I’ve always hated contests. That hatred stemmed from what losing meant to me. I was indoctrinated into a contest culture when I was a kid; spelling bees, writing competitions, timed math tests, and worst of all, art competitions. They caused an excruciating amount of stress and bred an inferiority complex. As an overly sensitive artistic person I took my lack of performance in these competitions personally and my sense of self-worth was nonexistent. I never wanted to be contested, when what I needed was to be challenged. Eventually, I’d come to embrace my limitations and come closer to my best self. So, I started taking pictures.
When I first started embracing film photography to express myself, I ended up participating in several contests. But found that some required specific equipment that I didn’t have access to or were being championed by people that had “elite” photography equipment and the skills to effectively wield it. As inclusive as the film community is, I often felt alienated even when I performed well and was reminded of the lingering bitter taste of contests.
It was late March in 2018, I was in a Goodwill with my partner, Samantha, looking at two particularly shitty point and shoot cameras (an Akira 606 & Canon Sureshot Owl). Samantha suggested that we pick them up, we could walk around, use them to and see what we could make with them. This idea became a slow-moving epiphany, the gears started ticking along…
What if I challenged other photographers to use thrift store cameras? It would level the playing field for literally anyone to participate regardless of skill level. Any style of photography would be welcome, with no limit to format or film, just be sure the camera was a real piece of shit. There was no way this was an original idea, but I ran with it and would play it off as a joke.
After some thinking on how to effectively guide that sort of photographic anarchism wrote the rules. The overall goal of the contest was to get myself, and anyone else that wanted, out and about to making art through the medium of shitty cameras. The only real prize being what you made, and maybe retaining some bragging rights, on top of a shitty Chicago CD.
I would market the challenge as an all-out photographic melee, a sort of jovial death cult, where anyone could win by pure chance. The all-in-lo-fi-punk-rock-alternative to the contest culture I was averse to, a challenge for myself and everyone that wanted a challenge.
On April 12 2018, I unveiled @ShittyChallenge to the #BelieveInFilm community and the #ShittyCameraChallenge was born. It can’t be stated enough how I didn’t expect anyone to be on board for this, but by the time the first contest took place in June, there were 301 followers. They were dubbed “Shitters” and our little death cult began.
I was dumbfounded by the passion the #BelieveInFilm community put into The Shitty Camera Challenge. There’s genuine excitement that people put into finding and on occasion loving their shit cameras. To top it all off there was some genuinely inspiring art being made.
I was hooked after the first Shitty Camera Challenge. The community loved it just as much as I did, and the cult grew after each round. I decided to further incentive the passion of the shitters by escalating the accolades. Eventually, I was able recruit sponsors to give away mystery prizes to the randomly selected “winners”.
David Walster (the kindest person in the #BelieveInFilm community) had been there for us since the beginning, and he was joined by the likes of other community stalwarts Analogue Wonderland, Old School Photolab, and even Japan Camera Hunter incentivized Shitters and attracted new people into our little side of the #BelieveInFilm community.
As of today, the Shitty Camera Challenge has become one of the best parts of my life, and I couldn’t be happier with it. We’re at nearly one thousand shitters and running our most ambitious challenge yet. It’s called The Shitty Camera Challenge: Holiday Mega Deuce, sponsored by Lomography, and anyone can join in at any point during rest of 2019.
If you want in all you do is grab a shitty camera, shoot with it between the October 1st to December 31st, and tweet out your photos whenever you want using the #ShittyCameraChallenge and or @ShittyChallenge. The winner will be announced in January and will win a mystery prize from Lomography @Lomography and special limited-edition Shitty Camera Challenge shirt. But don’t worry if you miss out on this one because we’re just getting started. If I draw breath and there are shitty cameras on the shelves of secondhand stores, over the horizon, there will be a Shitty Camera Challenge.
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