UCI Bookstore’s First Photolympics

A photography instructor once said, ‘Photographers are an obsessed breed of people. There is never a moment where we don’t wish we had a camera.’ Reflecting on his wise words, I find this as true today as ever. Advancing technologies with cell phones and digital cameras are constantly seducing an image obsessed audience. Remember photo day in fourth grade? Popular online communities like MySpace and Facebook make every day photo day. All it takes is you, your Canon and some quality time with bathroom mirror. Inevitably, it make sense that someone would come up with a clever solution to ease our neurotic fixation and what better idea than a good old competition—the Photolympics!
On May 3, UC Irvine’s Computerstore hosted its first annual Photolympics awards ceremony in Engineering Lecture Hall 100. Applicants were comprised of not only art majors, but a wide variety of people from various ages and backgrounds. With 162 participants and 266 submissions, inspired photographers submitted their pieces into nine separate categories ranging from the traditional ‘Best Overall’ to innovative themes like ‘UCI Life’ or ‘Mobile Photo.’
Andrew Capra, the Computerstore’s marketing coordinator and one of the creators of the contest, said that inspirations for these topics came from researching popularized trends such as online blogs and other photo contests. Motivated by the success of the Mad Dash film competition, the UCI Computerstore sought to create more opportunities for students to express themselves artistically. Unlike previous contests, however, the Photolympics focused on more open interpretations with photography.
‘This year we’ve seen a lot of entries with a message: political, academic, social, et cetera. To me, these are very valuable and speak the loudest,’ Capra said.
Judges were chosen based on their professional fields ranging from art to photojournalism and judging was based on a 100-point system.
When asked how the process went, Rudy Vega, who was one of the three judges, replied that he suffered from a bit of photo fatigue, but was still impressed by unique approaches from some of the applicants.
Creativity was a main focus for Vega. Apart from a given list of standards, he stressed, ‘I kind of applied my own criteria as well within the creativity in choosing ones that were more aesthetically pleasing, ones that were less traditional and looking for works that would explore pushing the boundaries.’
Once the lights dimmed and alternative music blends in the background, competing photographs were projected onto the screen. The evening resembled the Oscars more than the Olympics as the crowd respectfully applauded the winners who got up to receive their award certificates. Picture after picture flashed onto the screen and faded in harmony with the pace of each song. Certain pictures drew more reaction than others, such as an image of fornicating clay giraffes that produced unanimous laughter from the audience.
When asked how it felt to compete against his peers, Jason Joo, a first-year biological sciences major who won for both Best Photo and Best Self-Portrait, said that he felt pressure from heavy competition.
‘Truthfully, I was really nervous. I saw some good photos while I was waiting and I thought I didn’t have a chance, but I guess I did OK,’ Joo said.
Winner for the Photoshop category, Jeannete Arzate Villagran, a fourth-year criminology, law and society major, approached the competition with true sportsmanship. ‘I don’t really see it as competing, but more as a way of sharing art,’ Villagran said.
Plans for improving next year’s competition are already underway. Coordinators feel that more student involvement is necessary to make the Photolympics a student-centered project. Student online voting and additions to the Photoshop category will be implemented and more advertisements for next year will hopefully attract untapped talents and closeted photographers. This year’s winners also voiced some suggestions on giving students more artistic freedom and direct instructions.
‘I thought Photoshop was very limited and the rules were too vague. I’d like to see more specific rules and more open interpretations,’ Joo said.
Villagran also agreed. ‘I think one thing that would be cool would be filter photography,’ Villagran said.
After the ceremony ended, audiences exited the auditorium and winners gathered around for group photos and prizes that ranged from iPods and gift certificates to new digital cameras. One applicant zealously asked if winners received all three, but was sadly turned down. The contradiction of watching the photographers turning into the photographed made me wonder what compels a true photographer to see the world through the eyes of a lens. For some it seems to be just capturing the right moments and for others it is a form of self-expression. Nevertheless, I believe my instructor described it best as a way to tell someone a story about your day, your life or the way you see yourself.