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2019 Epson AIPP Victorian Newborn Photographer of the Year

I wrote this in July. Events followed my writing it which lead to me never sharing it. Today I woke up and decided that as I have just 4 months left until the next round of awards, it was time to share. so bare with me, this is long, so let’s just dive right in!

After a huge week of print judging, photographers from across the State and a number of Interstate visitors came together to celebrate their achievements, drown their sorrows and support the deserving winners of the 2019 Epson Victorian Professional Photography Awards at our annual awards dinner, held at the Harbour Kitchen.

Initially I wasn’t going to enter the State awards this year at all.   Having achieved my Associate in 2018, I am now automatically seeded to be able to enter the Australian Professional Print Awards again in 2019, so the pressure was off. After not doing as well as I had hope at APPA in 2018, I had decided to give myself the year off, a chance to regroup and find my feet again. I needed a good solid foundation to work with before I could even consider working towards my Masters.

But then I had ideas that were bursting to get out, I had images that were going to be too old in 2020 to enter and I wanted them to have a chance to be seen and heard. So I slowly started to work through, some images needed many hours to reach their full potential, others I barely touched.

Much to my surprise each image that I worked on over the last couple of months was awarded the score it deserved and I am incredibly proud of what I achieved with my 12 entries. With a range of single capture and open images, I came home with 5 Silvers and 1 Silver Distinction across Portrait, Newborn, Family and Pet along with 6 High Professional Practice scores.

It’s been almost 2 weeks now and I am still not even sure how it happened, how it is even possible, perhaps I am still living a dream… Regardless of my disbelief, I was named the 2019 AIPP Epson Victorian Newborn Photographer of the Year. A title I never imagined in my wildest of wild dreams would ever have my name on it.   To say I was shocked is a complete understatement; I saw my name up there on the screen and just sat there staring for what felt like a lifetime.
VIC stamps - 19-15Newborn copyThis award was so far from my radar, that my speech was 100% off the cuff, I wasn’t prepared, I still have no clue what I said or who I thanked. I was at least switched on enough to record it on my phone, but after listening back as I waited for my ride home at 1am, I decided that it needed a little work. So as I sit here by the heater, with my shiny new trophy by my side, let me get started…

I’d firstly like to start off by congratulating all of the winners, some of the most talented creative in our industry, who I am so privileged to stand amongst!

2019 AIPP VIC Epson Professional Photographer of the Year – Keren Dobia APP M.Photog. II

Commercial Photographer of the Year – Sarah Jackson, Documentary Photographer of the Year, Family Photographer of the Year – Nancy Flammea, Illustrative Photographer of the Year – Rebecca Croft, Landscape Photographer of the Year – Mieke BoyntonNature Photographer of the Year – Joshua HolkPet/Animal Photographer of the Year – Belinda Richard, Portrait Photographer of the Year – Keren DobiaTravel Photographer of the Year – Steve ScaloneWedding Photographer of the Year – Frank CecconiEmerging Photographer of the Year – Jackie Winkelman and Student Photographer of the Year – Deborah Brown

In 2012 I was living in South Australia, working in a brand new photography business, winging it and having a blast. Loving photography and all that it was. I decided to apply to become an Accredited Member of the AIPP. Back then, the application process was relatively simple, submit 20 images to be assessed and you’ll get an email to say you’re in – or out as the case may be! I did this on somewhat of a whim, with no real thought put into it, I just wanted that logo to show to people that I was a pro and knew what I was doing! So I selected 20 of my favourite images and hit send. No consultation with anyone, no sought after advice, I pretty much thought I was the shit, that I didn’t need to be guided through this process, I had 20 killer images that I loved and I was going to get in instantly, in fact, I’d have them begging me to join!

I was brought straight back down to Earth pretty quickly on that, the email of rejection hit me smack bang in the face. I will never forget those 17 words, still carved deep into my heart ‘You have a long way to go before you can even consider calling yourself a professional photographer’. Looking back at it now, that person, who remains anonymous to this day, was absolutely 100% right…I did have a long way to go. But there is constructive feedback and then there are those 17 words. They weren’t constructive, they weren’t helpful, they were hurtful and they broke me. I was beaten down and didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t get up. Here I was, calling myself a photographer, but I didn’t belong anywhere, I had no right to hold my camera, I had no place in this world that I loved. I was angry, with that person who thought those words would ever be helpful, I was angry with the AIPP for even allowing that to be my feedback, I was angry at myself for assuming I was any good in the first place!

