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Was more diligence due from AIPP?

The dramatic announcement last week from AIPP national president John Swainston, that multi-award-winning photographer Lisa Saad was to have all awards taken from her and given to photographers who haven’t broken the competition rules, included an assertion which grated with many people:  The Institute finds that there has been an ongoing breach of rules over a number of years, which have not only now brought the AIPP into disrepute through no fault of the AIPP, but more importantly, adversely affecting all those who might otherwise have been announced as winners or awardees at the time. 

– NO fault of the AIPP? Really?  Not even a teensy bit of fault? How can an organisation learn from mistakes if it doesn’t have what it takes to admit to them?

Anonymous Man # 13 partly 'deconstructed' by Corey Balazowich at the Photo Stealers website, She has done a thorough and forensic job in identifying various components of Lisa Saad's competition images. (Being threatened with legal action and demands for damages does tend to focus the mind!)
Anonymous Man # 13 partly ‘deconstructed’ by Corey Balazowich at the Photo Stealers website She has done a thorough and forensic job in identifying various ‘foreign’ components in Lisa Saad’s competition images. (Being threatened with legal action and demands for damages does tend to focus the mind!)

On the other hand it’s way too easy, with the wisdom of hindsight, for an outsider to glibly assert that if the AIPP had simply enforced its own rules from the get-go, none of this sorry saga would have occurred.

Another observation John makes is that the Lisa Saad affair has had an impact on over 70 separate awards around the world and six different awards bodies. To paraphrase Paul Keating, this was perhaps the scandal professional photography had to have. To make everyone in the photo awards ‘industry’ here and overseas aware that until now they have been blind-sided by the complexities of digital imaging, and that greater vigilance is needed to maintain the integrity of their awards and honours systems.

But before going any further, I want to emphasise that this article is in no way a criticism of the judges and other volunteers who contribute many hours to the APPAs.  The AIPP is the organiser of the APPAs, not the judges. The AIPP sets the categories, rules and regulations, and the judges get their ‘starting orders’ from the AIPP. As John Swainston notes elsewhere in his announcement: ‘…Judges are not able to question an image’s validity in the Awards after its acceptance.’ 

‘There is usually ZERO input from judges into how these things are set up,’ someone close to this whole affair wrote elsewhere. ‘Stop the “blame the judges” posts. They are told to judge the images in front of them.’

Fair call.

Rules there to break
The concept of ‘due diligence’ is familiar when it comes to making a major purchase, and if you don’t exercise due diligence you are likely to come a cropper – sooner or later. It could be argued that the AIPP (and WPPI and NZIPP, etc), have not exercised due diligence in enforcing their rules. When photographers pay their not inconsiderable entry fee, they do so in the expectation the competition is being run professionally and fairly, and within its own rules.

Here’s a couple of rules which were overlooked:
– All elements in an entry must be the work of the entrant.
– The use of third party imagery such as stock photography (including skies, borders, backgrounds or textures) is prohibited.

(Source: www.

Most of the Lisa Saad images which have now been disqualified by the AIPP (and others) are chock-a-block with clip art. Some is photographic and much of it is just digital graphics – drawings.

Is it really ‘no fault’ of the AIPP that these images were accepted for competition without questioning whether this clip art was:
1) The work of the entrant, which it must be, or
2) third party imagery, which is prohibited?

Being wise after the event once again, it seems odd that before accepting, for example, the image at right as a valid entry, there wasn’t a query of where that pic of the dove came from, and whether it was a stock image or clip art. Perhaps there was. Perhaps the deception went as far as inventing a plausible provenance for each imported component.

But even if that were the case: ‘All entrants must be able to supply a copy or proof of each element used to create the final image (to prove its photographic origin) if requested. Failure to provide such proof may result in the disqualification of the entry. ‘  – If the AIPP was to have raised the issue – which it should have – the photographer in question would surely then need to support any written or verbal explanation with evidence.

And talking about clip art of white doves and the like, maybe we should loosen up a bit. Maybe the rules should actually be liberalised. There needs to be a serious debate about whether purchasing a bit of clip art and incorporating it into a complex image should be against competition rules in certain creative categories.   

John Swainston said the AIPP has discussed changing its rules, noting ‘If someone agrees to the rules and acts in good faith the rules remain effective and do not need changing.’ Having read them, it seems to me the rules don’t necessarily need to be harsher, they just need to be enforced.

If the judges are only empowered to assess the work that’s placed in front of them, rather than question its validity, then whomever is tasked with accepting entries in the first place needs to scrutinise each entry with a more critical, indeed sceptical, eye.  The temptation to unquestioningly accept everyone’s entry, and associated entry fee, needs to be resisted.

The AIPP seems to have identified this as the ‘pinch point’ in the process. In the future, John Swainston told Inside Imaging, ‘If you enter the AIPP Awards with a picture that does not comply with the conditions clearly stated, and which you sign agreement to in the rules of entry, you will be caught and disqualified.

‘For the 99 percent+ of entries where people DO comply, the AIPP Awards process will remain a strong learning and personal growth opportunity.’

Playing favourites?
But if the thinking which led to this scandal was, ‘Hey, this is someone we know and trust; an APPA judge, no less. It would be embarrassing and insulting to ask for proof of honesty,’ – then there’s an element of playing favourites. Whether this cronyism is merely perceived, or something more grounded in reality, a segment of AIPP (and ex-AIPP) members seem to feel this is how the APPAs operate. Just sayin’.

Photographers have been excluded from the APPAs for far less offensive behaviour than in this controversy. In 2017, fashion photographer Michael Teo withdrew his winning entries from the 2017 AIPP Victorian Epson State Awards, after it emerged he breached the contest rules by using the same model in more than one photo. Goodness gracious! He lost his titles of Victorian Photographer of the Year and Victorian Portrait Photographer of the Year.

Section 1B of the 2017 Core Rules stated that ‘no two images entered are to contain the same subject. The intent of the awards is to produce four unique, content-diverse images’. Seemed at the time like a pretty tough call as the four images entered were both striking, and diverse in style – but at least the rules were enforced.

Ironically, Lisa Saad was then named 2017 Victorian Photographer of the Year, for her now notorious (and not particularly diverse) Anonymous Man series.

There was another dispute with the awards system in 2016 after fine art photographer Alison Lyons received the highest scores for four images in the NSW Photographer of the Year Illustration category – by a whopping 31 points – but did not win the category! Alison questioned how winning the contest with individual image scores didn’t equal a category win, and was told the decision was based on the images as a portfolio, rather than each individual score.

‘People have said to me that I’m the only person who has complained, so the system must be working,’ she said at the time. ‘I think it’s just that I’m the only person so far who has complained…’
– Keith Shipton

Related stories:

APPA Rules (ok?)
2018 Rules:
Individual Category Rules:

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One Comment

  1. Kat Kat February 28, 2019

    I’m studying Photography and Illustration Design at University and EVERY piece of final work we submit for assessment MUST be submitted with digital files of all original images, whether that be for a composite work or a single edited image. I don’t understand why the AIPP can’t ask the same of all competition entrants …

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