Disqualified from the Ventura County Fair

Yesterday I received the following email from Superintendent of Photography of the Ventura County Fair:

Nancy: According to the entry guidelines (Professional is defined as a person who engages in events or activities as a livelihood rather than a hobby and/or offers their services for pay as a photographer, instructor, judge, and/or demonstrator), you meet the qualifications of a professional photographer. Therefore, in order to accommodate you in this year’s fair, you can do one of the following: you could change your photos from amateur divisions to the professional divisions (707) at a cost of $20 per photo, you could leave your photos in the amateur divisions and not have them judged, or you could remove your photos from the fair.

Not only did I receive this email, so did several of my close friends.

Though county fairs are typically associated with agriculture and home crafts, through the years the Ventura County Fair has also embraced photography and fine-art with extremely high-quality and competitive exhibits. I first entered photographs in the fair four years ago. I remember walking around the exhibit viewing the impressive images that received awards. I jotted down names of strangers who are now close friends – George Hutchison, Ron Matson, John Ferritto, Roy Allen, and Jerry Koenig to name a few. The quality inspired me and led me out of the virtual community of Flickr and into a flesh-and-blood community of passionate and accomplished photographers living in the area.

Our community of amateurs is not bound by the need to make a living with endless weddings and portrait sessions. Instead we take our vacations together at dramatic places like Death Valley, and Coyote Buttes, Zion National Park, Joshua Tree, and Big Sur. We head to the local hills and poppy fields in the springtime. We walk the streets of Hollywood and Downtown LA on our weekends. We are generalists who enjoy hanging out together, talking shop, and challenging each other’s vision and expression.

There are more than three photography clubs in Ventura County with many members fanatical enough to belong to more than one of these clubs. The more advanced members freely share their experiences and knowledge with the community and each year we looked forward to the exposure, challenge and friendly competition offered by the fair. It was always a thrill and surprise to see who walked away with honors. The pride of seeing a good friend win Best of Show was almost as sweet as if you had won it yourself.

It seems this year the goal of the Photography Exhibit at the Ventura County Fair has changed and they have elected to exclude some of the best of the county’s amateur talent. Their definition of professional casts such a wide net as to exclude all of us who find it meaningful to share and give back to the community that supports and fosters our own growth. We neither provide photographic services for money nor do we sell our images on the open market. We merely take photographs for our own enjoyment, enter them in local shows (paying our fair share of framing and entry fees), and volunteer to share our knowledge leading local workshops and giving lectures. Yet the new leadership of the Photography Exhibit has chosen to exclude us under the guise that we are “professionals”.

The Ventura County photography community is strong and vibrant due to the images and information so freely shared by my friends George Hutchison, Darrel Priebe, Jerry Koenig, Jean Castaing, Ron Matson, Randi Siegel, Allyson Barnes, Susannah Kramer, Roy Allen, Anne Allen, Carl Volpe, John Ferritto, and many others. We are not professionals and it is a shame that some of us have been excluded simply because we dig in so deeply and share so freely.

An Open Letter to Superintendent of Photography for the Ventura County Fair

Dear Superintendent:

I am disappointed by the receipt of your letter. I do not know how you made the determination that I am a “professional photographer”. In my field, Information Technology and Computer Science, a great deal of credibility is placed on the role of a professional. Professionals typically have proof to qualify for a level of pay including experience and degrees.

I am truly an amateur photographer. While I have spent a great deal of time and monetary investment in a hobby which provides me with a creative outlet outside of my profession, this does not qualify me as a professional photographer. The services I provide to the local photography community are completely voluntary. The Ventura County photography community is strong and vibrant as it is only because of the information so freely shared by George Hutchison, Darrel Priebe, Ron Matson, Susannah Kramer, Roy Allen, Anne Allen, Carl Volpe, myself, and many others.

While it is true that I have been asked to judge for the Ojai Photography Club in August, this will be the first time that I will ever have been paid for any photography services. I do not offer any photographic services for pay nor I do not have a photography business.

When I first saw the Ventura County Fair Photography exhibit four years ago, I was thrilled and enchanted by the quality of images. It was seeing the photography of George Hutchison and Ron Matson that inspired me get more involved in the local amateur photographic community. I do believe that the wide net you are casting over your own determination of who is and who is not a professional will greatly diminish the quality of your exhibit.

I do not wish to debate you on your decision and am voluntarily withdrawing my images from the fair.

Nancy Lehrer
Principal, Information Systems
Amgen

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5 Comments to “Disqualified from the Ventura County Fair”

  1. Very well stated, Nancy. Wow, so very sorry to hear this. If you can, please share which other friends received the same message. … For the first time in years, I did not enter this year.

  2. Well, Nancy, it seems a sad situation all around, but a bigger loss for the county fair than for you. The definition of “professional” being used by the fair officials is ludicrous and counter-productive presuming their intention is to foster photography in Ventura County. It very much the kind of definition insurance companies use, but at least insurance companies motives are easily understood — their definition of “professional” is intended to increase their profits. I wonder what motivates fair officials to use such a definition.

  3. Patricia, Morton – thanks for the support. I always supported and defended the fair. To outsiders is may have seemed hokey to talk about entering photography in the county fair, but the competition was so exceptional that it was a true honor to take home a ribbon. Each year practically the entire club would show up to see the exhibit and honor our members. This year will have a different feel.

  4. It is outragious! My thoughts are that non-photographers are in no way competent to judge a “professional,” the what is vs “professionalism” which requires no membership or qualification other than having a high skill level of achievement or that which strives for qualities comparable to one that perhaps makes a living from the skill. In my opinion, This could be fought with one well drafted attorney’s letter. I would pitch in. The County would not fight it and take on the clubs as well.

  5. Milt, Myrna – Thanks for the support. I agree with Myrna, no attorneys are needed. I’ve said my bit. Lou has his vision for the exhibit he has taken responsibility for it. I, and others, do not agree and we have let him know. He can now weigh new opinions and decide for the future. You can’t make everyone happy.

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