sometimes have to wonder. Actually that's why I wanted to talk to some participants like Virginia. Her photos were very literate, but also had nonchalantness and suddenness to them that made me wonder if she actually realised her photos were good. I like to encourage such people not to put the camera down. Of course if it turns out to be someone who knows their s**t I'll just keep my mouth shut.
As a Jury, going through all those thousands of photos is quite challenging. How do you process all that information and what catches your eye?
Yeah, it's a tough but very well payed job, thank you UPR! You're right, we get 1000's of photos from 100's of participants and quantity only increases with years. The first challenge is technical, and thanks to URP we already get well sorted photos.
My approach is to view photos per participant per theme, 3 photos simultaneously on the screen. I start by selecting everything that looks good and move on by the process of elimination. Eventually I come down to the winners. The easiest part is probably selecting the best photo and the best photographer. Once I go through all the photos the first time around there is already something that stood out to me. More often than not that photo, or series from a particular photographer sticks with me and ends up as the final choice. It's also my favorite part. It let's me pick photo(s) unconstrained by the chosen theme, simply because they are good photos.
What advice would you give to our future UPR participants so that they can make the most out of their day?
Bring lots of water. You're gonna have a long day and unless you're gonna bail out you're gonna need to hydrate all your walking and all your stress if you're a high-achiever. When your creativity goes blank have a beer or a few at a terrace. Your pictures will improve, guaranteed.
One of the biggest learning moments in my opinion is when it all comes together and goes up online and on the walls. When all the work gets published and perusable to all participants. If you joined URP for curiosity for photography (joining for a nice day out is also perfectly fine) then seeing photos of your peers should be a great learning experience. Especially if your main goal is to improve. Seeing the approach and perspective of others on the same topic you were into can at the very least inspire you, teach you or show you something new. In general I advocate actively looking at photography of others in your spare time. Look into the books of masters of subject you're interested in, look twice at photos in media that catch your eye and think why they made impact on you, look online, etc. Get inspired!
One concrete practical advice: don't copy each other! Every year we get dozens of photos from different participants showing the same exact scene. You can just see it - bunch of UPR participants hang around together, one sees something interesting, snaps a photo, others see it, think it's a good idea, line up and do the same. I don't know about other judges, but I automatically exclude all these photos. The sad part is sometimes such photos are great, but I have no way of knowing whose idea it was in the first place. I don't want to give credit for blatant copywork.
And of course, a simple advice that goes in such situations - don't just worry about winning, enjoy the day and enjoy photography to please yourself above all.