Individually, the images have strong visual elements and graphic composition. But as a set, the images have a visual sameness that left me dissatisfied. Like many popular images of the Instagram generation, the winning photos depict the world as a saturated landscape nearly devoid of people. The images are bold in the way that sugar is sweet. Our immediate, visceral response is to “like,” but the sweetness masks any subtlety, nuance or detail.
Reaction around the office was muted:
“Man, people really love water is what I thought.”
“Looks like a gallery of random Unsplash images.”
Within the vast landscape of photo competitions, there’s no uniformity in the way that contests are judged. Ideally, the judges would physically reside in the same location for the final round of judging to consider a range of issues, including the mix of images. Although Apple didn’t release any information about the judging process, I suspect the geographical diversity of the jury meant that no in-person judging took place. More likely, an internal Apple employee whittled down the thousands of entries, and had the judges either pick a single image each, or select a set that would be averaged into the winners.
The result? A set of images that isn’t so much about “outstanding” photography, as it is about standalone photography that will read well on a billboard or in-store display (in fairness, this usage was the stated purpose of the contest). No seasoned photo editor would have ever come up with this selection to represent the best photos shot on the device.
Eight of the ten images are curiously in portrait orientation. Three of the images utilize reflections in water. The commercial use of the images also means that having identifiable faces is a no-go since non-professionals usually don’t collect model releases. What is the meaning of an image that superficially melds tropes (a well-placed reflection and a puddle shaped like a heart) in a non-coherent way?
Apple has huge marketing reach, and the choices it makes (from product design to UX to photo contests) influence how consumers see the world. In an ideal world, the winning photos would show a range of subjects with visually diverse point-of-views. But this is not the case. Instead of inspiration, we’re led to believe that the paragon of photography resides on point-of-sale display in an Apple Store.
Apple’s entire business is predicated on the success of the iPhone, and they will develop marketing campaigns to facilitate that goal. Sadly, inspiration left the building a long time ago. We can celebrate the amazing technology powering modern smartphones, but look elsewhere to understand the wonder of photography.