I was embarrassed and ashamed and lost.

As luck would have it, not too long after receiving this email of death, I was scheduled to attend a workshop with an incredibly talented photographer who I had long admired. While I questioned whether I should even bother attending, I picked myself up, brushed myself off and put on my brave face. I am forever grateful that I did, because on that day, I met my beautiful, kind, supportive, hilarious friend Karen, who has been a guiding light in my life ever since.

I hadn’t intended on telling a single soul what had happened to me, the shame that shadowed the whole situation was too much to bare, yet throughout the workshop, surrounded by such beautiful human beings, I began to let me guard down and I eventually let Karen in on the secret. She was in complete shock that it had happened, having been a member for some time, she was well and truly on team AIPP and instantly encouraged me to try again. But there was no way I was even ready to consider the thought. It was too raw, I was and empty shell of the person I was and I needed to refill my cup first.

Fast forward to 2014, after a LOT of growth, many workshops with uber talented photographers across Australia and the world, a lot of personal development and plenty of endless encouragement from Karen, I decided it was time to try again. I am not ashamed to admit, that this time round, I was applying for no other reason but to prove that photographer wrong. To prove the AIPP wrong, that I did deserve to be there, I did deserve to consider myself a professional photographer.

So with Karen’s guidance, my 20 images were selected and after a lot of procrastinating, I hit submit and the email that came back almost a month later was the good kind, the happy kind, and the BIG relief kind! I was in. I was now an Accredited member of the AIPP. I had done it, initially I was proving everyone else wrong, but once that email arrived, I realised I really only needed to prove it to myself. I needed self validation more than anything else, I needed to be proud of me and my work, it didn’t matter what logo I had on my work, it didn’t matter who said I could or couldn’t do it, it matter what I said. But the professional tick of approval was of course a total bonus and very helpful on the days where I would question everything I was doing too!

Shortly after received my Accreditation, we relocated to Melbourne where I found myself in a new world of lost. I had no friends, no work, I had reached out to a couple of photographers, but was avoided like the plague…competition was harsh here in Victoria, I was considered a threat and no one wanted to let me in. All I wanted was to meet some peers, but I didn’t know how. Yes I was an AIPP member, but at the time, I didn’t know what that could do for me, I was in the dark on all things available to me and I just struggled through the months.

I had been in Melbourne for a year when I attended The Baby Summit on the Gold Coast, where by chance, I photo bombed an awesome chick who I didn’t know, but she looked like she could appreciate a cheeky head in the background of a good photo. Little did I know at the time, Emily would become a rock in my Melbourne world. Our friendship grew quickly, she introduced me to some other beautiful humans who have grown to be my Melbourne Tribe. The girls who saved my life.

Up to this point, I had heard of the AIPP awards, but I had never once considered entering anything, it felt so far beyond me and my abilities, and it seemed like a really overwhelming process. But in my friendship with Em, still very new at this point, I learnt that she along with those tribe member, had been entering for some time and APPA was coming up soon, and there was an awards dinner…I was super keen to join in the fun and go along to the party and all but booked my ticket to join them, but I hesitated. Again, I was stuck on those 17 words, I may be a member, but I still don’t belong here, I don’t fit in, I don’t know what I’m doing, what right do I have to go to an awards dinner?!

So instead of booking my ticket, I decided to wait and enter the State awards the following year instead. So I could go to the dinner. It may seem a relatively irrational reason to enter print awards, to put so much time and effort and money into something, just so you can sit at a table and eat a meal with your new friends, but I was just searching desperately for a way to fit into this world, to find my feet, somewhere to land on solid ground for a change.

