Small victories

This week at work they announced the winners of the staff photo competition, always and exciting and tense time for me.

This competition has been running for many years, and every year when the categories are announced and the deadline for submissions approaches, I spend hours (in consultation with husband) choosing what image goes best with each category. The categories change from year to year so you can’t always plan to photograph something for the category.

I’ve been reasonably lucky so far – every year I get something “on the wall” – which means the judges liked it, but not enough to give it a prize. And every year I look at the winning photos, and the small jealous part of me thinks, “My photo is better than that.” And I hate the small jealous voice. But I also hate that I didn’t win.

I think one year I got a highly commended, and that’s as good as it got. Although a few of my photos have made it into the staff desk calendar and one was used for the cover of a research paper publication. So I’m not a total loser in the staff photo fame game. I just really want to win.

Especially as in some years, I’ve had a great photo, but the rules of the category were geographically limited to the countries in which my employer operates. And that’s an amazing photo that meets the brief in every way but isn’t geographically eligible so I won’t enter it. I was fuming one year to see one of the winners was a picture taken outside the geographically eligible area. The host of the prize event that year tried to be flippant about it, “Well we really do look after the whole world, don’t we?”

Actually no, we don’t, and that photo was not eligible. But it won its category. And ever since then, that person (who we’ll call Xi-Xi – not their real name) has been my photo competition nemesis. Xi-Xi wins something every year. Sometimes multiple categories. And staring daggers at Xi-Xi as they collect their award(s) is me.

For this year’s competition, I submitted my pictures back in September of 2019. So long ago now I couldn’t remember what they were. I could barely remember the categories. I remembered I put in nine pictures – you can enter two per category and there were five categories, but for one category I struggled to find something that fit.

The categories were: Home Town Pride (a challenge for me – where is my home town now? I hold two passports and have lived away longer than I’ve lived in my ‘home’ country); Portrait (not something I am good at because even when I see interesting people when I travel, I don’t have the balls to go up and ask to take their photo); Save the Planet (OK, I thought, I can do something with this and a clever title); Out of the Office – Travel Photography (this one is pretty flexible – anything goes – but will depend a lot on what the judges like); and Celebrations (I think I can do something with this).

The evening of the prize giving came and I went down, grabbed my glass of wine and perused the “on the wall” photos (prize winners were covered over at this point). And yessss… there is my Save the Planet photo. If nothing else, I’ve made it to the wall for another year.

Don’t let the planet burn

Resigned to this being the peak of my achievement, I chatted with colleagues and had a second glass of red wine. I was deep in conversation with a colleague, I heard the judge say something about the very dark background in the second and third prize winners, and then I heard my name being called for 2nd prize in the Celebrations category. I will admit I shrieked.

“Oooh that’s me!”

And I (almost) ran to the stage in excitement to collect my prize. (I had to put my still half-full wine glass down first).

Candlelight ceremony

You know what? Xi-Xi came first in that same category. But I don’t care. I got second prize. But I felt so happy it was like I’d won the whole damn competition. (The happiness feeling might be attributable to the two glasses of wine.)

Take your victories where you find them. And this year I find it in second place.

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