The photojournalist Joe McNally will help judge a regional contest. Hugo Berger reports
Joe McNally has made a name for himself as one of the most versatile and accomplished photojournalists in the world, shooting for the likes of National Geographic, Sports Illustrated and Life magazines in more than 60 countries.
So when National Geographic Abu Dhabi was seeking an expert to help judge a regional photography competition, he was a natural choice.
The TV channel - part of Abu Dhabi Media, which also owns The National - and the dairy firm Almarai Company have teamed up to host the Photomentaries 2013 contest.
They are calling on photographers in the Middle East North Africa Region to submit shot that encapsulate the theme Celebrating Arab Culture.
The winner will receive an all-expenses paid National Geographic Photography Expedition to the Galapagos Islands, as well as US$5,000 (Dh18,365) worth of camera equipment.
Impressing McNally will be no mean feat. His CV includes internationally acclaimed shoots such as The Future of Flying, which was the first-ever all-digital collection for National Geographic, and Faces of Ground Zero, which portrayed the emotions of New Yorkers after September 11. Recently, he made headlines after tweeting some terror-inducing pictures he took at the very top of the Burj Khalifa.
He expects the winner to produce similar standards. "Historically speaking, when I judge contests, I try to look for the same viewpoint that an editor of National Geographic would have," he says. "If you're going to get a picture in Nat Geo it has to be successful on many levels. It has to be successful informationally so it has to move the viewer along, providing some sort of insight.
"It has to be a successful picture, in that is has to be pictorially beautiful or intriguing. Then it has to connect to the reader emotionally or intellectually. So it has to reach off the page and inform them."
The winner will also have to portray imagery that is quintessentially Arabic but still be inventive and fresh, McNally says.
"I expect there will be some familiar symbology of the Middle East in the entries, and I look forward to seeing how this is rendered.
"If you can put a different angle or view on something that's very palpably Middle Eastern, I look forward to that. Photographers consistently return to the same themes over and over again. And it's how they continue to update and interpret these themes that is crucial."
The most important tip he offers would-be entrants was given to him during his time at Life magazine: "My editor there said to me once when I went out on assignment: 'Surprise me'," he recalls. "And that's hard to do these days because, with the web, and magazines we are constantly being bombarded with visual imagery. So it's easy for your eyes to get a little jaded.
"So what I'm looking for is what you could call visual smelling salts. Like all of a sudden it wakes you up."
The winner will also help focus attention to the depth of talent in this region, McNally says: "This contest will help give Middle Eastern photography an elevated presence and voice in the world. This is a wonderful opportunity to throw open all the visual talent that is in the Middle East."
For more information about Photomentaries 2013, visit www.natgeotv.ae/photomentaries. Entries must be submitted by April 30
To view the best photography from the region visit The National's photography blog, National View here.
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