"Photography is not much of a mystery anymore. As a result, photographers need to work harder to surprise the viewer," says Eileen Ryan of USA Today. What is a mystery to everyone however, including the judges, is the identity of the Red Bull Illume finalists. Even the Jury do not know yet which image was voted as the Overall Winner.
Acting as spokesperson for the Jury, she will officially represent the judges at the unveiling ceremony on August 31 in Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. We interviewed Eileen to get her thoughts on selecting the finalists and category winners as well as her hopes for the premiere exhibition of the world’s best action and adventure sports photography.
Eileen, how hard was it to make a decision on your favorite images in each of the three rounds of voting?
I actually found it most difficult to go from 250 down to 50. The quality of the images that made the first cut was terrific. Usually when the vote was tight between two photographs, I would look for the emotion in each. When one photo had a subject that showed the strain of competition or exhilaration, that image would get my vote.
Were you surprised by any of the photos that made it through to the top 50?
Not really. By the time it got to 50, the quality in each of the categories was outstanding.
As a judge and if you had to summarize all the photos you seen, what photos impressed and excited you?
Well, I have to say there was one picture that surprised me a lot, but I can’t reveal which one it is yet! There are so many technological changes going on all around us, I basically thought to myself: “What next?” I also enjoyed the sequence photo that made it into the top ten. I’m not a big fan of gimmicks and this image felt more raw to me and it wasn’t just about the trick.
One of the finalists has said that "My goal is to try to keep taking the viewer to places they have not visited and to see things unlike anything they have seen before." Did you feel that when you first saw the top 50 or category winners?
Yes indeed. Many of these situations: skateboarding, surfing and skiing are not sports that I see everyday. So not only is it fun to go someplace I don’t ordinarily go, but it’s also fun to view them in such creative ways. The composition of these photographs in general is phenomenal.
What difference will being nominated for a Red Bull Illume award, or even winning, make to an action sports photographer's career?
For USA TODAY, if you can be a spectacular sports photographer AND can shoot other things, you will get work. I can imagine as a Red Bull Illume finalist, it’s a great selling point on a photographer’s resume.
You've been involved since the contest started in 2006. What do you think about Red Bull Illume as a photography contest and the event?
I did not get to see the exhibit in 2007, but I know that the quality of the photographs is getting better each time the contest takes place. Red Bull Illume is a massive production but it would really be incredible if the contest could be held annually.
Are you looking forward to the exhibition in Ireland and being the Jury Spokeperson and co-host?
Well it’s in Dublin, which for me personally is a great international location to visit. I am so looking forward to the exhibition because in 2007 I was not able to go to the opening night in Aspen. When I look at the photos from the Red Bull Illume Exhibit Tour in 2007, I can just sense how much more majestic it will be viewing the images in person.
As for being the Jury spokesperson, that role is a little humbling from looking at the talented people who were judges this year. I am sure we all have our separate reasons for choosing a particular image, but sometimes a photograph is just so good that it has universal appeal and we will see that in the category winners and finalists.
What are your hopes for the event and exhibition?
My hopes would be that the weather is glorious and I get a chance to meet some of those phenomenal photographers. And I can’t wait to see the campus of Trinity College Dublin all decked out for this exhibition.