Critical Mass 2014 Pre-Screening Thoughts and Observations

Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 200 was released on Monday. As a pre-screening juror, I reviewed hundreds of submissions over a couple of weeks. With so much mystery surrounding juried competitions, I wanted to take a few moments to write down some of my thoughts and observations about the review process.

In addition to the photo portfolios themselves, Photolucida provided the following information:

-       Artist’s name
-       Image titles
-    Size and print medium of photographs
-    Price of photographs
-    Artist statement

Artist Names:

The number of unfamiliar names and bodies of work submitted was refreshing. Even some photographers whose names I did recognize submitted work that I had not yet seen. As someone who professionally reviews photographs, I was familiar with more than a handful of the artists, but tried to remain as unbiased as possible.

Print information:

When looking at images online, I often visualize how they appear as prints. Viewed electronically, it can be difficult to determine whether a photograph is printed in silver gelatin, platinum, or as a digital print. Additionally, I might assume a print to be large scale, when the artist has actually elected to print much smaller. Having this information readily available allowed me to form a more complete understanding of the work before voting on the portfolio.


I found the listing of prices distracting. While I understand and appreciate the use of this information by other jurors who may be in position to purchase or exhibit the work, it made me think about where the artists consider themselves fitting in with the current market, which distracted me from the work itself.

Artist Statements:

I have always strongly valued artist statements. I understand that not everyone finds them important or necessary (a different discussion altogether), but for me it was important that the photographs reflected the statement, and vice versa. That connection shows that the artist has a clear understanding of their portfolio and what they are trying to communicate.

From the portfolios and these criteria, I was instructed to rank the work on a scale. This method allowed for flexibility in voting, rather than a binary “yes” or “no” decision. I was able to advocate for work that I felt was strong but not fully resolved, give a higher rank to work that wowed me, and a lower rank to work that just wasn’t for me. It is important to note that there were some portfolios which received my highest vote, but were not selected as finalists. It goes to show that art is subjective.

Ultimately, I just looked for great work. I held no bias towards or against any particular genre, and all were given a fair shake. I think Critical Mass provides a great platform for photographers to have their work seen. In all, I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing the submissions and am looking forward to revisiting the top 200 finalists as I, along with 200 other jurors, vote for the top 50.


Kat Kiernan is the Editor-in-Chief of Don’t Take Pictures, and served as a pre-screening juror for Photolucida’s Critical Mass 2014.