Fellowship of The Societies
Just a couple of weeks ago I was writing a slightly emotional blog post detailing a significant achievement and something of a milestone – a Fellowship in portraiture with the BIPP (British Institute of Professional Photography). There are four institutions which can award the recognised photographic distinctions of Licentiate, Associate, and ultimately Fellow. I have often talked about the value of belonging to one (or more) of the institutions, be it the BIPP, The Societies (SWPP and BPPA), the Royal Photographic Society or the Master Photographers Association. Aside from practical benefits such as high-quality training and subsidised insurance and other services, the key attraction for the more ambitious photographers will be the distinction process. It is only via such distinctions that photographers are able to gain the designated letters after their name. The first photographic body I joined was The Societies at the beginning of 2010 and I have never looked back, adding my BIPP and RPS memberships in 2012.
The Societies run a huge professional imaging competition each year, in fact there are so many worldwide entrants that the competition is scored on a rolling monthly basis in order to make it manageable for the Judges. There are a number of categories from contemporary portraiture to landscape, to sports, monochrome, fashion, wildlife etc and it is by far the most useful way to gauge how your photography is progressing because you can see and scrutinize all of the entries. There is no denying that entering such competitions can be daunting and nobody relishes a Unclassified score (believe me, we all get them) but if you are consistently being awarded Highly Commended designations, or even Gold medals then it is fair to say that you should be capable of succeeding at qualification level if you are able to provide the judging panel with a coherent and well presented body of work.
And now for the news I’m wanting to share today – I bit the bullet and I submitted a panel of 20 images for Fellowship assessment to The Societies and today I received a very welcome phone call from the CEO, Phil Jones, confirming that I have been welcomed as a Fellow. There are never any words to describe how one feels when this happens, other than a great sense of achievement and of course some relief that the years of relentless hard work are represented in a tangible way. Fellowship is the pinnacle of the qualification system and there are only a handful of Fellows worldwide. I have discussed qualifications before here on the blog, and I will reiterate that they are not necessary at all to success as a professional photographer, since that would be driven by your ability to produce consistently merchantable work and of course excellent customer service. The true value of distinctions lie in the journey one takes when the decision is made to prepare and submit a qualification panel. Not only will you be forced to address every technical and artistic area of image making, you will need to understand master printing as well as the ability to set out your Panel in a pleasing and creative way. In fact the latter can often take weeks on end to sort out and you will continually be shuffling the running order of your prints. But the discipline you will learn will be priceless. For these reasons I would encourage anyone who is a member of one of the four leading bodies to consider putting together a submission, success will bring renewed confidence and will without doubt be positive in terms of marketing yourself as an accredited professional (a really great way of setting yourself apart from many of the untrained and poorly skilled newcomers who have flooded the market in recent years). All of the institutions offer a mentoring scheme by which a Fellow will help to guide the applicant towards achieving their goal, so you’re not on your own.
What next? I have so many projects running through my mind and I fully intend to put together another Fellowship panel one day in a completely different subject. At Fellowship level uniqueness is key, you will need to give the judges something they have not seen before. I love the challenge this brings.
Lindsay Dobson FBIPP FSWPP