Travel Photographer of the Year was founded in 2003 by professional photographer Chris Coe and his wife and business partner Karen, who wanted to show that travel photography is much, much more than holiday snaps and pretty postcards.
In the eleven years since TPOTY was founded, the awards have gone from strength to strength and are now highly regarded as a truly premier travel photography award. Last year over 48,000 visitors attended the exhibition at The Royal Geographical Society, this year’s awards have expanded to accommodate the growth of entries with three all-new single image categories alongside three Portfolio categories, a new talent category, HD Video category, Travel Shorts Young Travel Photographer of the Year award (with two different age groups) and an award for the overall winner – the Travel Photographer of the Year 2014.
We caught up with Chris ahead of this year’s awards exhibition to find out all about his perceptions of travel photography and the diversity of the TPOTY awards…
Firstly, what motivated you to establish TPOTY?
Frustration – and a feature on travel and photography on Simon Mayo’s radio show. It was back in 2002 and I’d been a photographer for about 12 years. I knew that there were many photographers who were producing really interesting work but struggling to get it published, so I decided to create a showcase.
The final push was a comment by Simon Mayo – he talked about how anyone could be a travel photographer and how all you need is a camera and an exotic location, and that’s how TPOTY was born. I could never have dreamt then that it would become so big.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in establishing the awards and how did you overcome it?
It would have to be funding it (the award). The awards are currently highly dependent on sponsorship and over the last 12 years we’ve seen major challenges to sponsorship budgets – especially with the banking crisis and global financial downturn. We’ve been very lucky to have some highly supportive sponsors over the years and to them we owe a great amount of thanks.
As a travel photographer yourself, where have you enjoyed photographing the most?
I’m often asked this but for me photography isn’t about location – it’s about light, and especially the changing light. I like variety (both in subject matter and destination) and I like the challenges of photographing different environments and different subjects. For me, the enjoyment comes from being creative with a camera and often the most uninspiring place provides the most enjoyment if the light is right.
Who have you been most excited to meet, or work with?
That could be a very long list! I’ve met some amazing people both on my travels and through TPOTY; from high profile photographers to people behind the scenes who avoid the limelight but have amazing stories, amazing lives and have shown great kindness and generosity to me.
With so many entries, it must be hard to judge the awards – how does the process work?
The TPOTY judging system is designed so that the best images are selected without bias or individual influence, there are three rounds of judging: the first two are online and the final one judged on prints. In the first round, entries which don’t fulfil the entry criteria or meet the category themes or which break the rules, are whittled out along with images which aren’t of sufficient quality. In the second round, each judge selects their shortlist independently which gives us shortlists of about 20 to 30 entries per category. For the final round, shortlisted entries are printed and the judging panel meet in person to decide the winners and selected entries.
What is the importance of physical prints for the final judging round?
They are essential and fundamental. I don’t believe the winners for any award should be chosen online or on a computer screen, unless they are only ever going to be exhibited in this way. Over the years I’ve seen so many images which look great online but awful when printed, I’ve also seen many which appear to be nothing special online but produce the most stunning prints.
Which awards category proves most challenging to judge?
The TPOTY judges are all highly visually literate, they see a lot of images through their work and their love of photography, so they know good and original imagery when they see it. Usually the hardest categories to judge are the broader-themed, ‘One Shot’ single image categories. Several years ago, we chose the theme ‘water’ for one of the categories – there were some amazing, but very diverse images entered and it took the judging panel around 6 hours to make a final decision on the images for this category alone!
Tell us five of the biggest strengths of the TPOTY awards…
- The variety of subject matter which ‘travel photography’ covers.
- New themes for the awards each year which keep the awards fresh. You will see that the winning images are very different each year – and not predictable like many other awards.
- Accessibility. By that, I mean that the winning images are images that we could all potentially capture, aspire to take or love looking at. This makes the awards inclusive and aspirational for everyone.
- Innovation. We’ve always tried to do things differently – whether this is through unusual prizes – like a chance to photograph the Dalai Lama, or to blend your very own whisky, or through the introduction of new, innovative categories – such as the HD Video category.
- Protecting photographers’ rights. Many competitions try to take advantage of photographers by claiming copyright or an unlimited license to reproduce their images – this is fundamentally wrong and, as a photographer myself, it riles me. TPOTY has always fiercely protected photographers’ rights and enforced them where we’ve found any infringement – this approach is respected by photographers and has allowed us to work with them to promote their work. Many careers have been launched or boosted by the profile we’ve been able to give photographers through the awards on an international stage.
Which questions do you find you are asked most about the awards entry?
‘If I buy you a drink, can I be the next winner?’… I’m not that cheap!
How would you describe the work featured in this year’s exhibition?
I don’t think that the images need me to describe them; they speak for themselves and when visitors see them printed large at our exhibitions they will appreciate the power that they have to move people.
What influence has digital technology had over the entries to TPOTY?
The first few years of TPOTY were before digital really took off, so the awards have borne witness to photography’s transition from film to digital. In the early years of digital (and the awards) people hadn’t really mastered the technology and for several years the quality wasn’t there either. Things have moved on and there are now a generation of photographers who haven’t known any other way to shoot.
Having said that, TPOTY has always attracted plenty of images shot on film and there are a number which will be featured in the exhibition again this year. In my opinion, the digital versus film debate is over – photographers choose their medium with the feel they want in their images in mind. Personally, I love film – but I wouldn’t choose it for every eventuality, digital photography is a valuable and liberating tool.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for travel photographers?
It depends on what they want to do with their photography. Travel photography is as hard as any other area of photography to make a sole living from, but you can have huge amounts of fun and some great adventures trying – and most importantly, it can be done. What better way to enjoy travelling and photography together… It’s a big world out there!
And finally, how do you hope TPOTY will develop over the next ten years?
Global domination! No, seriously, I hope it will continue to grow at a steady pace whilst remaining true to its core values. The biggest thing for me is showing the best photography to a widening audience and this will start to grow as the exhibition begins to tour internationally. Of course, the wider the audience, the more opportunities and exposure we can create for the photographers who enter – they are what TPOTY is all about.
See the diverse TPOTY awards exhibition from 1th July until 17th August at Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).
Genesis Imaging is very proud of our involvement and collaboration with the prestigious Travel Photographer of the Year Awards and are pleased to support the exhibition at The Royal Geographical Society and to offer a 50% discount on our Lambda C-Type printing for each photographer entering the 2014 competition.