In this day and age of digital, it feels like pretty much anyone can pick up a camera (or an iPhone) and be a photographer. Between street style blogs and independent publications, there is a seemingly endless stream of opportunities for an aspiring fashion photographer. But opportunities that pay? Much fewer and far between. How does one get to be the next the next Mario Testino or Arthur Elgort?
Enter Bottega Veneta's "New Exposure" photography competition. Open to all photographers and students without an official agent, it aims to be the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund of the photography world.
Doug Lloyd, who serves as creative director for all Bottega ad campaigns, knows how difficult it is to be a successful fashion photographer these days. "Currently, the field is super crowded, both with experienced and name-brand photographers as well as low-end photographers that seem to be staying busy," he tells us, calling it both a "great" and "super competitive" time for photographers.
He sees Bottega Veneta as a "natural fit" for this kind of competition. "I don't know if I can speak for Bottega or Tomas Maier," he cautions, "but I think that they have a tradition of collaborating with artists, both on product and in their advertising, and I think they like the idea of being tied to both the art world and the photography world."
Co-sponsored by Vogue, "New Exposure" is only in its second year but boasts an impressive prize: a year-long mentorship with Ivan Shaw, Vogue's Director of Photography and with photographic agency Art + Commerce, which represents the likes of Patrick Demarchelier and Tim Walker; a gallery exhibition in New York during fashion week; $10,000; and of course, the opportunity to shoot a Bottega Veneta campaign.
And the judges list is just as insane: Linda Evangelista, Craig McDean, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, Pat McGrath, and Bottega creative director Tomas Maier are among those involved in picking a winner.
It's the kind of exposure any budding photographer would kill for.
But is it all it's cracked up to be? We asked last year's winner An Le, a recent SCAD grad who entered the context at a friend's suggestion.
"Most contests have a fee, like $80 or $90 for photo contests usually, but you didn't have to pay anything." he said of his decision to enter. "And the panel of judges were some of the most influential people, so that's why I submitted. I said, 'I don't even care if I win, it's just good to have my work seen by these people.'"
But Le did win with his dark, dreamy shots (above). "He did a great job working on the project we had him do," Lloyd said of Le's winning shoot, "and I think he showed a sense of maturity and a sense of professionalism that came through in his work, which is one of the reasons a lot of us responded to the work." "It was a great, great contest," Le says of the experience. "I believe that contest was genuinely [looking] to find the next big thing."
He moved to New York permanently in September of last year and has since shot for places Saks Off Fifth, Elle Vietnam, and of course, Bottega. It's not been without hard work, but Le says his win has been a huge help. "Honestly, no one really approached me after I won," he said candidly, "but I approach a lot of people and it's always a great thing to say that I won this contest with Vogue and Bottega. It draws people's attention."
Lloyd agrees with this sentiment. "I would hope even for the people who just compete in it as well as the person that wins it, it certainly adds some relevance to what they're doing and that it helps them get a leg up on their career," he said.
This year's entries will be judged at the end of the month. Lloyd tells us the panel of judges will be looking for work that reflects sensitivity, uniqueness, experimentation, and a great sense of teamwork. But most importantly, it's a sense of personal vision that will help work stand out. "At the end of the day, it all comes down to having a great idea, so I think that should always come through in the imagery, whether it's intended to be an art photograph or a commercial photograph," he says.
"How you make it feel yours and make it feel unique are the things that really help it stand out and make it feel special."
Check out An Le's winning entry from last year.