Winning Photo of the $80,000 Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize

A couple days ago we covered the winning image of the British Journal of Photography’s international photo contest and how many readers disagreed with the photo’s merits. The prize for that contest was a one week exhibition and a Sigma digital compact camera. Now compare that to the above photograph, which won AU $80,000 in the 2010 Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize, one of the richest prizes in the world. Like the BJP photo, this photograph became the subject of debate.

Photojournalist Joseph Feil writes on his blog,

Unfortunately, there also seems to be fairly unanimous opinion that the winning image is far from the most worthy winner (see the other finalists here) and unfortunately some murmurings about the winner and the judge knowing each other pretty well. Dean [Sewell, the winner] was also the winner of this prize in 2009 when it was judged by Andrew Quilty, a member of the well known and tight photographic collective Oculi which Dean is also a member of. Whilst I have no doubt that both judges performed their tasks without favour, it is important for independence to be seen to be present and the structure of the judging of the Moran seems to leave this open to criticism.

What do you think of this winning image compared to the BJP one?

Is this photo worth $80,000 (via The Online Photographer)

Image credits: Photograph by Dean Sewell

  • Jslim1020

    I don’t claim to know anything about photography, so I won’t. I just look at photographs for their visual effect, design, creativity, and uniqueness. Plain and simple, they look cool. However, I’m afraid I really cannot see what makes this photo worth 80,000. Let alone a “winner” of any category save the droll. Perhaps someone can better explain that to me? I am all ears.

  • Ivan Cabrera

    I don’t know if it is worth $80,000 but I certainly don’t like it.

  • Matt

    Uhhh…it looks like it was taken with a cell phone…

  • Superphilman2

    I’m not shocked that people complained. What a boring image.

  • Darrell

    Look at the couples. They are not even paying any attention to each other. There is more to a photograph then just what it looks like. There is a story being told.

  • Ashyrigh

    Boring, muted, without focus. Even the woman in the foreground appears to be apathetic as does the man in the background. And they’re getting hugs!

  • shaun

    There’s no story. I don’t feel engaged with the subjects.

  • Benjamin

    seems completely ridiculous to have such a large prize judged by one person…why isn’t there a panel of judges? I’d never heard of this contest until this article but it seems completely pointless and rigged, who’s providing the money and why aren’t they questioning the validity of how it is being used??

  • MrRocking

    Could i live with it on my wall? No.

  • RobertB

    I just looked at the other entrants. I’m not qualified to judge the merits of this image, but I’m sure if there were a panel of judges, this one would not have won.

  • Daniel Fealko

    I ask myself: how quickly would I get bored looking at this picture? I’m bored after 10 seconds, and that’s not an exaggeration.

  • guest

    I wonder if they’re sharing the prize money.

  • Valentino

    The photo captured a serene moment, but one with a sense of “distraction” in the air . . . of not knowing what is to come . . . like they are all waiting for something. The light is perfect for this, and the 2 couples mixed in with the lonely people surrounding them is a great balance to the image. I don’t know whether it is worthy to be the winner or of 80Thou . . . but I know it’s a good image of contemporary art/photography. Certainly, when you are dishing out 80grand for a photo, it must CLEARLY have something more to say than the finalists. I haven’t seen those images, yet . . . but then who cares . . . for I am not a judge . . . only an observer, and no matter what I may think, the judges also think, and ultimately they got a seat, and I did not.

    Sometimes I see images in photography magazines, newly found photographers, and I immediately say, “yeah . . ok, but why are you making a big deal out of this image, though.” Never mind this image wining this particular contest . . . worry about the state of photography and the minds of those that think they know wtf they are talking about. THAT is a bigger worry than some yearly photography contest. It boggles the mind.

  • Kaweeeeeee

    It’s a good photo, especially how the light is balanced so well… but it’s really not deserving of $80,000. After having a snoop and checking out the other entrants, this is really quite mediocre compared to some of the others!

