LRPS: The Assessment

It has been a quiet place on here since Christmas, and I hope you’ll accept my apologies for this transgression. Holidays, busy work period and the small matter of preparing to write this blog entry have been the three main reasons for my tardiness, I promise I shall do better in the future – and indeed am back with a bang with a lengthy blog entry!

Way back at the start of this blog – February 2014 to be precise and this post – I set myself the challenge of gaining a distinction for my photography. It seemed the logical way to push myself and to get my work properly assessed and recognised (if it was good enough). I set myself the target of doing it in 12 months, so here I am writing with an update 14 months on.

The Royal Photographic Society offers three distinctions – Licentiate, Associate and Fellow. Obviously the entry-level is the Licentiate or LRPS, which was the one I was going for. It didn’t require a theme but to show the range of my technical ability and preparing and displaying work to a good standard. The RPS describe the LRPS as “images of a high standard of photographic execution – demanding but achievable for most dedicated photographers. Applicants must show variety in approach and techniques but not necessarily in subject matter”. Sounded reasonable to me.

The Preparation

As 2014 neared an end I’d taken some images I thought would be acceptable, but still hadn’t done anything about booking an assessment or even a critique day so I made the decision to book myself on the first available critique day and then shortly after onto an assessment. The first opportunity for the two dates meant the end of March and middle of April – both in Bath.

Dates set and it was time to get to work. I narrowed down a final shortlist of 20 images and printed them out thumbnail size at work, and stuck them on the window with blu-tack. They are still there now, but in quiet moments I moved them around to come up with a panel of images which looked right to me and to the others in the tower. I printed all 20 images, but at a smaller size than I would normally print – 12″x8″ or thereabouts – and mounted them ready for critique.

The Critique

If you are planning on doing any RPS Distinction a Critique Day is a must. For a small fee you can put up your prints and have judges look at the panel and comment on them. They will give advice and their personal opinion, with the caveat that their opinion might differ from the judges on the day. You also have a chance to see what others are doing, and hear their critiques too – so lots of learning opportunities on the day. I took along my idea of my final 10, and had the other 10 reserve prints there too.

My critique went surprisingly well. Four of my original panel were changed for reserves, although I’d already thought of replacing one and had it ready before the judges commented (they agreed). I received generally good comments about the quality of my images from the judges, the only criticism was aimed at the mounting: I’d stuck the prints onto the matte wrong, and the prints had warped slightly which was obvious. One of the judges advised me to mount using a “hinge method” with just one strip of tape at the top of the print, to allow it space to breath. The mounts were also quite small, and they recommended bigger mounts. Surprisingly the print size was deemed fine.

Armed with this info I ordered my final mounts, and spent two evenings and part of a day meticulously remounting everything, and keeping it flat. To my horror my new print box was dirty on the outside and one print got fingerprints all over the front, but I had a spare matte and was able to change it out. Tuesday evening I did the final paperwork and sealed my print box. Nothing left to do now but travel to Bath and hope for the best.

LRPS Assessment Day

The Assessment Day at the RPS HQ in Bath was the most nail-biting morning of my life. I knew my panel was being assessed near the beginning, but not where exactly. There was a team of five judges and a chairperson, and they all sat while the panel was displayed by two RPS Assistants, and then looked closely at the images before one judge gave comments on the panel. Comments given the judges sat and filled out a form, which was handed to the Chairperson.

The first five panels all came back with “I’m sorry but we cannot recommend this panel”. A variety of reasons but many were small things and all had positive comments. Digital artefacts, over-sharpening and print quality were three of the more popular reasons for rejections. No way could I see my images getting through, I was seeing some really nice images and I couldn’t believe anything different would be the case with mine, despite what I’d heard at the Critique Day.

Then suddenly my first image appeared, along with the other nine. Heart rate soaring, palms suddenly sweaty as the five judges peered at my images. The judge gave a very short commentary on my panel, and liked it saying it was a very nice and creative panel, well presented with good mounting and good print quality and paper choice. The judge thought at first it might be an architectural panel, but then the Mini and the Driver showed up and enhanced the panel further. With no real negative comments he sat down and the deliberations began – and my coronary grew closer.

Shortly after the Chairperson turned to the crowd and asked if Adrian Court from Milton Keynes was present and I timidly raised a shaking hand to a round of applause. The first panel of the day had been accepted, and it was mine. Relief washed over me and some nice comments from the other spectators topped it off nicely. The next panel that was presented was also recommended, which was good to see.

My final ten images for my LRPS and the order in which they were presented in my panel.

The relief at hearing those words cannot be overstated. I’ve had lots of work judged in the Camera Club, but that is just one judge – his opinion can vary wildly, especially compared to another judge the next month. Five experienced judges who you know have done this before and achieved the same distinction you are attempting means you get a much better idea. While we couldn’t see the details that were being criticised on other panels you got the sense that they were all true and meant in good faith. The judges want to pass everything, and give fair comments to help a future application to succeed. Quite how I got through on the first attempt is beyond me, but I’ll take it!

My ten panel images can be viewed here.

This is a provisional result though at the moment. I have been recommended for an LRPS by the judges and chairperson, this result will have now to be ratified by the council of the RPS before I get the paperwork, lapel pin and press release to confirm it. Yes, I’m curious to know what the press release will be too…

So 14 months after setting myself the challenge, I’ve achieved an LRPS. Pleased as punch doesn’t quite cover it. It was a challenge, especially the final preparations and getting a coherent hanging plan, but a good challenge and one which makes you look at your work in a different way. The next logical step would be the ARPS – Associateship of the Royal Photographic Society. That’s a BIG step, and not one I plan to think too deeply about for the next year or three…for now I’m enjoying the first step!

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