Clothes: The golden shot

In March we launched our fashion photography competition in conjunction with the Victoria and Albert Museum. The competition brief was kept loose to allow for as much interpretation as possible. The main criterion was that it should be suitable for publication in Real Life, and a minimum of three and a maximum of five prints were to be submitted per entry. This was to satisfy the judges that the entrant could carry out a proper commission. Over the following months, more than 90 entries were submitted from which one winner and three runners-up were picked by the three judges: Charlotte Cotton, assistant curator of photography at the V&A, Liz Jobey, assistant editor of Granta magazine, and me. (Judging was anonymous; none of us knew the identity of the photographer until selection had taken place.) The winning entry by Michael Mann stood out from the moment it was laid on the table. It's fresh, original and not at all fashion-y. As part of his prize, Mann gets a paid commission from Real Life to shoot a fashion story; you can see the results on these pages next week. A special word about the runners-up. Shooting fashion in a reportage way - and doing it well - is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do. Invariably it ends up looking neither posed nor natural. But Christine Ratcliff managed to capture something that was reminiscent of a half-remembered, half-drunk party scene, where the clothes seemed incidental yet all the more memorable for that. Laurie Bartley's entry was one of the slickest and his obvious technical knowledge shone through. Alan McCool's digitally manipulated images showed great skill and we felt they had a relevance in this competition as so much in fashion nowadays involves a computer. Here we show an edited version of the winning entries - the full set has just gone up at the V&A with Mann's paid commission joining the display on 4 October. The pictures are on show until the end of October.

Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7. Enquiries regarding the exhibition tel: 0171 942 2567.

THE WINNER

Michael Mann, born 1970 in Germany, and currently studying for an MA in photography at the London College of Printing. His entry, "Sportliche Uebungen im Freien" (Open Air Sports), was unanimously judged the winner for its originality and skill. His idea stemmed from "wanting to make a link from today's fitness and work-out mania to the organised mass body cult movements in the Twenties and Thirties, especially in Russia and Germany".

What the judges say

Liz Jobey: "He managed to make a strong sequential story with a distinct atmosphere which responded well to the clothes. It was a simple shoot, but assured and not trying to be trendy. I'm sure it would encourage an editor to trust him with the interpretation of another story."

Charlotte Cotton: "The blending of colour and black and white, formal and spontaneous posing, is very skilful. I enjoyed the ambiguity of their narrative. The winner clearly knows his historical references and is able to take it as a springboard for his own imagination."

Annalisa Barbieri: "They had an easy but slick resonance. They were confident and not derivative of any current style of fashion photography. You could see the clothes without feeling that was the purpose behind the shoot."

RUNNER-UP

Christine Ratcliff, born 1967 in Derby, is doing an MA in Visual Communication specialising in fashion photography at the University of Central England. Her fuzzy, reportage-style entry is called "Talt Stodge Blushingham Stosh!" after various nonsensical graffiti she saw near her Manchester home. Ratcliff is potty about fashion. "Every picture I take is filled with love, warmth and honesty."

What the judges say

LJ: "She was making an effort to be modern, and she pulled it off. These pictures have a speedy climatic quality and the colour was obviously an attraction."

CC: "There is a feeling these images have come easily into being. It's rarely the case that good photographs just happen, and it's a talent to make it look that way."

AB: "Although they are contrived, they don't look it; you can't see the clothes well but I didn't think it mattered. Sometimes it's more important to capture mood."

RUNNER-UP

Alan McCool, born 1973 in Ireland. McCool graduated from the Royal College of Arts in London two years ago and now works as a photographer in between tutoring in computing and design at Chelsea College. His digitally manipulated entry, "Giacommo Balla", was inspired by the Italian futurist painter of the same name. "These pictures were taken in Regents Park with a touch of Hawaii added afterwards. I only use a camera in the most basic way. It is on the computer that the good stuff happens later."

What the judges say

LJ: "Although these pictures were the most contrived (the nature of digital manipulation), it was a very clever visual trick that came off."

CC: "A lot of thought and skill has gone into this concept, as well as the images. An original way of showing accessories."

AB: "Digitally manipulated images are very much part of fashion photography these days. I liked the way Alan used the computer to make tongue in cheek pictures rather than just make the model look weird."

RUNNER-UP

Laurie Bartley, born1977 in Essex. After studying photography at the Norfolk College of Arts and Technology, he starting assisting photographers such as Mario Testino and now works with John Akehurst and Rankin. Bartley's entry is entitled "Colombia 116" and was one of the best presented entries in the competition. "I wanted to portray contemporary fashion against a backdrop of outmoded style. I'm really interested in the way elements of the past are always present in the everyday."

What the judges say

LJ: "A very competent set of prints: clear and direct. This photographer would have no problem interpreting a commission for a fashion story."

CC: "There's a lovely concentration of the textural quality of fashion photography in these images. The tactile nature of the hair, fabrics and skin is realised beautifully."

AB: "It was no surprise to learn that this photographer has done time assisting some big name photographers. Laurie's pictures were assured, his lighting was superb and the overall presentation was of a very high quality."

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