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The power of weak ties: how I got commended in the biggest photography contest in the world

Photography is a very subjective profession and most of the time it is driven by your passion and nothing else, but you will often find yourself in a constructive critique domino conjured by your friends, friends of friends or clients, with whom you are debating the hot (or cold) topic of money: “We don’t have enough…”. Sometimes, they’ll offer you something in exchange: visibility, different services, networking… But there comes a time in every professional photographer’s career when you need to make the step from photography as hobby to a full-time business where you will be able to pay the rent, bills, food, equipment, promotion, social life and other stuff. Most of the time you will be perceived like the guy who has the dream job and charges hundreds of euros per event, you will invoke endless discussions on copyright, or you will find yourself lost in the over-saturated market of visual artists. The truth is that we cannot have an artist-based society, but if you are searching for other types of recognition other than the financial one, the international contests may be the perfect place for you. But this is supposed to be a motivational article with a real-life flavour, so let’s begin.

“Your image was chosen as one of the best 50 pictures in the Portrait category. It was selected from 105,692 images from 182 countries and is an incredible achievement.”

It’s worth sharing with you that my story as a photographer started in 2006 when I was in high-school and it was nothing more than a hobby until 2010 when I moved to Cluj-Napoca for studies. After getting involved in the NGO sector, I started to exchange photography for different benefits: free tickets to concerts, books, visibility, etc. This allowed me to slowly get better and better, improving my techniques and “the eye”. After few years of volunteering in different local organizations, I started to develop a passion for the word “yes” and most of time I found difficult to say “no”, so I was slowly getting frustrated that people can’t offer me the same level of benefits as the professional expertise I was offering them.

Being quite introverted, I often kept my small success stories to myself, which often led me to underestimate my skills and kept me captive in the world of being unknown. I thought being in the front of my computer was enough to build reputation and visibility, but the moment I gave myself a change and went out to meet new people, I won the fight. It was that easy! In September I moved to Warsaw and this gave me the chance to reinvent myself, other than being the introverted Cristi that my close network knew me for.. Once in Warsaw, I started to become very active in the community, I got myself in the Google Campuscommunity, in Warsaw Social community and other such spaces, just to exchange ideas, and meet new people. Three months ago I decided to submit some of my images to Sony World Photography Awards as a request to one of my friends who tagged me in a Facebook post with the main heading saying “Only 4 days until the deadline!”. I don’t actually know what made me enter the contest, maybe it was the curiosity about the competitors. The results came out on 28th of January, when I received a message from Sony with the title of “Sony World Photography Awards”. I was sure it was one of the “Thank you for participating, we regret to inform you that…” type of message and I wanted to delete it without even reading it. But again, I opened the message and read the first rows.

“I am delighted to tell you that your image has been commended in the Portraits category of the Open competition at the 2017 Sony World Photography Awards.”

Believe me at that point I overdosed myself with happiness and started to cry. It was the most amazing confirmation I received during my career as photographer and from people I don’t even know. But how did this happen? Looking back, I understood that the answer lies in sharing my work with people who have the same passion for photography. This is what motivated me to create platforms to thank people and help them understand the power of imagery.

sony world photo cristian ioan

© Cristian Ioan – “commended” photo in the Portrait Category of the Open Competition at the 2017 Sony World Photography Awards #SWPA

The main lesson I learned, that I want to pay forward is the importance of being connected with people, some of whom you barely know, but chances are that sooner or later, they will do a seemingly minor thing that will change your life forever. It’s such a beautiful frame when I look backward and see that without having all the constructive critiques in my backpack, all this would not have been possible. Before being commended or winning an important official contest it is important to be commended and win the trust of the people around you, to make yourself visible as a human being and as a reliable professional.

2017 World Photography Organization

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