As part of our feature looking into photographic submissions, we spoke with London based photographer Jennifer Lauren Martin about her approach to photo awards and open submissions. Success, rejection and image selection.
Can you offer a quick introduction to who you are, where you live and what you do?
Hello, I’m Jennifer Lauren Martin: a fine artist working primarily with photography and branching out to art direction as well. I’m currently based in London with roots from NYC and Chicago.
Which festivals / prizes do you have experience submitting to?
In looking back at my submissions calendar within the last year I have submitted to: Smack Mellon, Foreign Exchange, British Journal of Photography, Humble Arts Foundation, Der Greif, Chisenhale, Workks.io, Getty Image Grant, Mt. Figure, Photofusion Future Focus, Good Press Residency, Botín Foundation Workshop, Lewisham Arthouse Award, D&AD Next Photographer Award, Düsseldorf Portfolio Review, and undoubtedly a few other things I can’t remember.
How do you bounce back from an unsuccessful submission to an award?
It’s hard to bounce back from an unsuccessful submission. Mostly because of the financial investment that you’ve made in submitting, it’s very easy to regret what you’ve spent. I try to look at what was accepted and it’s usually easier to swallow if I can see that my work doesn’t fit with the selection or is of a different style to the works chosen. It’s also important to remember that it’s more likely to be unsuccessful than successful, and keep trying.
What are the key criteria that you consider when submitting a piece of work? (familiarity of prize, personal connection, something completely new)
When considering where to submit I judge the quality of the award/workshop/exhibition. The awards that are usually the most useful are the ones that you would know of as a photographer. There’s a few things that I find myself discovering that equally seem useful and of high quality, but in the end the awards that I am most keen to submit to are the ones that are more popular. My top hit list is: Aperture Portfolio Prize (October – December/ $50), British Journal of Photography IPA (November/ £35), Foam Talent (March/ €35), and Düsseldorf Portfolio Review (December, €15)
I haven’t submitted yet to either Aperture or Foam as they’re big financial commitments and I’m not sure that I have the right project for either at the moment.
There are so many awards / submissions for emerging photographers to submit to, how can you best decide which to apply for?
The ideal submission is something that is applicable to your work. It’s always important to realistically assess how likely it is that your work would appeal to the people that will judge it. Judging is largely subjective, and the best way to assess that is by comparison to previous winners, researching the judges and the works they promote, and the institution and the works that they promote. This doesn’t always work; I sometimes find myself surprised, but it’s the best way that I’ve found to make the decision to drop the debit card or not.
What paid submission would you recommend people to participate in? What would be your advice for someone applying for a paid submission?
I would recommend my hit list Aperture, BJP, Foam, & Portfolio Review. In addition to that I’d recommend D&AD Next Photographer Award if you match the criteria in terms of years out of education. Der Greif are also a fantastic online magazine and print publication that does monthly open submissions curated by top individuals in the photographic industry. These are free submissions and if nothing else it’s a good opportunity to put your work before the eyes of the some of the most interesting and innovative individuals in photography.
How do you balance commercial and personal work?
I’m in the early stages of my commercial practice so the balance is uneven. From last spring until mid autumn I worked intermittently on a personal project, which proved to be a big time commitment. After that my free time became focused on workshops I was in, masters applications, and starting working with Wandering Bears. Now that most of that has settled I’m back to focusing on further developing a commercial photography portfolio and art direction portfolio. The balance is always shifting, I just try to stay aware of what might be holding me back or pulling me too much in one direction so that I can get better at achieving an equal balance in the future.
What projects are you working on right now?
At the moment I’m focusing on further developing two separate portfolios, one photographic and one for art direction. I have a lot of small shoots lined up for the months to come for my own work, and I’m starting to reach out to other photographers to develop the art direction portfolio.
Do you have a mentor that you contact or rely upon?
I wouldn’t say I have any one mentor. I have people in my life that I rely on for support from time to time. My biggest support would be my partner, as a professional graphic designer he has unique insights and looks and thinks about things in a completely different way than I would from a fine art background. My friend Robert Crosse is a London based filmmaker that has always been a helpful ear and eye since we were on residency together, and photographer Tine Bek has been a great friend to talk photography shop with.
Other than that I’ve benefitted from meeting brilliant people through awards that I have won or been shortlisted for. Painter Julie Mehretu was a great mentor during my workshop with Fundación Botín. Through the D&AD Next Photographer shortlist I had the opportunity to have mentoring sessions with Sarah Foster, Senior Creative Content Manager at Getty Images, and Sarah Thomson, Head of Art Production at Fallon London. Both sessions were invaluable and a great opportunity to approach them honestly about my work without the pressure of showing the work to be hired. Lastly, one of my tutors from the Slade School of Fine Art, artist/photographer Carey Young has always been very helpful and remains an important contact for me.
Is there one award / prize that you look out for every year or one that you hold in higher esteem than others?
Foam Talent is the one award I look forward to every year. I’m mostly looking forward to having a series I think would be good enough to submit at the time. If it were cheaper I would have applied before, but since it’s such a financial commitment and the works chosen are of high quality, but also some years are very stylistically specific, I’m happy to wait for the right time to submit.
If you could be on a judging panel yourself, how do you feel you would approach it?
I guess as a judge I would want to see work that demands your attention, and that you cannot necessary ‘figure out’ fully from the first few seconds of viewing. I would guess that is what most people are attracted to, we consume so much imagery on a daily basis it’s difficult to find something that stands out visually and conceptually, and stays with you.
Jennifer Lauren Martin is a photographer living and working in London. From October 2015 through to March 2016, Jennifer worked with the Wandering Bears team, helping gather and write content for the second instalment of WB Chapters.