An Unexpected Win—New Zealand Classic Portrait Photographer of the Year!

Classic portrait by Jo Frances
I’m still on Cloud Nine after being awarded New Zealand Classic Portrait Photographer of the Year at the NZIPP Iris Awards last week! To be judged as the best in the country this year against so many of my talented colleagues is a massive (although surprising!) honour—especially since the images I entered in Classic Portrait category really represent the kind of work I love to do. The NZIPP is NZ’s governing body for professional photographers. Their annual Iris Awards are designed to inspire and push photographers into creating and submitting their very best work. Photographers can submit up to 10 images in a range of categories and they are then judged by a panel of top national and international photographers. The whole event takes three days and at the end of it they have a big gala dinner and name the winner of each category. It’s considered a really big deal to enter and photographers invest huge amounts of time and money into the process. Between building my business and raising three small people I haven’t found the time to fully engage in this process until this year. I set off to watch the judging in Queenstown last Wednesday full of excitement and very nervous to watch my nine prints being judged. While I’ve been running a successful business for a long time, it’s fair to say that awards and recognition as an artist from my peers had become something of a monkey on my back! I had thought a lot over the year about what I might enter and decided that above all else, I wanted to enter work that was true to my vision and spoke of the type of work and topics I am passionate about. Motherhood, breastfeeding, bonds both beautiful and binding, images that were honest and invited you to really see someone. On the first day of judging I had six images up. Two were in the Illustrative category and they got a Bronze and a Silver. I had no idea how they would go, so that was very cool.
Then the Classic Portrait category judging started. This was the category with the most significance to me, as it most represents the kind of work I do day-to-day. I sat at the back of the room so sick with nerves I was worried I might actually throw up! The judging seemed pretty tough and lots of images were just scoring professional standard (which is still great but obviously not what we were all hoping for). My first image came up and it got a Bronze! I was pretty happy with that.
Then my breastfeeding image came up. This was the image I was pinning my hopes on doing the best. I’d had several people tell me they thought it would do really well and would get some great discussion from the judges. It got “Silver, next image please.” I was a little disappointed to be honest!
  Then my favourite image—of my daughter—came up. This one was a total wildcard entry. I was lucky to get some amazing advice from some very talented and experienced award winning photographers as to what to enter and no-one picked this one as a contender. I have also heard time and time again that there is an element of going with your gut so I had made peace with this one as a “someone may love it and talk it up—or it will bomb” entry. It got a Silver and hubby and I just about jumped out of our seats! Yeehaa! To get an image that I personally love so much and that really represents the type of work I want to make do so well was such a win for me!
  My final entry in the Classic Portrait category came up and it also got a Silver—I was ecstatic!!
The following day the Creative Portrait category was judged and my three entries all scored a Bronze. This category features images that can have as much post-production Photoshop work as the author chooses. The images tend to be much more layered, complicated and conceptual, and I was more than happy to have scored anything at all, as this is really not a natural fit for my work.
So nine out of nine of my entries received an award. Needless to say I was elated and that monkey was well and truly off my back! Hubby and I went out to celebrate! Later that evening my phone started dinging like crazy and my first thought was something has happened to one of my children! I was absolutely shocked to find out I was a finalist in the Classic Portrait category. I couldn’t really wrap my head around it to be honest! The other finalists were Ilan Wittenberg, Jonathan Suckling and Jane Nelson. I was convinced that Jonathan Suckling would win—his images were amazing and had scored very well at the initial judging run through. The next day I woke up to find that my breastfeeding image had been viewed by 73,000 people on my Facebook page, and been shared by hundreds of people around the world. I had an interview with Hutt News and the article was on the Stuff website. Over the course of the day more and more people commented and shared the image and a week later it has been seen by half a million people on my Facebook page alone! Having the image receive so much attention was a great distraction from thinking about the awards night! I was surprisingly calm at the Awards dinner on Monday night—probably because it didn’t even occur to me that I could win. When they called my name it took me a few seconds to register that it was actually me! Totally unprepared, I may have given the worst thank-you speech in the history of NZIPP. It feels very surreal and I haven’t been able to utter the words “NZ Classic Portrait Photographer of the Year” without feeling like a fraud as yet. But wow—what a week!! There are some amazing people I need to thank for helping and supporting me along the way. Firstly, my lovely hubby Richard Frances-Moore for putting up with me being completely distracted for the last few months (no small thing when there are three children and renovations going on!). Catherine Cattanach, for encouraging me to get back into the NZIPP and awards process. Catherine won Classic Portrait Photographer of the Year last year, and her beautiful and heartfelt work really inspired me to get back into it. Lester de Vere, Esther Bunning and Karyn Flyett, for taking the time to give me such great advice and feedback on my entries—you guys rock! And Mel Waite and Sean Dick for your beautiful printing. Thank-you thank-you thank-you!! Lastly, my wonderful clients for trusting me to make images of them and being brave enough to let me capture them so honestly. This is what gets me out of bed in the morning.