In 2016 I entered my first Victorian Professional Photography Awards (VPPY) with 8 entries in the Portrait and Family categories. I set my sites low to begin with, I simply needed the professional validation that I was on the right track, so my aim was to be awards at least a 70 per image. Professional Practice. When my first image turned around, my anxiety was high, and I was blown away to be awarded 80, Silver Award. My other 7 images were scored 71-79. I had reached my goal, and really, blown it out of the park! And, I was going to the dinner! 😉

I have now been entering both VPPY and APPA each year since, and in 2018 at APPA, I scored the last of the points I needed to receive my Associate. The first step in my long-term goal of getting my Masters.

Which brings me back to the present. Those who know me well, and those who are friends with me on Facebook will know I am a long term, very open suffered of anxiety. Sometimes the anxiety is mild and a beast I can tame, and other times it is a debilitating monster that won’t release it’s hold on my life. This week has been full of highs and lows. While my images all received what I said they would, those that weren’t awarded held their disappointment at the time, and those that were awarded gave me such joy, that the rollercoaster of emotions was exhausting.

Over the years, my award entries have become a outlet for this illness. I seek comfort in the colours and the shapes, the emotions, the stories. Every entry has it’s own story to tell, there is hidden meanings in them that most judges can see if they look closely enough, if they talk to the print and work it out. But the meanings hidden even deeper are mine and mine to keep.

A darker image may have been created in the midst of a full-blown panic attack, where as the lighter images were potentially born from the light of the anxiety finally lifting after too many dark days.

In saying that, every one of my images I have ever entered have been created from client work, images captured during session and evolved into something more. I don’t shoot for award purposes, I shoot for my clients, and sometimes I see a little light in there that eventually becomes an entry.

In 2017 I discovered a love for the Illustrative Category. A category that I guess confused me a little, but a place where I could send my anxiety away, disguised as an art piece. I don’t for one second consider myself a Photoshop expert, but Illustrative has opened up a world where I can experiment, I get to explore the endless possibilities that are hiding within the program and I can just be free.

I have found myself waking up after hours and hours spent at the computer, not knowing how I ended up here. I come back to reality to see an image on the screen that is almost foreign to me, as if I am looking at someone else’s work. But that’s when I know the piece is complete and ready for print. I have been freed from the hold that anxiety has had on me, whether it have been for just one day, or an endless painful marathon of difficult days, a finished creation, is a lighter me.

We all as creative, have our own reasons for entering the awards, whether it be self validation, marketing, ego..or something else entirely. For me it is healing. I wish I could say it is a cure, unfortunately we all know mental illness is with us for life, but there is a release here for me that allows me to breathe again without ache, without tension, without the mess. These images are my why and I love them, I am proud of them, every single one.

Living with anxiety for as long as I can remember, I have developed a super power that allows me to push it away, I hold it like a black ball of burnt cotton wool in my chest and lungs where no one can see it, I bury it with a smile and a laugh, always giving the outside world the best me I can muster. Yet that effort is a marathon in itself, together with the shortness of breath and racing heart that I hide, at the end of it all, I just collapse.

I enter the awards for the high of a kind word or a nice score, but they are incredibly exhausting. So yesterday, after 3 full days of being ‘on’ for everyone, I woke up and crashed. I could barely get out of bed to be Mum to my kids, I couldn’t bare the thought of leaving the house, I was weak, I wanted to but couldn’t cry, my breath was short, my knees weak, my head busy, my palms sweaty.

I did manage to bury it enough from the kids, I did do the Mum thing and I made it through the day, but I made it pretty clear that attending the awards dinner last night was probably not going to happen. In came my knight in shining armor Emily, who drove an hour in peak hour traffic in the opposite direction to pick me up, to get me out of the house, to get me there. I am forever grateful to you Emily, because if I had missed my moment to prove that anonymous photographer wrong, I would have never forgiven myself.

So with that, I would like to thank a lot of people, some I managed to remember last night, others were missed by pure accident amongst my ramblings and I apologise for that as you all deserved public acknowledgment for what you have done for me…

Firstly to the families who have chosen me as your photographer. Without your support and trust, none of this would have ever been possible. Finding the perfect photographer for you is such a personal and at times vulnerable process. I don’t take my job lightly, it is a privilege to be chosen by you and I am so grateful for the opportunity to create memories with you and for you. Thank you for allowing me to use your images to grow myself.

