|From the '60s through to the '80s, Diver's International Festivals of Underwater Photography and Film won an unrivalled reputation. The idea was rested after 1987, in the belief that that year's event could not be surpassed for volume and quality of entries. Little did we know - Nigel Eaton reports on Image 99 and the new wave in underwater image-making|
Burkhard Ohlendorf, Watchful Goby
Guiseppe Pignataro, Profile
Franco Banfi, Feeling
Frederik Spencer, Iris
Fredrik Ehrenstrom, White Waterlily
Working on Diver, we get to see tens of thousands of underwater images every year. Many are remarkable, others less so. But it's always a pleasure to look at the entries for Diver photo festivals; numerous images which stand out in terms of quality, imagination and overall impact.
Image 99, the Ninth International Festival of Underwater Photography and Film held after a 12-year gap, was no exception. In the various stills categories - Print, Manipulated Image, Portfolio and Slide - we received more than 2500 individual images.
These came from photographers based in the UK and 15 other countries, including Italy, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Israel and Hong Kong. In most categories, the overall quality was outstanding.
Judging these categories, along with myself, were Mike Portelly, underwater photographer, film-maker and advertising film director; John Bantin, Diver's Chief Correspondent, a former leading photographer in the advertising world and a full-time professional underwater photographer and writer since 1990; Tom Hawkyard, former Art Editor of Vogue and Ideal Home and Picture Editor of the Daily Telegraph Magazine, who is consultant PR for Ferrania UK's Colorphoto Division; Phil Smith, pioneering underwater photographer and winner of numerous international awards; and Dennis Taylor, Editor of photography and video magazine Pixel.
What were we looking for? Over-used subjects tended to be judged critically. So although the occasional anemone fish and long-nosed hawkfish made it into the top slots, the judges usually favoured something a bit more out of the ordinary.
In certain categories more high-quality entries were expected. In particular, the UK Waters and People/Scenery sections were relatively short of strong material, and medals were not always awarded. There is good scope for photographers to exploit these weaker categories in future competitions.
We had invited photographers to send in slides as either originals or good dupes, but in some cases the quality of the dupes was not up to par, and several otherwise excellent slides were rejected because, when viewed under the glass, they lacked sharpness (often because of excessive grain), or suffered from extremes of contrast, with vital areas either burnt out or filled in.
Generally, superior technical quality was essential, but some of the images which embodied it lacked real dynamism. On the other hand, several of the top winners succeeded not because of their absolute quality but simply because they made the greatest immediate visual impact and had "personality". They were the most memorable.
The judges differed between those who looked primarily towards the formal merits of each image (composition, quality of line, colour and texture), and those who tended to be swung more by the emotional power of the subject matter. Decisions were often split, an indication of how close some of the Silver and Bronze medallists - and even the Highly Commended certificate winners - came to snatching the top honours.
"It's a crime not to give them all a Gold medal," was Mike Portelly's impassioned response to the entries in at least one slide category. And another judge, who had previously been on the panel of the celebrated BG Wildlife Photographer of the Year event, was convinced that the overall quality of the images at Image 99 was higher.
Meanwhile, on the Moving Images side, judging was carried out by Ewart Needham, TV producer and Chairman of Teddington Studios; Mike Linley, producer of more than 90 documentaries for Survival Anglia TV; Ray Sutcliffe, producer/director on BBC Chronicle and Discoveries Underwater series, formerly chairman of the Council for Nautical Archaeology; and Paul Sarony, producer of such epic films as Mrs Brown and the recent TV award-winner A Rather English Marriage.
Diver wishes to thank the many photographers and film-makers who took part in Image 99, and all those who generously donated trophies and prizes.
Paul Kay, Lesser Octopus
Paul Kay, Shallow Kelp Forest
Shmulik Blum, Fish & Silhouetted Diver
Lucy Kay, Nudibranch
Kate Emby, My Brother
Jim Greenfield, Angler Fish
Chris Wilton, Grey Reef Shark
Pete Atkinson, Beveridge Reef
Alessandro Dodi, Black and Green
Davide Vezzaro, Red Labyrinth
Jeff Collett, Lionfish
Roy Waller, Little Cuttle