Calling all county-based photographers: Essex Photography Prize now open

Essex's Blue Sky Printing owners, Jon Webb and James Callaghan

Essex's Blue Sky Printing owners, James Callaghan and Jon Webb - Credit: Blue Sky Printing

Celebrating the best of Essex photography, Essex Life has teamed up with Blue Sky Printing to showcase the best photographs taken here in Essex. Here, Hannah Gildart speaks to the Blue Sky Printing team about what they do and how to enter your images... 

Tell us about your company, Blue Sky Printing
James: Blue Sky Printing is an independent printing company with one key focus: to provide a friendly, professional and community-driven service, while providing an alternative to the print shops you might find on the high street or online.

We’d be nowhere without our customers, and we hope to give them the personal and expert service their photos or work deserve. 

Jon: We started Blue Sky Printing in 2015 with very little money but bundles of passion. Initially, we had a very basic online offering before we rented our first space - a small RMU in the centre of the Meadows Shopping Centre in Chelmsford.

We built a really loyal customer base and since then the business has grown to include two high street shops in Chelmsford and Colchester and a thriving online presence.  

A staircase in Italy

Italy staircase. - Credit: James Callaghan Blue Sky Printing

What services do you offer? 
James: Our main focus has always been to be the very best fine-art photographic printer there is, whilst still being accessible for the general public to create premium prints for their homes or offices.

Key services we offer include canvas or aluminium printing, photo gifts, and printing photographs on a wide range of papers. We now offer Hahnemühle Natural line of papers, which are made with a much lower environmental footprint.

We also offer a restoration service, which can sometimes be the most fulfilling part of our job, bringing old or damaged family photographs back to life. 

Jon: Our biggest seller is still canvas prints, which we can have ready in just one hour. However, the new Chromaluxe aluminium panels with their high gloss and rich colour vibrancy are fast looking to overtake.

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We are always looking to invest in new technology, meeting the needs of our customers. That’s why we have recently decided to start processing 35mm film again as there has been a massive surge in interest since lockdown. 

We of course offer business printing services including flyers, banners, business cards and custom workwear, and so on.

Local and national-based photographers and artists also use Blue Sky Printing for creating exhibitions and limited edition print runs.

Our most recent was about fast fashion with Montana Lowery called ‘Fast Extinction’ on Carnaby Street, London.

How did this lead you to launch The Essex Photography Prize?
James: Every day we get to see the most remarkable photos that local Essex residents bring us.

We wanted to create a new platform to really champion the creative talents that exist in the county and offer the communities of Essex access to see this work, learn about photography and enjoy a free exhibition.

We also want photography students who may have missed out on their final year shows to enter.

Being a photographer myself, I know the importance of these shows and hope to give a platform to the photography world’s next generation of talent from Essex.

Tell us about the competition 
Jon: The competition launched on Thursday, August 19, World Photography Day, and will close Thursday, September 30, 2021. The winner will be picked by an expert panel and be exhibited in a touring showcase across Essex - kick starting with a launch event in Chelmsford. 

James: It’s not about having the fanciest equipment. We will be looking for images that tell a story, have strong composition and show a real eye for detail.

What categories are there and how is it judged? 
James: We have six categories; Wildlife, Landscape, Commercial & Fashion, Portrait & Documentary, Still Life and Local Area.

We are forming a panel of expert photographers to judge and create a shortlist.

From that shortlist we will pick a winner for each category and then an overall winner of the competition. 

Jon: The shortlisted photographers will all have their work shown in the exhibition, with the winners for each category and overall winner announced at the launch event. 

How can people enter? 
Jon: People can enter through our website. Anyone and everyone based in Essex with a camera can enter. Entrants can submit one photo into each of the six categories. 

What are the plans for the touring exhibition?  
James: The touring exhibition will start off in Chelmsford, where we will hold the awards evening on October 14.

It will then travel to Colchester and from there onto Southend with other locations being confirmed in the coming weeks.

What do you love most about photography? 
James: The thing I love most about photography is that no two photos can ever be the same; you're capturing a split second in time that will never be repeated exactly that way again.

One of the favourite images I have taken was a photo of a staircase I took whilst on holiday in Rome - just spur of the moment with my SLR film camera.  A second later and it would have been a totally different image.  

At five I became obsessed with cameras, and my mum and nan would take me to Cash Converters in Romford every few months to pick a camera out of the £1 ‘camera section’. That, teamed with a cheap £1 bonus print film, would give me hours of joy.

When developing the images at a local lab, my nan and mum couldn't believe the lovely photos I had taken with the cheapest camera and film. From that point on photography has always played a massive part in my life.

At the age of 16 I started working in a local photo lab and worked there on and off whilst studying commercial photography at the Arts University Bournemouth.  

After a while I realised that my passion for photography wasn't just taking the photos but also the processing and printing of other people's images.

Be sure to follow @essexphotographyprize on Instagram to get a sneak peak of some of the entries over the coming weeks. 
Ready to enter? Head here.

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