When Losing Is A Lot Like Winning

Aug 11, 2014 / Photography / how to be creative

I’m happy to announce that I won third prize at the American Photographic Artists San Francisco (APASF) Curator’s Voice competition! The exhibition will be held on September 4-27, 2014 at the Modernbook Gallery in San Francisco. I’m pretty excited.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this process of submitting to competitions and losing–how disappointing that is, when it happens. The first few times, the pain of rejection is bright, like a paper cut to one’s heart. It’s hard to be rejected. But the more I gain experience in submitting my work to shows and competitions, the more I think that losing is a lot like winning. Let me explain.

I submitted to photolucida’s Critical Mass competition last year. Every emerging photographer I know has either submitted to this competition or plan to submit to it. It’s like one of those TV talent shows but for fine art photographers. Out of 800+ submissions, 200 gets selected for the second round, and out of that, 50 gets selected for the third and final round.

So last year (2013), I got into the top 200, but I did not get selected for the top 50. Too bad, right?

In thinking about this recently, even though I lost, I’m beginning to think that I really won. A number of things happened in the months that followed because of that exposure in Critical Mass:

  • Blue Mitchell, a juror from Critical Mass, contacted me to ask if I would be interested showing my work in Plates to Pixels. I was astounded. “Absolutely yes!” Who wouldn’t?
  • Yan Li, another juror from Critical Mass, emailed to say how much she loved my work and how she was interested in showing the work in China. I said, “absolutely yes!” Who wouldn’t? (The cyanotype prints I posted above are actually for this December show in China.)

And just last week,

  • I called one of the curators, Danny Sanchez from the Modernbook Gallery, to discuss print sizes for the APASF exhibition. During the conversation he said, “I’m really glad you decided to submit to the APASF competition, I remember your work from Critical Mass last year.” I was flabbergasted.

Losing Critical Mass is the best thing that has happened to me so far. I started telling all of my classmates and colleagues to submit to Critical Mass. As long as you submit a cohesive body of work, having 25 people pre-screen the work for the first round, and if selected, having 200 people look at your work for the second round, is really a cost-effective way of showing your work. Even if you lose, it doesn’t matter, you really are winning.

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