If you’re not familiar the show, or the format I urge you to go on catch up tv services and watch this now before reading on. I liken it to many other similar formulaic shows, not quite Big Brother, but think Next Top Model or X Factor even. Basically a group of photographers from across Europe apply to take part in a TV show where each week a person with the subjectively weakest set of shots gets eliminated from the challenge. In fact is very much like X-factor except that there are no ‘joke’ entries for the audience to laugh at. Everyone selected has good skills whether technical or creative or both. There is a variety of backgrounds to the contestants with series 2 including a young woman I think just 18 as well as a war photographer and a professional who’d previously photographed Paul McCartney.
Each week the contestants are set a different challenge and then ‘mentored’ by a professional photographer whilst editing their final shots. This series featured Martin Parr and Steve McCurry to name but a few, and of course there are ‘celebrity’ judges this year in as well as the returning sharp tongued Oliviero Toscani there was also Darcy Padilla and Guardian picture editor Caroline Hunter.
I really enjoyed the first series, whilst I know a lot of people can find these cheesy, I find seeing how a set of different people approach the same task really interesting, and often find myself thinking what would I do in that situation? (Answer: mostly, it’s a blank… hence why I wouldn’t stand a chance in one of these competitions). A lot of this is not just about skill, but about creativity and imagination under pressure. And the situations to me aren’t all that realistic, for example I can’t imagine that any publication would go to the trouble of paying a photographer to travel all the way to another country but then only give them 2-3 hours, in the middle of the day, with a limited boundary to ‘capture the city’. However other challenges such as meeting a celebrity having 20 minutes to create a rapport and shoot, isn’t that too far out there ~ and for someone like me, utterly terrifying – not the celebrity part, just meeting a stranger and being expected to build a rapport immediately – for this particular challenge I found the actor Clive Owen very down to earth, but obviously uncomfortable with some of the photographers, he was clearly great at being directed – and part of being a good portrait photographer is being a good director also. I found a lot of the challenges in this series were of this nature [short lead in time to build trust], and some of the phrases I heard over and over, ‘not close enough’ ‘too removed’ ‘too impersonal’. It definitely felt that the judges encouraged a fairly aggressive nature to ‘get the shot’ and that just doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, and I refuse to believe that’s the only way to get anything worthy.
So aside from the opportunity for some once in a life time mentoring and the kit room. Have I not mentioned the kit room yet? Basically the photographers have their pick of equipment, across the range of top brands, leicas are always popular… which whilst it seems like the things dreams are made of, wouldn’t you opt to go with the system you know best? It would be different if you were given the time to learn the equipment but given the nature of some of these challenges I personally would go with the camers I could use blindfolded. So yes, as well as these perks each challenge is set in a different European country and this series the challenges were:
Rush hour (Hambug)
Celebrity feature (Rome, with Clive Owen as the celeb)
Erotica (also in some country house in Europe)
Street Fashion (London during Fashion Week)
Home Sweet Home (home towns, inner selves aka the Self-portrait episode)
Human landscape – European people and their diverse environments – or as the tv show put it, marginalised people, including travellers in Dublin, Sami people in Finland and Macedonian farmers.
Unfortunatley the Sky Arts website isn’t forthcoming with lots of info about the series or photographers, hopefully it will give more information in future or maybe its due to the scandal* surrounding one of the finalists? I found the series equal measures inspiring (thinking about attemping my own versions of the challenges) to intimidating (I could never do that etc. etc. self doubt ad infinitum)
If you’ve seen the series I’m keen to hear your thoughts – favourite photograph/photographer? Do you love/hate the series?