Hashtag to Win: FotoIstanbul Instagram Photo Contest

This years marks the second year The Everyday Projects has partnered with FotoIstanbul to organize the contest.

Images from the 50 finalists on display in a temporary gallery space near Köyiçi Kartal in Beşiktaş. Photo by Oscar Durand

It’s an easy photo contest to enter, so easy that some people who entered didn’t even know they were participating. Photographers merely hashtagged their images #FotoIstanbul2016 on Instagram to vie for a chance to be exhibited at FotoIstanbul and win a Canon camera.

From our beginnings, The Everyday Projects has taken a very open approach to photography. It’s all about looking for multiple perspectives and seeking new voices, so when FotoIstanbul had the idea last year to start a global photo contest with such a simplistic entry method, it was a natural partnership.

Various Everyday accounts shared the call for entries through Instagram and Facebook. And the community responded. During the entry period the hashtag #FotoIstanbul2016 was used more than 20,000 times by photographers of varying skill levels.

From the participants’ point of view, the process was simple. But for us behind the scenes, handling the entries was a bit more complex.

As the month-long entry period ended, so began the process of screening all the images and selecting 50 finalists. From these images, three winners were chosen by popular vote via Facebook and awarded prizes from Canon, the contest sponsor.

Some of the about 20,000 images hashtagged #FotoIstanbul2016 on Instagram.

Managing 20,000 photos is a challenge, especially for a contest run by a skeleton crew using simple tools available on the Internet.

While photographers were still entering their images, the jury from The Everyday Projects — Edward Echwalu, Janet Jarman, Ramin Talaie, and Veejay Villafranca — were already scouring Instagram. No one wanted to leave this task until the last minute, as we all anticipated many entries. And with so many submissions, overlooking a potential finalist is always a possibility.

“For days I used my Instagram app just to do the judging,” Ramin says. “I was worried that there were interesting images that I might miss, and I knew I was going to miss something good with that many entries! At the end I was happy to see a couple of nice images that I had missed which were selected by other judges.”

The jury was tasked with granting their nod of approval to 50 images.

“I was looking out for originality, simplicity, truth, and beauty,” Edward says. “I believe originality sets the image apart. Simplicity in any photograph allows viewers of different backgrounds to easily interpret and identify with the subject. And, in that process, there must be some truth in the subject captured to enable people to relate with their own experiences — good or bad. Finally, beauty makes the image an instant draw.”
The contest’s finalists exhibit in the Istanbul district of Besiktas.

On August 30, FotoIstanbul published the finalists on its Facebook page. Over a 25-day period the public voted for the contest’s top three images with their likes.

For me, this part of the contest was a bit hard to swallow. I am a photojournalist and during my professional life all the competitions I took seriously had winners selected by a jury. This felt more like a popularity contest.

“In the future, perhaps we should explore doing the contest in a couple different ways, for example having two prizes, one determined by “likes” and the other by a diverse jury from the Everyday community,” says co-founder of Everyday Africa Peter Dicampo. “Even this would be interesting, to see which images our contributors are drawn to and why and compare that with the audience selection.”

Worries aside, the winners being chosen by Facebook likes didn’t detract from their quality.

First place was awarded to Cansu Yıldıran, a second year photography student at Marmara University in Turkey. She entered a photograph she took at the 2016 Istanbul Trans Pride march.

“After the police intervened (in the march), a trans woman was walking alone on the streets and people were looking at her with hate,” Cansu says. “This reminded me of the general situation in Istanbul and even Turkey.”

Cansu’s winning image received 10,350 likes on Facebook.

“The individual (in the photo) exemplified courage, yet at the same time, looked somewhat vulnerable to the so many uneasy onlookers,” Edward says. “The issue LGTBTI rights remains delicate, no matter where you are in the world today.”

Cansu Yildiran’s winning image taken during the 2016 Istanbul Trans Pride march.

Tuba Urlu and Yusuf Eminoglu, also from Turkey, were awarded second and third places respectively.

The second and third places received 9,023 land 5,067 likes each.

There were also surprises that added color to the experience and taught us important lessons. For instance, the most liked image on Facebook was disqualified after organizers discovered the photographer had paid for likes, artificially inflating his rating.

Also, when I contacted the finalists to request high-resolution files for the exhibit, I realized some of them weren’t aware they had entered a contest. Somehow they had stumbled upon the hashtag #FotoIstanbul2016, decided to use it, and became finalists. Talk about good luck.

As the contest organizer I can honestly say that we are trying to do things in the best way possible, learning from our mistakes and successes, as The Everyday Projects and FotoIstanbul continue to grow in our partnership.

Austin Merrill, co-founder of Everyday Africa, says that working with FotoIstanbul through exhibitions, the contest, and in-person interactions with festival-goers and organizers is a demonstration of a growing relationship for the Everyday community.

“We value the opportunity to collaborate in meaningful ways with people all over the world,” Austin says. “I think the continued enthusiasm for the Everyday concept and its ongoing rapid spread around the world is a sign that more great things are to come.”

The 50 top images are now on exhibit at this year’s FotoIstanbul festival through the end of October near Köyiçi Kartal in Beşiktaş. You can also see an exhibit representing 28 Everyday accounts from The Everyday Projects in the Ortaköy Square.