Last week, I published a slideshow highlighting winners and runners-up of the Monochrome Photography Awards. I was under the impression it was legitimate since my friend, and world-renowned photographer, Petra Leary, was a judge for the competition. While some DPReview readers praised the black-and-white images in the comments section, others linked to an article from PetaPixel, unbeknownst to me at the time, that lists the Monochrome Awards as one of five photo contests surrounded by a shroud of mystery.

The in-depth and well-researched piece reveals the Monochrome Photography Awards isn't exactly reputable. Under the management of one owner, Martin Stavars, who has all but disappeared from the Internet, Monochrome joins International Photographer of the Year (IPOTY), Fine Art Photography Awards, ND Awards, and MonoVisions Photography Awards in a group that charges $20 – $30 per image submission, to thousands of entrants, while doling out very little prize money in return.

Worse yet, accusations surfaced from photographers who were asked to judge IPOTY and didn’t get to rate a single image before winners were announced. This suggests that Stavars possibly made the selections for this, and all other affiliated competitions, himself. After reading through these sordid details, I reached out to Petra and asked about her experience.

‘Basically without completely ripping them apart, because I do appreciate that they wanted me to be part of the team, the judging experience for the Mono Awards was terribly planned out and the User Experience was awful. I had to sift through over 800 photos, clicking in and out to open each. The site would crash continuously meaning you had to reload and sometimes re-judge images, and the system for rating was very basic and confusing. I'm not sure how they filtered it down to the finals,’ Leary explains.

'The site would crash continuously meaning you had to reload and sometimes re-judge images, and the system for rating was very basic and confusing. I'm not sure how they filtered it down to the finals.'

When I initially contacted Monochrome Photography Awards for permission to repost images, and get the official press release, I received a timely response from a generic email address. This isn’t entirely unusual as some prestigious photo competitions don’t always have detailed contact information in their ‘Press’ or “About’ sections.

What stands out to me, now, is that almost 8,000 photographers from around the world entered the most recent competition. At an average of $20 per entry ($25 for professionals and $15 for amateurs), it amounts to a rough estimate of $160,000 profit. The prize money amounted to $3,000 total – $2,000 for the Photographer of the Year and $1,000 for Discovery of the Year, according to the crudely-constructed release from the ‘Monochrome Awards team.’

Petra Leary works with brands, publications, and numerous photography competitions. Her experience with Monochrome was frustrating.

I contacted every jury member from the competition and only received a response from Christina Dim. She confirmed that she judged between 900–1,000 photos. It still is unclear how each finalist image was ultimately selected. ‘After judging a few competitions, the concept of giving judges specific categories to work on makes a lot of sense as you can spend more time and thought on each, this is something I think Mono Awards should look at doing in the future. It’s not something I would participate in again, though,’ Leary concludes.

A request sent out to IPOTY for comment, to discover if there is any connection to Monochrome and what the process of selecting judges entails, went unanswered as of publishing this article. A cursory glance reveals the IPOTY website hasn’t been updated since 2017.

Besides Monochrome, ND and MonoVision Awards are both currently open for entries – promising $7,500 and $5,000 in prize money, respectively. DPReview joins a growing list of publications that won’t be covering this group of competitions going forward.

Editor's note: If you've been a judge, finalist or generally had anything to do with the organization of these contests, we would like to speak with you about your experiences. Let us know in the comments and we'll contact you for further information.