Photo Contest Judges Raise Alarm: We Didn’t Judge Anything…

There’s something strange going on with the International Photographer of the Year (IPOTY) photo contest. 11 of the 14 photographers listed as judges for the IPOTY 2017 contest say they weren’t asked to judge a single thing before the winners were announced in February (and the other 3 couldn’t be contacted).

IPOTY was founded in 2015 and is a “pay to play” type of competition. The website states that photographers need to pay between $15 to $30 (depending on photographer status and entry date).

Although the list of judges for the 2017 competition has been removed from the IPOTY website, the original list of 14 judges can still be seen on other sites that the contest was publicized on.

The list of 14 jury members of the 2017 contest, as seen on WiiN.

“Entries will be judged by nominated judges,” the contest stated. “A panel of experts in photography will each review all entries and select a group of winning entries on the basis of creativity, artistic merit, subject and style.”

The winning photos of IPOTY 2017 were announced on February 19th, 2018. Here’s the announcement that was sent to PetaPixel by the organizers:

The contest states that the winner was selected from 4,380 entries. Based on that stated figure, it seems the contest took in between $65,700 and $131,400 in entry fees. The grand prizes for the professional and amateur categories were $2,500 and $1,500, respectively. That’s a total of $4,000.

On March 3rd, 9 of the 14 judges on the list penned a letter to PetaPixel and other publications, sharing “concerns” regarding the competition. Many of the judges had no idea they were listed as judges, and none of the judges actually judged anything — the winners were selected entirely without the jury’s knowledge or consent.

Here’s the letter (now from 8 of the judges, as we had redacted one of the names at the request of the photographer):


We, the photographers below, represent 9 [8] of the 14 listed judges for the IPOTY 2017 competition ( There are 2 [3] others in the same situation as us but did not wish to add their names for personal reasons, and the remaining 3 were uncontactable.

We are writing to you because we feel that something is not quite right with the way the IPOTY 2017 competition was done, and considering your position in the photographic world, this information may be of interest to you and to others.

We discovered, by chance through contacting each other, that 11 of us, despite being listed as judges, did NOT participate in any shape or form in the judging of the competition.

While some of us had agreed to be judges for the 2017 competition, others had not even given their consent.

The IPOTY organisers have refused to explain what has happened. A few names have been removed from their website following some complaints, but the original full list can still be seen here )

We feel that our names as established photographers have been misused, and that entrants to the competition have been misled in their understanding of the evaluation of their work. We feel that there is an element of dishonesty.

We wish to disassociate ourselves from the activities of the IPOTY competition, and are not interested in pursuing this matter further. We seek no personal nor professional gain. We do feel, however, that people ought to know.


Jessica Auer
Peter Braunholz
Tariq Dajani
Julia Gunther
Naomi Harris
Eleonora Pecorella
Marie Sordat
Tiina Törmänen

Some of the jury members were actually invited to be judges in prior years and actually played a role in selecting photos, but their names stayed on as judges for the competition without their knowledge or permission until it was brought to their attention by Dajani after the winners were announced.

Pecorella, Törmänen, and Auer judged for the contest in 2015, Gunther was a judge in 2016, and others were asked to judge for the latest 2017 contest but were never contacted again after agreeing to judge.

Here’s the invitation email Dajani received in March 2017:

Some photographers received their emails from someone who goes by the name “Michele Mercier,” while others were contacted by a “Sebastian Markis.”

And here’s another concerning fact: IPOTY may possibly simply be one photo contest in a network of contests run by the same organizer(s). Based on things like the founding year, website design, URL structure, format, the Monochrome Photography Awards appears to be a clone of the IPOTY contest [Update: See Monochrome’s response below].

The name “Sebastian Markis” does appear associated with the Monochrome Awards in Google search results.

And the Monochrome contest’s reach seems to be even bigger: the winner’s announcement it sent PetaPixel on January 15th of this year stated that the 2017 edition of the contest received 8,942 submissions. With entry fees of $15 to $25, this contest may have raked in $134,130 to $223,550.

Winners of both contests have been published in notable publications throughout the photography industry over the past few years.

“The more that is coming out the more I feel like a swindled senior citizen taken for a ride by a scam artist,” Harris says. “I know my error in not being more cautious was most likely due to being always so busy and perhaps not looking more into this, but I can’t help but wonder if the promises of ‘As one of International Online Judges, your name and profile certainly will get benefits from this exposure and viral (your name and profile will be on the website contest etc.)’ did not perhaps sway me a little.”

“How many awards are included?,” Braunholz writes in an email to PetaPixel. “Is there a guy named Sebastian Markis? And if, has his name been used without his knowledge? Or is he responsible for all this. Lot of questions here…”

We’ve reached out multiple times to the International Photographer of the Year contest but so far we have yet to hear back.

Update: The original version of this article listed concerns one of the judges had with The Monochrome Photography Awards, pointing out many similarities between it and IPOTY. The Monochrome Photography Awards has since told PetaPixel that it is not run by the same organizers as IPOTY (a fact we have yet to verify).

“We are 2 different organisers,” a spokesperson tells PetaPixel. “When IPOTY was run under we had some partnership (ended in 2016), we’re not working together.”

For now, we’ve removed the section of the article mentioning the Monochrome Awards.

Update: It appears that within hours of this article being published, IPOTY has changed the appearance of its website and removed a number of pages from the site.

Update on 3/15/18: PDN Online is reporting that photographers listed as judges for the Monochrome Awards were not asked to judge anything either this year.

The stories of these photographers, and the refusal of Monochrome Awards representatives to respond to PDN’s questions about the organization and one of its organizers, Sebastian Markis, suggest there may be a connection between the Monochrome Awards and the International Photographer of the Year awards

We have yet to hear back from the Monochrome Awards regarding further questions we had, so we have restored our original mention of the Monochrome Awards in this article.