Photography is now very much a recognised art form, but its continuing rise in artistic status has gone hand in hand with a decline in popularity of the printed image in favour of the digital format.
This trend perhaps goes some way towards explaining why the consistently excellent entry for the Edinburgh Photographic Society's international exhibition, which accepts only prints, is down for a fourth year in a row – its 1,755 entries being just over half of the 3,477 it attracted in 2006.
One of the most arresting images is the sensitively composed, superbly lit Gypsy Girl by Andrea Martini of Italy, which won one of the three Fédération Internationale de l'Art Photographique (Fiap) gold medals. Surrounded by a stack of rough-looking broom heads, the crouching girl is pictured with her arms wrapped protectively around her naked figure, a doe-eyed look on her grubby face. Selector Judy Boyle said: "The lighting focuses the viewer's eye on the main subject, which makes this a first-class emotional environmental portrait."
Among an excellent selection of animal shots, the brilliantly captured Great Grey Owl by Mick Durham of Scotland was highly commended. Picked out against a white backdrop, the owl, looking like an aeroplane about to take off, stares full-on at the viewer, its penetrating black pupils in its yellow eyes at the centre of a stunning splayed-winged form.
Durham's similarly razor-sharp Brown Hare in Morning Dew is so close up you feel you could almost touch the fleet-footed animal, which is picked out amid the long, droplet-covered grass, yellow buttercups and the smudged whites and pinks of daisies.
A contrasting soft focus lends an ethereal quality to English photographer Peter Rees's Venice Dawn – a painterly portrait of Italy's lagoon city, seen in a misty haze. Awarding it a Fiap ribbon, selector Steven Le Provost said it has "bags of atmosphere".
One of the most natural-looking images is of a thick-armed man, crouching on one knee amid the straw of a farm shed, being kissed by a gorgeously golden-coloured sheep. The Kiss, by David Wheeler of England, which was awarded a Fiap ribbon, has a warm, earthy feeling.
Forty three per cent of the entries were mono, with arguably the best being the seemingly casually composed Fiap gold-medal winning Bike Rack, by Alan Brown of England. In it, a bicycle leaning on a street sign forms the focal point of a snowy landscape, with nine black slabs evenly spaced out behind it, and a flat-roofed, academic-looking building and trees half-obscured in a whitened background. It is simple but stunning.
Finally, a photograph which captures the innocent excitement of youth amid the contrasting warmth of a sandscape. In He Tripped and Fell Down, by Tak Cheong Pun of Macao, five youngsters charge down a rich ochre sand dune, with another falling headfirst downhill – big splodges behind them and long shadows in front. The image is energetic and playful – full of the joy of life.
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