I’ve been attending WPPI for the past 15 years as a member, student, teacher, judge, entrant, chairman, director of the print competition and even as an exhibitor. One of my favorite parts of the convention is the print competition and then the awards ceremony later that week.
I hear a lot of photographers say that a print competition is not important and that the awards mean nothing, that it’s just a waste of time. But as a co-host of the awards night, I get to see everyone’s reaction to the events that unfold during the evening, including witnessing the raw emotion and the stories behind every entry submitted and every award won. There’s Sarah Ferrara who stepped into the hallway last year shaking in tears because she couldn’t believe she had just won gold. And then she went on to win the Premiere category. When her name was announced this year, she was just as shocked. As her name was announced again and again throughout the evening, I watched her face change from confusion to pride in what she had accomplished in the last year and confidence in her abilities. As she came on stage to accept her trophy, she whispered to my wife, Melissa, the competition’s co-director, that last year she thought her win was just a fluke. But now she knew it wasn’t.
There were other emotional moments this year as well, such as when Alex Pan came on stage to accept the Studio of the Year award for Perfect Frame. He was so proud of his team because they pulled together and did so well. And even though Alex didn’t personally win any awards that night, he kept coming up again and again to accept awards on behalf of his team members. When he came on stage to pick up the last award, he said (ever so proudly) that he started so many years ago entering print competition and had grown over the years, that it forced him to create better images year after year, so much so that he opened a new studio, put together a team and trained them to be great photographers. And those photographers, in his own words, “kicked my butt this year.” He said he couldn’t be prouder.
Luke Edmonson won the Grand award (and his Triple Master designation) with a beautiful portrait of his daughter. Joseph Victor Stefanchik won first place in the maternity category with a stunning portrait of his wife and their unborn daughter. These are deeply personal images and stories that were shared with us. That’s what makes this community so strong.
And then there was perhaps the most touching and emotional moment of all: Vinci Wang wept uncontrollably on stage after winning first place and the Grand award in the Photojournalism Division for a moving portrait of his beautiful dog of 17 years as she passed away. Listening to him accept his award and thank his little companion and talk about how much she meant to him as he mourned her passing again—you can understand how much love and heartache went into that portrait, one most of us will not soon forget.
Is there anyone who can say that attending WPPI isn’t important? Is there anyone who can say that entering a print competition and going to the awards show isn’t significant? Perhaps that person hasn’t attended the convention. Or hasn’t taken the time to get to know the stories of our members. The truth is, the warmth and the energy and the excitement felt at this year’s WPPI was the shot in the arm that we all needed. Whether you are a veteran in the industry or someone just starting out and attending the show for the first time, we’re all on this long road together and I, for one, am so proud of my WPPI family.
Jerry Ghionis is WPPI’s print competition director and very first Grand Master.