On Sunday morning, Egan gave a talk about how she selected her pieces (111 selections out of over 13,500 entries). What immediately stood out for me was that many of her choices seemed very subjective. She said things like, "As you can see I like photos with fences" or "I like airplanes" or, really, "I think I chose this one because I have a personal connection to A1 steak sauce."
My initial response to this was "Huh?"
I was shocked to hear this curator admit to having picked things simply because she liked them. But, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The Art of Photography Show, like some literary publications I know of, have a new judge each year. If those judges chose their selections based solely on technical merit or some other objective measure* each year's show would risk having a similar feel. Having each judge be subjective made for a new artistic experience each year and, over the long term, probably gives more people a chance to get into the show.
Recently, SmokeLong Quarterly, the journal I work for, transitioned to a rotating editor model as well. Each week, a new person goes through the submissions and picks a story. Whatever they pick gets published. When it was my week, it was a great experience to get to fall in love with a story and decide on it all on my own. It wasn't so much a sense of power I was enjoying, but a sense of freedom. When selections were more democratic, I think often times the safest stories got chosen, those pieces that had a little bit of something for everyone. With only one judge, and a subjective judge at that, an artist who tried something unique has a decent chance of getting rewarded for it.
I used to be weary of people who judged art purely subjectively, but nowadays I think it definitely has its place.
*Okay, perhaps there is never any truly objective measure.