In recent years I’ve spent 6-8 week each winter photographing a small Pacific island with the goal of documenting the lives of the islanders both through family portraits and documentary images, then sending them all back after I return to the U.S. The project started in 2013 in Palau, which is where I served in Peace Corps many years ago. In 2016 I photographed Nomuka, Tonga, in 2017 I was on Makira Island in Vanuatu, and last year I went to Manono, Samoa.
At about the same time as I began doing these projects I started paying attention to the winning images each year from World Press Photo and Pictures of the Year International. The deadline is later and the categories friendlier to my type of project for POYI, so last year I took a stab and entered the documentary series category. I was able to watch it be judged live and was a little disheartened to see my project get passed over quickly. I wasn’t disappointed it didn’t make the cut, but rather that I didn’t understand what it lacked or what the judges were looking for in the winners. I may have secretly promised myself to never enter that competition again, but this year in mid-January found me looking through the categories again and seeing if any of my Samoa images fit. The Feature category was renamed this year to Daily Life, which made a lot more sense to me, so I decided to put an entry in and see what happened. I was allowed 15 entries so I put three in the portrait category, one in documentary story (of a Samoan funeral), and the remaining 11 in the Daily Life Singles category.
I watched the live judging last week (links to the judging can be found on the POYI homepage) and was pleased to see two of my images advance past the first round of judging in the Daily Life Singles category. Round Two saw one fall away, but the other continued on to Rounds Three, then Four, and finally, as a Finalist. As part of the final 18 (of 1300 entries), the four judges had a discussion on each photo. When they came to mine they expressed that they found it to be a strong composition but that it lacked the moment they were looking for. One judge also noted that the subjects were possibly aware of me (a no-no in photojournalism). I agree with most of their feedback and I’m so honored to have made it as far as I did. My biggest lesson was that I probably had stronger entries that I did not submit. 🙂
A screenshot of the finalists along with the entered photo can be seen below.