I don’t have Sky on the TV at home, so was unable to watch this series last year when it came out, something I have been lamenting. However, I am currently in possession of a two week free subscription to NowTV, and so spent a wet weekend comfortably tucked up on the sofa binge-watching series 1. Watching the whole series over a short period of time made it easy to get a sense of how the different contestants progressed in their work, some of the issues they faced and how their choices affected their overall success or failure in the project.
First things first. The set was strangely inappropriate, being an old warehouse on the outskirts of Rome, and filled with an assortment of stage props of the 19th century warehouse variety. Each contestant sat at a non-matching table that looked as if it had been bought at a junk shop and repurposed. It seemed a little odd for what is a modern subject. The three judges were Rut Bless Luxemburg, Oliviero Toscani and Simon Frederick, none of whom are familiar to me, and it will be interesting to have a look at their own work in due course. Along with the contestants who came from a wide variety of European countries, it was very pan-European in feel, which was a change from the usual format. The compere was Isabella Rosignelli, whose role was to provide the voice-over and look encouraging. The parts which included her were rather grating, as she favoured a flirty enthusiasm which was totally out of place in what was a serious competition with enough prize money to make a serious difference to the winner’s career.
The contestants were given a task each week, and then judged on the basis of either a single image or a series of three, which they had to select and edit immediately after the task was completed. The tasks ranged from “the human side of Rome”, to portraits, landscape, night photography etc., offering the contestants a wide range of subjects to show off their skills. Thereafter, a famous photographer was called in to offer some advice on their choice of the image they wanted to submit for that assignment, most of which the contestants ignored (foolishly, as the advice was better than their own choices.) The judges then gave the images a mauling ranging from “Boring” to “This is rubbish” and bemoaned the poor quality of the images and editing, and one contestant was given their marching orders.
On the basis of the exact requirements of the tasks, personally I think the right person won – Gabriele Micalizzi, an Italian photo-journalist and tattoo artist. His images were consistently good and a little edgy, although I did not like the way he staged some of them to get the best effect, something which is considered out of order in photo-journalism at present. He appeared not to have been taught any of the theories and practises of current art photography, and this showed in his images, which were a mix of all sorts of styles and genres. I cannot honestly say that he improved significantly over the series, nor that he has a particularly recognisable style.
Of more interest to me was the poor selection choices made by some of the other contestants, and their difficulties in adapting to the changing briefs. Personally, I thought that Yan, the Russian contestant produced the most interesting work, but his performance was marred by his bizarre editing choices, particularly in the last two episodes. Most of the women seemed keen to rip their clothes off at any opportunity, and Laura in particular was unable to produce anything that did not include herself, preferably naked. (Beautiful images, though meaningless in large numbers). Several of the others too struggled to let go of their “signature look”, which limited their work.
The judges were pretty harsh in their criticism throughout, and only gave grudging praise occasionally. It seemed they were constantly disappointed that the work was not more challenging and creative, and I had the feeling they were looking for an arts response from photographers who have come from the commercial world and who did not really understand where they were going wrong. The mentors were much more constructive in their opinions.
On the whole though, it was an interesting series, and I look forward to seeing the next one. I wonder whether they will include more contestants from the academic side of photography this time, to spread the potential responses to the tasks, almost all of which were quite traditional in series 1.