– This Contest is Different, and nearly at its end!

The Vewd Student Media Contest has officially come to its glorious conclusion. The contest, widely touted as "something different," ran from Oct. 1, 2008 to Feb. 1, 2009.

After receiving dozens of submissions from across the globe, Vewd staff are hitching up their collective pants and getting down to business. Says VewdMedia founder Matt Blalock of the deliberation process, "We received a lot of submissions. Most were absolutely amazing and cutting anything out was very hard. It took us almost a month to cut out the ones we didn’t think were exactly what we wanted!"

A group of 16 finalists, whose submissions are featured at the Vewd Contest Web site , will be judged based on their talent: how strong the photographer’s vision is in the story and how well that vision was used. Says Blalock, "Some of the essays had great photographs, but weren’t really visibly a story, and that wasn’t what we were looking for. We wanted the stories."

This year’s accomplished panel of judges includes Matt Eich (AEVUM photo collective ), Jamie Rose (Women Photojournalists of Washington ), Gerik Parmele (Columbia Daily Tribune ), Panos Skoulidas (panosfotografia.com ) and Andy Williams (SmugMug ).

Judges will deliberate until around April 1, 2009 when they will announce the two winners—international grand prize winner and North Carolina category grand prize winner. Only entrants attending school in North Carolina can be considered for the North Carolina category, generously sponsored by Guilford College in Greensboro, NC.

Photo essays from a broad range of topics are featured: the American family (Nathanael Turner ), immigrant workers (Stephanie Makosky ), professional wrestlers (Timothy Eastman ) and PTSD among Native American veterans (Nicole Tung ). Said finalist Drew Angerer of his entry and overall experience in the contest, "Was I surprised to be chosen as a finalist? Yeah, I’m always a little surprised whenever my work gets recognized. I don’t really have big expectations when I enter contests, so it was a nice surprise."

Truly, the most different aspect of this contest is the judging itself. Voting opened on the Vewd contest site this week, but was soon closed after the discovery that most of the votes came primarily from photographers and their friends. Said finalist Nicole Tung on the Vewd contest Web site , "I have to be honest, it felt a little awkward asking for votes for the viewer’s choice—it did feel a little American Idol-ish!" Judge Panos Skoulidas spearheaded an effort to make judging more fair by closing voting in order to limit bias as final decisions are being made.

Judging is proceeding as a conversation of sorts, a radical phenomenon to the photo contest world. According to Blalock, "It’s transparent and sort of this strange thing where all voices are equal and learning is happening." Judges will converse behind the scenes until their talks have run their course. By that time the winners should be apparent.

Skoulidas explains the process eloquently on the contest site , "Voting does not bring anything to the table…I can create 1,000 robots and vote for myself 1,000 times, but it’s not going to affect judges. Instead it does one major damage: People think that by voting they just did their job. Even if all the votes are totally honest, there is no comment exchange, no conversation, no learning! So what’s the point? Do lack of votes make the essays lesser or not good enough? Of course not! All judges, students, photographers: please get involved! Ask questions, disagree, agree, learn, get involved! There is simply no other way."

Well said! To echo Skoulidas: come over to the Vewd contest site and leave your two cents on the submissions, participate, be moved, learn. How else can a community, or contest, thrive? Finalist Angerer agrees that the Vewd photo contest is a step in the right direction: "I think it’s great that student work is being showcased. A lot of my peers and I work so hard on stuff, yet no one else ever sees it outside of our class and friends. So, it’s nice that someone else out there is taking a look at all this solid work!"

Good luck to all finalists! Let the conversation begin!