Critical Mass: Start Your Engines!

Louviere + Vanessa, Critical Mass 2015 Top 50

“It is hard to describe the impact Photolucida’s Critical Mass has had on my life….This program is so much more about connecting than about winning. As for me, just having so many respected members of the global photo industry see my work is worth any price.”  —Patricia Lay-Dorsey

Critical Mass is a different kind of photography competition – because it’s not simply a competition. The program began about 14 years ago as a way to help photographers promote their work to photo-industry professionals. We saw what an incredible impact our in-person portfolio review event made on photographers’ lives, and we wanted to create an even more accessible online platform for photographers to get their work in front of the right people – without the expense and time commitment of attending an in-person review. Critical Mass was created by photographers who understood the challenges of promoting work. In a stroke of insight we thought, “Curators and publishers are looking for work, photographers are looking to share it – let’s create an online system to make it all happen!” So we did.
When you enter Critical Mass, you’re competing for the chance to show your work to 200 top photo-industry professionals. That’s a lot of eyes. Entries are pre-screened by a committee of 20 esteemed photo professionals, and the top 200 finalists have their work viewed and voted on by the larger group of 200 professionals. It’s different from a photography contest where you’re hoping to win favor from a small group of jurors (or a single juror), just so you can add the win as a line item on your résumé. With Critical Mass, what really matters is that your images are appearing on the (computer) desktops of key museum curators, gallerists, publishers, editors, and media producers from around the world. This has far-reaching effects, because these are the people who can offer real, career-building opportunities to photographers. And they do.
As an individual photographer, it’s difficult to make connections with professionals at this level – much less with 200 of them. Even tracking down the contact info for most photo professionals is difficult. And cold calling/emailing them? More difficult yet. It’s possible to create work in a vacuum – to make fabulous photographs but to miss the boat when it comes to promotion and marketing. Many photographers get discouraged by how challenging it is to make inroads into the professional arts world.
The photographers who understand Critical Mass often think about the entry fee as an annual marketing expense – no different from what they might spend on promotional materials or branding and website development. Many photographers enter Critical Mass every year because they understand it’s about keeping their work on the radar more than it is about winning. Of course, winning is nice too – but the awards Photolucida gives are just icing on the cake. The real award is 200 photo-industry professionals seriously viewing your work. Photographers who aren’t chosen for our awards still gain the enormous benefit of having their work seen by the tastemakers in the field. We regularly see exhibitions and publications offered to photographers who don’t win awards through Critical Mass. The professionals see work they love and reach out with offers. It’s heartwarming, life-changing, and exciting. The photographer stories make our hearts go pitter patter.
Ready to get your work on the radar? Enter Critical Mass this year. The early-bird entry period ends on May 31st. Don’t miss it!

“I received the email alerting me of the call for the next Critical Mass, and it occurred to me that I should write to you and thank you for the opportunities you have provided me, and others, over the years….I owe all of you a debt of gratitude. So many opportunities have come my way recently – proof positive that participation and engagement in the events you put forth have a very deep and lasting impact on the lives of not just me, but everyone that I now encounter on the road to seeking out beautiful, thought-provoking, and heartfelt images. Once again, thank you for all you do.”
—Michael Kirchoff

“Nothing is more important than getting your work in front of the right people, and Critical Mass has all the right people. Thank you Photolucida and Critical Mass for the important connections you provide to dedicated photographers everywhere!”
—Tamara Staples