SWPP convention print handling experience for print competition by Steve Chatterton

May 09, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

SWPP – Print-handlers article:

Societies’ 20 x 16 Print Competition – the inside story!


About the author:

Stephen Chatterton, LSWPP, is a professional photographer based in Basingstoke, in the county of Hampshire, in south central England. Steve is principally a wedding, families and portrait photographer. He also loves creating surreal, Dali-esque photographs for personal interest and has had several successful print entries exhibited at the annual Societies Photography Convention. Steve is also a print-handler of many years’ experience and was a key member of this year’s finalists support team.

SWPP, uniquely, has sought to be inclusive of both professionals and enthusiasts and this applies to all benefits including competitions, with many judges, print-handlers and keen amateurs entering the online, digital monthly competition and the much-coveted 20 x 16 print competition, judged annually.


The print-handling process 

Entries are made through the Societies’ website into the chosen category and in some cases, subcategory; for example, there are four wedding and eight portrait subcategories. Terrie Jones, the director with overall responsibility for competitions has her work cut out as entries are in their thousands. Entrants also submit electronic files and a numbering system is used to match them to prints. The electronic file is also used to project the image for public viewing during judging. The prints are categorised and boxed in readiness for transporting to the convention in London. Three rooms are allocated for the two-days of judging with five judges in each room together with an additional judge who chairs proceedings. There are three print-handlers in each room to announce the print title, display on a viewing booth, remove after judging and writing the mark awarded on the back of each print. Prints are then separated into over-80s score (all of which are subsequently exhibited) and top five finalists. The chairperson has a laptop computer on which the current entry and the one following are displayed. It is important to alert the chairperson well in advance if a judge’s print is upcoming so that judge can temporarily be removed from the process; it is often the chairperson that needs to be rotated so, effective communications is an important role of the print-handler! In subsequent rounds, usually on the second day, category winners and overall winners (1st three-places) are chosen, often with passionate advocating by judges for their preferred print in order to persuade other judges to agree with and vote for their selection. At the end of the second day, only the print-handlers and judges are aware of results and of course, nothing is discussed before being announced at the Awards Ceremony making sure the ‘surprise’ element at the Awards dinner is not compromised. The whole process from judging to marking, sorting and hanging takes time; this year the print-handling team did not finish till 8pm! As mentioned, prints scoring 80 and above are hung for display in a section within the trade show with a rosette attached for merit and outstanding prints. This area is hugely popular with visitors and as they only see the prints on display in the trade show, they are seeing the best of the best!


Treating print submissions with respect

Respect for the author’s work is central to all print-handling activities. Diane Broders heads the print-handling team and admits to being “a bit OCD” during unpacking and sorting as she appreciates what has gone into preparing a print for submission. Indeed, all print-handlers use white cotton gloves to handle prints ensuring each author has their work presented in the best possible way. Orientation of prints is sometimes unclear, especially for abstract subject-matter and authors are asked to attach a label bearing the work’s name (if they wish to name the submission) and an arrow indicating which way up they would like their print displayed. Sometimes, a judge may ask for what appears to be a speck to be removed from a print which print-handlers will do as no one else (not even judges) may touch the prints. In short, damage-avoidance precautions are taken throughout the process and even then, in the very rare instance inadvertent damage is caused, there is a policy to report this to the coordinator who will inform the author immediately. Happily, I do not recall a single incident of this nature. 




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