Torpedo Factory: The Annual Jury 2014

March 31, 2014

Once a year, the Torpedo Factory Art Center invites new artists to apply for a membership by participating in their "Annual Jury". During this almost week-long process interested artists submit their work to selected jurors who carefully select those who shall become eligible for an associate membership. The opportunity to become a Torpedo Factory Artists and to eventually get Studio space in the heart of Old Town Alexandria creates a lot of excitement among large parts of the artist community in Washington, D.C. Two years ago, I got juried in myself.

The Annual Jury is a pretty sophisticated and fair process. It is lead by the Jury Chair who is the head of the Jury Committee, and it takes months of preparation ahead of the event. Once it started, neither an applicant nor a normal visitor can see a lot of it. Artists submit their pieces at a reception desk on 3rd floor, receive a unique number that becomes their (artwork's) identity throughout the process and say goodbye to their pieces as they secretly disappear behind the closed doors of the jury room.

If you're not an "official", your only option to get a little information about what's going on is to peep through the two wings of the jury room (you won't see much, though):


There are several good reasons to keep the jurying secret, among them the protection of artists and their work. When I suggested to photograph the Annual Jury last year, the committee was not quite ready for it.

However, in an attempt to chronicle the event and to better promote it in the future the TFAA President asked me to photograph the Annual Jury this year. After some controversy among the commitee members I eventually ended up getting full access to the jury room to document (almost) everything. Between 3/24 and 3/27, it became my day job to capture the essence of the Annual Jury unobtrusively, while at the same time balancing the interests of artists, committee members and jurors as good as possible.

In the end, it didn't turn out to be that difficult. Photographing a 3+ day event is always a major effort, but with some preparation ahead it went actually pretty smoothly. With very few exceptions everybody agreed to sign up the photo release, and most of those in the jury room quickly forgot about my presence. I ended up with a thousand pictures that I edited down to about 200 usable ones. Enough material to illustrate the different aspects of the annual jury, with the ability to release just the right amount of information.

I used my OM-D together with the Olympus primes to photograph the jury. The camera is small, fast and very reliable, and the Oly primes are of excellent quality. They're sharp wide open so using them at f/1.8 most of the time gave me the ability to keep the sensitivity within the 200 - 400 ISO range. While the 75, 45 and to some extent even the 25 mm lenses produce shallow depth of field at this aperture, there is no such thing in the wider angles, one of the last drawbacks of Micro Four Thirds over Full Frame. I'd be more than happy to see a fast and relatively small 17 mm lens with a usable maximum aperture of f/1.4 or f/1.2 coming up soon, and I'd be willing to pay quite a premium for it. Come on Olympus, this should be feasible! 

More information about the Jury Process can be found on the Torpedo Factory Website. The winners of the 2014 Jury have been announced on our Weblog

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