Thursday, November 16, 2017

Breach of rules - Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2017

This is about a competition where the organisers and Jury allowed an entry which breached the rules to remain in the competition and win two prizes.

One of the things I do when writing about art competitions is I aim to make the process more accessible for those wanting to enter and further their careers and/or achievements.

To that end I do three things:
  • I aim to unpick and make the call for entries a bit more accessible for people entering for the first time
  • I try to show those thinking about entering what the standard of work is in the exhibition - and the competition they're up against.
I've had much praise over the years from people around the world for making that effort - which is NOT why I do it - but it's always nice to know that my efforts are appreciated.

The third thing I do is the subject of this blog post.

Basically, I speak up for those who may feel they maybe can't when things happen which really shouldn't happen in terms of the conduct of the competition.

I don't like doing this - but I do think it's necessary.

This post is about how to undermine confidence in competitions 
  • BY allowing an entry which breaches the rules to remain in the competition 
  • AND win not one but two prizes!

One of Them Is a Human #1 (Erica: Erato Ishiguro Symbiotic Human-Robot Interaction Project) by Maija Tammi

Maija Tammi's project, One of Them Is a Human #1, is a series of photographs that places androids alongside one human, asking what it means to be alive.

A photo of an android was submitted as an entry into the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2017

The portrait is not of a human, but the National Portrait Gallery decided to keep it in the competition anyway. In a statement they say (my bold):
The Gallery has decided not to disqualify this portrait though accepts it is in breach of the rules. The rules are reviewed every year and this issue will be taken into consideration for next year. This portrait was part of 'One of Them Is a Human #1', a broader series which presents androids alongside one human. It was felt that the subject of this portrait, while not human, is a representation of a human figure and makes a powerful statement as a work of art in its questioning of what it is to be alive or human and asks challenging questions about portraiture. The ambiguity of this portrait makes it particularly compelling.

We review the competition rules each year and as part of this will discuss whether they need to be changed in light of the selection of 'One of Them Is a Human #1' for this year’s exhibition. The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize is dedicated to showcasing the best in contemporary portraiture. There are occasions when particularly compelling portraits raise interesting questions about the genre of portraiture, and these may be included at the judges’ discretion
The Judges also shortlisted the photograph which then went on to win
  • the third prize of £2,000
  • the John Kobal New Work Award and a £5,000 prize for a photographer under 35.
Maija Tammi with her awards
So a total of £7,000 (presumably in part funded by competition entry fees) was awarded for an entry which breached the rules and was ineligible for entry.

I'll now go on to explain why, in my opinion, this should not have happened.

Breach of the Rules of the Competition

I'll explain what I'm going on to say with a preface which recaps practice from my professional career (I'm now retired!)

I used to work in government. Very many politicians get it into their heads from time to time that it would be sensible to do something(whatever - nothing to do with competitions per se). The job of officers at a senior level is to remind them courteously but firmly that they actually MUST work within the law and the rules of conduct laid down - and then explain to them what they can and cannot do and hopefully provide a way round which satisfies the intent and works within the rules.

It's never an easy thing to do - but there are very good reasons those rules exist.

In terms of competitions within the UK, competitions that genuinely rely on skill, judgment or knowledge are to permitted to operate free of any regulatory control under the Gambling Act.

However they do need to comply with some other specific aspects of other law - and Prize competitions and the law: navigating the labyrinth provides an interesting commentary on this.

If you take money off people you create a contract (i.e. an offer is made, an offer is accepted and something of value changes hands i.e. a competition entry fee). In my view - and I'm not a lawyer but this does seem like common sense - that makes a competition subject to contract law and also to the law relating to unfair trading and consumer protection

Also any promotional marketing is subject to the CAP Code of the Advertising Standards Authority Ltd / Committees of Advertising Practice Ltd
UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) is the rule book for non-broadcast advertisements, sales promotions and direct marketing communications (marketing communications).

What the TWPPP Rules say

Rule 5.3 of the Rules for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize states very clearly
5.3 All photographs must have been taken by the entrant from life and with a living sitter after 1 January 2016.
Put very simply an Android is not living. There is no life.

