Ahh, the idea of a contest. It sounds fun and light and breezy on paper..and then comes time to actually figure out how to do it, and the proverbial "can of worms" is opened.. (Side note: Did anyone ever sell a can of live worms? Can you imagine??? My wife isn't too happy with the little fish bag of "black worms" I bring home from the LFS, so I could imagine a "can" of them wouldn't score any higher in her mind...)
Oh, back to the contest...
Part of the reason I held off for so long about doing this was that I didn't want it to become simply a "promotional vehicle" for Tannin Aquatics. I fear that it could easily become that if we simply made it a "blackwater aquarium contest", because aquarists tend to associate us primarily with that niche. Hence, the "Natural, botanical-style" thing..But wait, I suppose that could be perceived as promoting us, too.
Perhaps it's a slippery slope. I mean, a "contest" put forth by a brand who sells stuff for the purpose of creating the kinds of tanks we want to have entered into said contest? C'mon.
It IS a very fine line, when a company decides to set up a contest, isn't it?
I think that's why I've been sort of "crowd-sourcing" ideas about judging and such. As anyone who reads "The Tint" knows that we try to celebrate the art of natural, botanical-style aquariums with as little brand promotion as possible. Obviously, early on, it was really hard not to come off promotional, because well, we were the only game in town, so to speak...Occasioanlyl, it's unavoidable in the blog, because, well, it's on my company web page, and I mean, we sell...leaves and seed pods. Of course, there are no "patents" on them, lol. We do feature plenty of work here on our page by people that, for whatever reason, obtain these materials elsewhere or from Nature...and that's perfectly okay!
I want to foster an aquarium movement. The brand is already doing its thing, and if people want to continue to support us- well, I'm honored. We promote it through lots of other means, as you're aware (I mean- I HOPE that you are, lol)
I think now, thanks in a large part to our rapidly growing global community, this type of approach to aquascpaing/aquarium keeping is now achieving a "scale" that is well beyond just Tannin Aquatics (at least, I hope it is). However, I think that the the most important thing we can do in this contest is inspire people to learn more about the wild habitats we seek to replicate-in form and function, and to give the concept a shot in their own aquarium. That's also why I don't intend to have this be judged based on some adherence to a specific "style" or "look."
As we've said many times- Nature doesn't adhere to our expectations of style, nor should we place expectations on her. Rather, I believe the criteria should be largely based upon how closely the aquarium represents a natural habitat in look AND function. Any talented 'scaper can, if he/she tries, recreate the "look" of a natural aquatic system...but to couple it with a functioning aquarium is a different game entirely. Again, it's about what we call "functional aesthetics..." It looks like Nature because, well- it functions like Nature to some extent. That's why these "diorama" scapes will simple not even be considered for entry.
I'd happily select a winner from a half dozen muddy-bottom-turbid water- decomposing-leaf-littered flooded forest representations over any "world class" "high concept" perfectly manicured ultra-stylish "fantasy forest" setup any day of the week. Not even close.
And, another concern a lot of contest entrants have because of the current "environment" out there in "Contest Land": "What happens to the use of my pics?"
Well, they're the property of YOU-the entrants, IMHO. On the other hand, I wouldn't get pissed off if you find your pics being shared by other hobbyists on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or whatever. That's kind of the whole point- to get more popped into this type of aquascaping and push the "high concept" drivel that is currently promoted as the pinnacle of the hobby back to the pretentious, self-lauding hole where it belongs. You do this by allowing people to see that there is more than one way to define "beauty" in aquascaping.
If people don't want their work shared by the hobby at large, they likely shouldn't enter our contest. The whole idea IS to get more exposure for this work. I realize concerns and conflicts could arise if a vendor "appropriates" their work for commercial use- that's a real issue and a different one altogether. I'll tell you now, unless we approach you specifically to use your contest work in a promotion for our products, anything you send won't be used as such. Period.
It's simply not the point of doing this contest. We have plenty of sources and happily compensate for promotional imagery. Different thing entirely.
The last thing we want to happen is to have a contest like this end up being advertisement for Tannin and a celebration of only one narrow "style" of scaping. To this end, I think that we could even see niche Rift Lake tanks, etc., and maybe even certain specialized reef tanks (like seagrass/macroalgae/lagoon, or other obviously "biopic"-inspired systems)...Not just brown, blackwater aquariums- in this contest. However, I believe that the vast majority of entries will likely be natural, "biotope-INSPIRED" tanks which feature botanical materials as part of the "look" and "operating software" of the system.
I think most of the entries will gather their inspiration from Nature, not other tanks...
I hope so.
We'll keep this conversation going...But for now...
Stay excited. Stay thoughtful. Stay creative. Stay enthusiastic...
And Stay Wet.