Let me preface this post by saying that I am simply telling my story so that the next photographer has this information before they decide whether or not to enter this competition. I have documented this every step of the way. So while I may not include the emails and screenshots in this post, be assured that they exist. I have not reached a conclusion myself as to whether these people were lazy or whether this was all calculated. What I do know is there was a lot that was untrue. And if you are winning an award and claiming a prize (in this case the jury is the prize) then it matters.
I will try to make this short:
I entered The Color Awards (Master's Cup) last year sometime. And this year I entered The Spider Awards. They are owned by the same two people: Basil and Michelle O'Brien. I realized the two competitions were associated when I noticed my passwords (a series of numbers) were identical.
Initially, I received an odd email saying I had missed the big, live, online show, the night before but I could catch it again the coming Saturday, and to have my acceptance speech ready. ??? Did I win? If they had the show last night, why would they do it again, live, on Saturday? Clicked on list of winners and nominees and I am very pleased to see I had won 2nd place in their People category.
But I am still confused. Why didn't they notify me? How do you give a speech and where...
I look to see who else won and I decide to contact the photographer of the year to see if she knew, she had not been notified either.
So I Google 'The Master's Cup scam' and see a few posts that mention a jury pool that is falsified and a magazine that you can subscribe to, but never seems to go to print. Also a claim of affiliation with certain organizations where there is none.
My next step was to go to the biggest names on their list of jurors and begin calling them directly. I started with Getty - no, National Geographic - no, FOX - no. Looked at The Spider Awards and pulled out Lenswork - no. Went back to The Master's Cup and when I searched names paired with companies, the person had worked there but not for a few years. To be honest I did run across three people who said yes they were a juror; Christie's of London - looked at a few images from about 5 categories. David and Goliath - yes. Hasted-Hunt - no then yes.
Their Suite in Beverly Hills is a Mailbox Express. Their phone is disconnected. Their magazine does not exist in paper form.
That was enough for me. I emailed my findings and stated that I wanted my money refunded for both competitions. They did that immediately, assuring me that they were a reputable organization and I was mistaken. I sent them another email reiterating that I had contacted jurors and that they were listing jurors who did not participate and that I expected them to edit that to reflect an accurate list or I intended to warn people. They did nothing. So I sent out a few emails and let Michelle and Basil know. The next day there were 21 jurors removed from their list, the voting criteria link was removed (assuring you that all jurors looked at, and rated, every image), and the lead paragraph in the jury section had been changed (that said essentially the same thing). They took down the link to the winners. But the URL was still active. So I have a screenshot of the People's category with my name removed and then they did the oddest thing; instead of moving 3rd place to 2nd place, they picked an Honorable Mention winner and put that person in 2nd place.
They also left two jurors listed that had specifically told me they did not jury the competition this year.
They never removed those two big names. Now they are on the list but we are on to the next competition and I would assume those two have committed to being jurors this year.
I was also shocked to see that they moved my 'winning' image to Nominee status which makes me look like someone who had a problem with not winning. On the contrary, I had a problem with winning and not being able to honestly say that it was authentic.
I notified them that they were using my image without a copyright release -they removed it promptly. However, to do that, I had to create a fake email to notify them because they quit taking my emails.
When I watched the first 15 minutes of the awards show it made me so sad. The artists were thrilled and here's the main thrust of the issue; most all of them thanked the esteemed jury for choosing their images. Now I can't say that the remaining jurors weren't esteemed - I had not personally heard of most of them.
But all the big names Getty, Eastman Kodak, National Geo., Fox, Vogue UK, Phaidon Publishing, Esquire, - not on the list now. Plus 14 others. These jurors had not seen one image entered in this competition.
That's it in a very big nutshell, except that I didn't mention that they edited the jury for The Spider Awards as well; they removed 24 jurors from that list (Sothebys, Lenswork, Magnum, CommunicationArts, PDN- to name a few). I did not, however, pay too much attention to that contest because it is in-progress. I think most people would not contact a juror because that seems unethical. Maybe we all should make a practice of doing just that.
A very important part of this story is that these jurors are not part of this facade. They either didn't know they were listed or in some cases had no luck in getting their name removed. And the photographers? Some of the best in our industry.
Did I mention the cost? $105 to enter 5 images in The Spider Awards. That was their half-off price I believe. I think I entered 3 images in The Master's Cup and that was $85. No cash prize for The Spider Awards. Master's Cup cash to first place winners $18,000 this year (unverified), next year - nothing.
Low overhead: 2 mailboxes, 3 websites, no phone. Nice profit!