Hence in entering a photograph of an android, the submission by Maija Tammi was breaking the rules of the competition by not being in compliance with Rule 5.3. She also recognised this fact and says she made it very clear on her entry that the subject was not living.

The fact she made that clear is irrelevant to the action of the Panel - as the panel has made it abundantly clear that they have absolutely no knowledge of anything to do with the photograph beyond the title.

Ergo, the responsibility for any action that needed to be taken in relation to the eligibility of the entry lies with the responsible competition organiser who is not part of the Judging Panel - if such a person indeed exists!

My view is that the photograph which won third prize was ineligible to be even considered as an entry never mind winning a prize.

Rule 6.1 states what the Judges can do.
6.1 The decision of the judges is final and no discussion or correspondence can be entered into at any time. The judges reserve the right to vary the prizes or not to make any award.
Well I didn't enter the competition and I can discuss their actions at any time!

What this means to me is that judges have scope to vary the prizes ONLY as in, for example, whether they are awarded and/or combined.

However they do NOT have the right to vary the rules of the competition i.e. which entries are eligible to be judged.

In other words, while I do not doubt they genuinely thought they had the right include the portrait photograph - because it was a particularly compelling portrait and because it raised interesting questions about the genre of portraiture - I believe they were wrong to do so.

Nowhere does it clearly state in the rules that they have the scope and/or discretion to:
  • include an exhibit which would otherwise be ineligible and breach the defined RULES of the competition
  • award a prize to a portrait which is ineligible - according to the defined RULES of the exhibition.
If they want to do something like this again in future, they need to vary the rules of the competition and then get them checked by a lawyer.

Which is somewhat ironic - embarassing even - given that this is a competition sponsored by a law firm...

What went wrong

In my view what went wrong was that nobody outside the Panel of Judges acted as the "Guardian of the Rules" and reminded the Judging Panel that they cannot, as a matter of fact, vary the rules of submission once they have promoted the competition and taken entries and the fees they charge for entry i.e. entered into a contract.

An entry which is ineligible under the rules should not even be considered for exhibition never mind a prize.

Personally speaking, I can well understand why the entry interested the judges and why they wanted to include one of the photographs.  I'm certainly not saying the photo series it is part of has no merit.

For me the second big mistake was in making it part of the exhibition and shortlisting it for a prize. 

Consider the alternatives.

There was always an option of exhibiting "Erica"  somewhere else in the Gallery as a work which triggered interest in terms of the nature of portraiture - maybe as part of the full series submitted to the jury. I see nothing wrong with this. However such an exhibit would
  • NOT be part of the official exhibition per se - and would 
  • definitely not be an exhibit which was eligible for a prize (since it wasn't eligible to be an entry). 
If they'd done that I doubt that anybody would have raised an artificially drawn eyebrow!

What might go wrong in future

Should those who entered - under the impression that every entry would be treated equally according to the published and defined RULES - decide that they are unimpressed by the behaviour of the judges and wanted their money back....

....I wouldn't be in the least surprised.

However let's not forget that the only reason that people don't cry "Foul" in competitions of this nature when this sort of thing happens is because they'd really rather like to make progress in their careers and, in particular, don't want to get blacklisted.

(We've had a few reminders recently re. Weinstein, Spacey et al as to precisely why people don't raise issues that concern them.)

Being a retired person with none of those concerns I have no such inhibitions about crying "Foul" when I think it is warranted.

If people were to object, I'd only be surprised if the competition organisers could come up with good legal argument for why they were under no obligation to refund the fees.

