The Photos.com Challenge Turns 4
I came across the image at right, by Melanie Cooper, while going through some of the recent submissions to the January Photos.com Challenge on Graphics.com. It's a delicate, cleanly-rendered image that makes good use of two of this month's supplied base images, but what struck me more was a sense of familiarity. I'd seen something like it before in the Challenge galleries, but where? It took a lot of browsing but I finally found the reference, which turned out to be the base image for the very first Photos.com Challenge, launched way back in February, 2004.
Browsing through the entries for that initial contest, the evolution of the Challenge is clear, not just in the sophistication of the entries but in the nature of the competition itself. I conceived the Challenge as a way to show off the many facets of the Photos.com royalty-free stock photo subscription site, which contains a wealth of interesting imagery easily overlooked by a casual observer. In those days the collection provided 100,000 photos, a fraction of the 350,000 now available, but even then it contained imagery that I knew creatives would be able to run with as the basis for new compositions.
Why I picked the nautilus shell is lost in the mists of time, but Graphics.com members rose to the challenge and contributed a healthy range of imaginative entries. Back then, winners were determined by member votes, but this placed an unhealthy emphasis on the votes an image received, rather than its intrinsic value, and was soon dropped.
If one image could serve as the starting point for a new composition, what about related multiple images? So each month members were soon provided with a sampling of Photos.com images, with a challenge to use at least part of two or more of them. Collections of people all looking scared or menacing (October, natch), facial closeups, fragments of the Eiffel tower, silhouettes, the human brain, the Book of Kells well, you get the idea.
Image by David Macdonald
While the entries for most months surpassed my expectations, a few Challenges tanked. One of the all-time duds was a December Challenge for which I supplied Christmas-related imagery. Bad idea. These were such literal representations of the season that nobody knew what to do with them. In contrast, last December I drew on the vintage illustrations in the History category of Photos.com to provide a mix of Gustave Doré's dark engravings of the poor of 19th-century London, along with colorful illustrations of children's rhymes of the same period. This resulted in one of my favorite months, with members contributing images that expressed the often contradictory emotions of the holiday season.
I should also point out that the prizes have evolved, as well. We started off awarding three prizes of one month subscriptions to Photos.com but to this has been added three more prizes of three months each.
But while winning is always a rush, most simply participate for the fun of it. More than a few take time away from a busy day to allow themselves the luxury of stretching out a bit creatively, as well as engaging in the discussions attached to each posted image. And this month? Photos.com has just started added computer-generated backgrounds to its collection, so...