With the entries for the 2021 ROSL Photography Competition now flowing in, Archivist Natalia Sedunova looks back at the history of members getting behind the camera.
Our iconic Overseas Photographic competitions started to be advertised in the journals as early as 1936. Sometimes they were thematic, bound to some memorable event or process; for example, the contest of photographs featuring the celebrations of King George VI’s coronation in 1937. From 1936 the Overseas journal launched a monthly ‘Amateur Photography Notes’ section, shedding light on various aspects of this art; everything from tips on how to prepare your entry for a competition, to advice on how to master a new-fangled Dufaycolor photography. Those informative pieces were running for the whole of 1938, apparently purposed to promote Overseas Colour Photography competitions, which were organised regularly during those years.
Some typical problems of photographers discussed in those notes can still find relevance today. Apart from quite technical issues, such as eliminating ‘grain’ effect on the film or protecting your negatives from heat and damp, they address the issues of finding truly original topics and subjects for snapshots, "particularly in those days when cameras are so common" (written in 1938!). However, it goes on with an optimistic outlook: "Submit an entry that contains enough human interest to make people smile and say, “How charming!” and it will always stand a chance."
This was only the beginning of ROSL’s long association with fostering artistic expression in photography. With a newly redesigned style for Overseas, along with the improvements in journal printing quality, it became possible to publicise the winners’ artworks in the journal. Thus, we can see the black-and-white best entries for-56 contest in March 1956 issue, with a winner’s work straight on the cover:
Towards the end of 1980s and into the 90s, when colour photographs were gradually ousting the black-and-white from the magazine’s pages, the best pictures of the competition started to appear crisp and bright on the back cover of Overseas:
"The ideal competition entry is a photograph that expresses strong human interest in a novel and original way, and which is perfect from the technical point of view" – such succinct, yet accurate description of ROSL’s approach to photography is as relevant now as it was in 1938, when written by the ‘Amateur Photography Notes’ editor. Although the techniques and styles of photography are changing constantly, the soul of a shot is what will always come first. Remember this when working on your submission to the ROSL Photographic Competition of 2021!