(The case which always comes to mind for me when I see competition rules being breached is the 2008 breach of OFCOM's Broadcasting Code in which 
  • every viewer who had entered was compensated 
  • in addition to the very major penalty fine that was also levied.)
That's why to my mind the CAP Code of the Advertising Standards Authority Ltd / Committees of Advertising Practice Ltd is also relevant to this particular context - as it indicates in relation to the marketing communications - which include "the Rules" as advertised....
Marketing communications should be legal, decent, honest and truthful.
Marketing communications must reflect the spirit, not merely the letter, of the Code.
Marketing communications must respect the principles of fair competition generally accepted in business.
In my opinion, any such difficulties as to interpretation of the rules in future can be avoided if:
  • the rules in future make it very clear that any and all entries that do not comply with every single aspect of the rules will be rendered ineligible at whatever point this is discovered.
  • that it is pointed out to the Judges that this applies even if they have gone as far as short-listing for a prize and the entry needs to be eliminated after the shortlisting has been announced (which should serve to concentrate the minds of BOTH the Jury and the organisers!)
  • the organisers appoint a "Guardian of the Rules" to sit alongside the Panel and determine what it is legally possible for the Judges to do if they want to exercise their discretion - as defined within the rules.
  • somebody uses their common sense and thinks of another way of recognising the merit of an ineligible entry without breaching the rules of the competition - which would have been my preferred and recommended option!

Can I just emphasise that I don't think any blame attaches to Maija Tammi. She was pushing boundaries - but made it abundantly clear what the issue was. The blame to my mind lies with the filtering process relating to eligibility and the organiser who didn't spot that this was an issue on which he or she needed legal advice PRIOR to the Jury seeing the entries!

Judging Panel

This year’s judging panel was
  • Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Chair (Director, National Portrait Gallery, London); 
  • David Campany (Writer, Curator and Artist); 
  • Tim Eyles, Managing Partner, Taylor Wessing LLP; 
  • Sabina Jaskot-Gill (Associate Curator, Photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London); 
  • Fiona Shields (Head of Photography, The Guardian) and 
  • Gillian Wearing (Artist.)


Below are newspaper articles which discuss the inclusion of Maija Tammi's photograph of a robot.


  1. I think you left out the end of second sentence in the second para under 'Breach of the Rules of the Competition,' (Very many politicians get it into their heads from time to time that it would be sensible to do something.)

  2. I couldn't agree more. When a competition posts its rules and then those rules are ignored by the organization or judges, it is a bait and switch deal. You can't tell every one that these are the rules in order for you to participate and then switch them in such a significant way-- that's fraud. Money has changed hands based on a specific agreement and then the agreement is ignored. This is why I rarely enter juried competitions any more.

  3. It is sad and discouraging for any artist who reads the rules and complies when they enter a competition to see entries accepted that clearly breach the guidelines stated by the organisers of the show. What message does that send out ? That rules don't mean anything. Not only that artists pay good money to enter competitions so it can leave a very sour taste in your mouth to see an entry not only accepted that does not comply but also winning and taking home the prize money. Just to add salt to the wound is the knowledge a good portion of the prize money has come from the artists entries who did comply with the rules. Judges need a good shake up over this I think.

  4. I also agree this should not have happened and was incredibly unfair to the artists who complied with the rules. A photo of a so called android is no different from a photo of a highly realistic statue. Changing entry rules AFTER the fact is just wrong. I think the judges owe everyone involved an apology and should let this photographer keep the money but give both the awards to other artists who followed the rules. If they want to change the rules for next year to include androids from now on because they think it it is interesting fine but portraits of androids are going to get old in a hurry. It just seems like a gimmick to get attention for the competition.

  5. Excellently writtrn know very little about this competition but now having read a few such articles it certainly does seem the competition rules were ignored /adjusted /bent for some reason. Whatever that may be is of no concern because as you correctly state it is more a question of principle, integrity & fairness to other entrants. Also in terms of their own n the competitions reputation & credibility a rather foolish course of action. Amazing how this sort of thing can damage a brand project competition etc

  6. I thought it was just me. The image of the Android seemed not to fit in with some of the powerful work submitted and included in the winners and exhibition.

    Rules have to be changed from time to time as the world moves on but cannot be retrospectively amended with a rather glib statement from the NPG.

    There is danger of deciding what a “Living” sitter is and the actions of the panel have made rule 5.3 null and void. So I’ve started a series os images of shop dummies - will one of these be accepted for entry?

    Sorry I know that’s a rather silly reaction but at the end of the day one or two artists who followed the rules have missed out on much needed funding.


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