  • Ranger9

    Having looked at the other finalists, I like the fact that this is NOT a “pretty pictures” contest – but at the same time, considering that this is supposed to be a “contemporary” photography prize, a lot of the finalists seem to be tilling a social-alienation field that’s been well-trodden since the ’50s. William Klein was doing this, better, a half-century ago, so where’s the “contemporary” angle? I have to admit that if I had been the judge, I would have had a tough time picking a winner out of the finalists — there seems to be a distinct lack of hard thinking in general. Maybe what this is telling us is that the concept of a contest based on single pictures just doesn’t work in the context of artistic photography…?

  • ORyan

    Maybe contemporary is code for “cellphone.”
    I keeps seeing comments about how this image is balanced or that the light is balanced and perfect… Are we looking at the same image? If i were to judge by this photo only, then i would have been upset that i didn’t enter, I’m sure i would have had a chance… But then looking at the other finalists… there are some great images in there and i know i would not have a chance. And so i am very confused by this image winning…

  • NdT

    A rubbish image from Dean Sewell of the Sydney Morning Herald wins………another award… whatever… Same old photojourno names for the same old images..

  • Bellweather

    It really seems that the order of the day is to celebrate the lowest common denominator, to celebrate the mediocre rather than the great.
    There are comments here that say the light is good and balanced….hmnn….there is a large black area in the lower left bereft of detail…it’s like a big dead weight in the picture. On the same side, there is half the head of a person….perplexes me as to what this half head is supposed to be enlightening me on.
    Controversial…..yes, I guess so. Surprising….unfortunately no.
    Welcome to the age of mediocrity.

  • Florian Rachor

    I looked through the other finalists, and the winner ist not my favourite. Compared to the BJP winning image it’s not all that bad, but I see tons of better photos every day. So all in all, it’s a shame that such a photo would win 80k.

  • Tony

    Can’t agree with everyone else. I think it is in the top 5 or 6 images out of the finalists and then it is just down to the judge’s opinion. It isn’t obvious, isn’t staged; it just is a moment, well captured, that speaks of our times. It is one I’d come back to.

  • Risk

    In my opinion, I like better other finalists’ work. But if the judge has chosen this one, then it has to be because they saw sth I really can’t point.

  • Nikhil Ramkarran

    Haven’t looked at the other finalists, but I like this one. Everything is relative and no two people are likely to make the same choices. Once you pass a certain level of technical quality I think faced with 10 high quality photos, 10 judges will all chose a different one as their favourite. I don’t think this is an unreasonably image to have won a prize. The BJP photo on the other hand, that one is a little harder to defend (which I wouldn’t be inclined to do anyway as I find it completely indifferent in quality; I can’t even bring myself to hate it).

  • fotossinporque.blogs

    No me parece una foto de concurso, más bien una foto de viajes sin otra pretensión más de atesorar un momento vivido.

    Yo hubiera jugado con un desenfoque para despegar a la pareja (si ese es el motivo principal) y eliminar la fuerte luz exterior que los invade.

    Un abrazo.

  • Fenriq

    Compared to the other finalists, this is not even in the top ten. Or top 100 even. There’s just not much of interest here, people sitting on a ferry? It isn’t even a technically very good photo, its washed out, its blurry and there’s really no one subject.

  • Eddiesmith

    I actually think as a contemporary piece this is very well done, it’s not my favourite of the finalists i looked at but it is in my top 5-6,
    the BJP photo on the other hand is hopeless as both journalism and art that one winning anything escapes me.

  • Megan

    Contemporary? If you told me this photo was shot decades ago, I’d believe it. There is nothing “contemporary” or even unique about this photo. The only redeeming quality to me is the disinterested couples, and even that is too mundane to be worth 80 grand, or more than a few seconds of my time. I agree with others above, one person should not be allowed to judge such a weighted contest.

  • Eddiesmith

    by contemporary i meant in terms of current art photography and this street style (pioneered by Cartier Bresson 80 + years back) is currently in vogue
    I do agree that any contest like this should be juried though, it prevents the decision being made by close associates (“was also the winner of this prize in 2009 when it was judged by Andrew Quilty, a member of the well known and tight photographic collective Oculi which Dean is also a member of”) at this point it looks like bias has influence the choice even if it hasn’t. Surely there are enough qualified people in the australian arts community to come up with a panel of say 3-5 judges

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