Thursday, January 06, 2005

A judging Experience

When I set out for San Francisco in April last year, there was only one thing I was certain about: my friendship with Andy and Andy’s deep, and deeply held, humanism. I had met Andy over more than two years, in varying circumstances, from time spent together waiting for a meeting to an accidental encounter on a flight. Enquiry led to conversation, conversation to knowledge, and knowledge to decision. Andy was an exceptional human being. That was sufficient to justify a journey across three continents and two oceans to see a few pictures.

I knew from the moment I stepped through the doors of the FiftyCrows Gallery that I could not take my responsibilities lightly. The air of commitment was too strong; the gallery was space galvanized by belief and conviction. The wonderful thing was that this came without any pompous baggage. Commitment so often wears a long face. When you see it wearing a smile, you know that it comes from the heart, as much as from the mind. A judge can only be as good as the case before him. I dare say if the work placed before us was routine, our involvement would also have been routine. But even a first look at the work submitted for competition was evidence that Lillian and Andy have created a strong international equity in the organization that they created together. It was not the spread of entries, from across the world, that impressed me as the depth and the homogeneity. It is clear that photographers all over now know that a Fifty Crows award is identified with the unspoken truths of the contemporary human condition. It was a particular privilege to experience images of the underprivileged leap into one's consciousness. It is ironic that I found a word that was symbolic of a different context very useful to describe what was happening to me over the two days I spent with the pictures: so many visions of truth were getting embedded into my inner life. They would become dormant over time, but they would never leave. It was as if each photographer had seared me with the power of his or her pictures. I was particularly impressed by the dimensions that women brought to their work. They probed with a fierce gentleness, and there was nothing paradoxical about it. The best of them had a world view that married spirit to image, micro to macro, heart to universe and made them indistinguishable.

- M.J.Akbar

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