[Please excuse the poor photo quality above. The image appearing above this post was taken with an iPhone 4s in very poor light, then processed heavily]

I was honored a year or so ago when my friend Charley Starnes asked me to commit to being a judge for the 2013 Iowa State Fair Photography Salon competition. Charley’s a pro photographer, friend and fellow workshop leader, and has been Superintendent of this annual salon for the past dozen years or so.

For those readers not from around here, the Iowa State Fair is one of the largest state fairs in the US by number of visitors, with over a million visitors passing through its gates during its 10-day duration each August. And the photography salon – this year in its 74th year – has become one of the largest photography print competitions in the country, with around 3,500-4,000 11×14 matted prints entered from all over the US each year.

So to be asked to be one of three judges to create a world-class photography exhibit from around 3,700 entrants, and to decide placewinners in what are dozens of categories, was a very intriguing challenge for me. I’ve juried lots of photography and art shows before – for local and regional galleries and online salons – but none anywhere near this sheer size. Of course I accepted the invitation, and marked out the days on my calendar that this judging would take place.

As it unfolded, this year’s salon attracted 1,157 photographers from across the US to enter a total of 3,678 photographs. Over the course of 32 hours in three days this past summer, two fellow judges and I put the submissions through a very thorough examination and arrived at an exhibit I was very proud of. We left each day bleary-eyed (and in fact the last day went to 1:00am or so), but excited to have viewed so many truly excellent photographs each day.

This was a very fun process. And what a process it is! Charley and his staff of a dozen or so extremely prepared volunteers – each with a highly specialized role in the organization and process management used to facilitate the judging – have created a system that, while exhausting due to the sheer numbers of photographs, is quite interesting in and of itself.

In the end, the final exhibit consisted of 862 photographs – about 23% of those entered. Interestingly, some photos that won prizes actually had been eliminated on first pass, and were put back into the show upon second or third reviews.

While we were in the midst of judging, IPTV (Iowa’s public television network) showed up to video a segment on the salon that ran on the network during the days of the state fair. It’s a good behind-the-scenes look at how the process runs….and you might find it to be of interest whether you are a photographer entering the Iowa State Fair, or any other large print competition. Here’s the segment:

(yep, that’s me on the right side, making good use of my “Doh!” sign).

In all, this was a memorable endeavor, and it’s quite rewarding to have contributed to the creation of what I thought was a really solid photo exhibit. If you are from around here and visited the fair, I hope you enjoyed the show!

For those of you who like to plan ahead: next year, the 2014 Iowa State Fair Photography Salon will be celebrating it’s 75th year as a photography competition. To celebrate, the state fair board will hold the salon as a tribute to Ansel Adams. As such, the entire show will be <insert drum roll> black and white! Good luck with that, 2014 judges!

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September 5, 2013

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Image © Mark S. Peterson Photography