Huge thank you to Epson and Kayell for your endless support to both the AIPP and the awards events and for your amazing printers and paper that have always printed my entries beautifully.

To the AIPP, for giving me my family of photographers who are always there to support, guide, laugh with and cry with.

To the Victorian Council and the Awards team. This year I volunteered for the first time and I found a whole new family. Thank you for making me feel like I belonged and for everything you did, not just this week, but for the hours and hours spent behind the scenes allowing us to have this chance to grow.

To the judges. Listening to your words of encouragement, advice and guidance has been invaluable to me. Thank you to those who saw the stories I was trying to tell and for fighting for the print.

To Camera House. Thank you for your support of the Newborn Category, a category I always intend to avoid, yet seem to have a full portfolio each year.

Massive MASSIVE thank you to both Tanya and Rocco at Capture to Print for your incredible talent, impeccable printing, words of wisdom and encouragement. Tanya who at the eleventh hour hand delivered my USB to the awards team after we together had struggled for many days to get those files on there. But not just that, after a complete file stuff up on my part, leaving two of my newborn entries measuring too small, you printed and matted and hand delivered the reprints at 8am on the day of judging! Without the two of you, this would not have happened. I cannot thank you both enough!

To Karen. I have tried so many times to find the words that are good enough for you, but again, I just don’t think they exist. Thank you for your guidance through these images, and images from the past. Thank you for staying up late, for proofing every single version of every single image, for telling me to stop second-guessing myself, for believing in me and getting me here today. I promise to give you a little break before I bombard you with APPA entries 😉 Mostly thank you for your friendship, it means more to me that you will ever fully understand and I love your guts! x

To my Tribe and Kool Kids, near and far, you know who you are and without you my world would be a very dark place. Thank you for your friendship, your love, your care and support x

To Mel, you somehow took on the role of my taxi for the week. Without you pushing me, I wouldn’t have leapt so far and I thank you for that. You got me out of the house, you ensured I didn’t run and hide!

To Fi, who was there when my ballerinas were photographed, for seeing what I was seeing and ensuring I slowed down long enough to shoot it the way it needed. But not only that, for being you, you beautiful human. I am SO incredibly thankful to Emily for introducing me to you, I couldn’t imagine not knowing you.

Emily, photo bombing you in 2015 was the best ridiculous move I may have ever made, the snowball affect from that day has been nothing short of a dream. You’ve introduced me to a world I never knew was even possible and to have you there with me on the night, literally holding my hand so I didn’t fall is something I will never forget.

To my family, I know the idea of me running an unpredictable business and being self employed scares the shit out of you guys every day, but you support me through it every step regardless. I wish so much that you were there last night to see this happen, I couldn’t wait to call you and tell you. To tell you that the difficult days are always going to be there, but there is light, and there’s a bloody bright one shining on me this year and I kicked ass! Love you all x

Nic, the MOST supportive Husband a wife could ever dream to have. You are there every step of the way, I know I don’t always let you in, I know I don’t invite you to the dinner, but you listen you ask, you say yes to pretty much everything I want to do, you try to offer advice that I most likely ignore, you drop everything so I can do what I do.

Last, but the most important of all is my kids. My anxiety has ruined a lot of great days, it hurts to know how it affects you guys, but you are always there and your unconditional love sees me waking up every single day ready for more.

Last night before I left home, Rory asked me where I was going. I told him I was going to a dinner where all the big winners would be announced. He asked if I was a big winner, of course I wasn’t prepared for this, so I said absolutely not! He replied in a quite voice, ‘you are a big winner to me.’

There is my validation.

To the anonymous 17 word photographer, I think I have travelled that long way, I now believe in myself, I am proud of myself and I am 100% considering myself a professional photographer, whether you like it or not. I thank you for giving me the fight to get here.

My name is Tiffany Selzer, I am the Mother to Hayden, Rory and Lily, wife to Nic, Sister to Megg, Grand Daughter to Val, Neil, Tom and Shirley, Daughter to Peter and Cheryl.

My name is Tiffany Selzer and I am the Epson 2019 AIPP Victorian Professional Newborn Photographer of the Year!

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