Photographers listed as judges of the 2017 International Photographer of the Year competition (IPOTY) have begun to suspect the three-year-old contest may be a scam. When the winners were announced in February, several of the people IPOTY said would judge the contest had not seen an entry. The organization has ignored repeated requests for explanation from a group of the judges, and has removed all of the juror profiles from the competition website. Organizers of the competition did not respond to PDN’s multiple requests for comment.
The competition charged photographers a fee of $20-$25 to enter, and promised $2500 to the professional grand prize winner, and $1500 to the amateur winner. Since yesterday, when several of the judges posted an open letter on social media saying they felt duped by the “apparently fraudulent competition,” the information about fees, deadlines and prizes, and the solicitation for the 2018 competition, have disappeared from the IPOTY site.
The 2017 Grand Prize winner, Sarah Blesener, told PDN in an email that she received her $2500 prize via Paypal from the organization but had little contact except some brief emails, none of which listed a contact name.
Photographer Tariq Dajani, one of the 14 judges listed for the 2017 competition, began to suspect something was amiss when the winners of the competition were announced last month. Dajani tried to contact “Michelle Mercier,” the person who had asked him to judge the competition, and received no response. Frustrated, he commented on the organization’s Facebook page, he tells PDN, “Saying something like: ‘Is this competition for real because I was one of the listed judges but didn’t do any judging.’ My comment was promptly removed and I was blocked from further commenting.” Dajani adds, “I also then saw that my name had been removed from the judges list on the IPOTY website. The other 13 judges remained on their website.”
Dajani began reaching out to the other judges listed on the site and found that eight of them had not done any judging. Photographers Tiina Törmänen, Julia Gunther and Eleonora Pecorella all confirmed they had judged in previous years, but did not give permission to be listed as jurors for the 2017 competition.
Photographer Eleonora Pecorella told PDN via email that when she judged the 2015 competition, she was contacted by someone named “Sebastian Markis.” Web searches for “Sebastian Markis” and “Michelle Mercier” offer no confirmation that either of the supposed organizers are real people.
Photographer Jessica Auer was asked by “Markis” to judge the 2016 competition. When she told “Markis” she felt the number of entries—well over 600—was “so overwhelming,” she couldn’t finish, “Sebastian just told me to do what I can. This seemed fishy to me at the time, as though the work I was doing didn’t really matter that much. I did not hear anything from them afterward, not even to share the results.”
Mercier asked photographer Naomi Harris to judge the competition this year, but she never saw an entry. “I looked into the website and saw other people’s names,” Harris recalls. She remembers thinking: “If they’re doing it, it must be real.”
After receiving no response from IPOTY representatives for two weeks, Dajani drafted the open letter, which several of the judges began sharing on social media yesterday. “This is a competition that photographers paid to enter, and the judging process has been clearly dishonest,” the group of judges said in a statement. “By discussing this publicly, we the judges wish to disassociate ourselves from this competition, and hope to diminish the presence of deceitful institutions within the photographic community.”