I’ve been awarded the designation of “Master “ by Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) – again. I say again, because I previously earned that honor as well as an Accolade of Outstanding Photographic Achievement several years ago.

If you follow this blog, you know that WPPI has made a move away from their Accolades program and transitioned to a new  Honors of Excellence program. You also know that I fought hard to have all points earned in all WPPI competitions count equally in the transition to the new program, and kudos to WPPI for listening to their members and compromising on the transition and how points are earned in the new program. Those of us who put hard work and long hours into improving our skills and scoring well in competition got to keep much, but not all, of the status we earned previously.

When WPPI launched their new program and awards site the other day, it included the ability for members to look up lots of very good information about standing and rank in the new Honors of Excellence (HOE) program (after the transition).

Among the information provided, I quickly found that I’ve earned 28.5 HOE points since I entered my first WPPI competition in 2008. That’s enough to be considered a “Master of WPPI” and only 6.5 HOE points away from “Double Master.” I did this by scoring 85 or higher (with a high score of 91) at least 10 times.

As of this writing, I rank 29th in point total among the nearly 1,500 members listed on the awards site (my friend, Paul Ernest, whose work I love, edged me out by only a half-point). That puts me inside the top 2% of photographers recognized in the WPPI  Honors of Excellence program.

As I dug around the new site, the information provided was more telling than I first thought. If I’m reading it right, it seems that WPPI has less than 1500 members total, as members with no HOE points are listed as well. That was a bit shocking to me If it’s accurate. I assumed that with a trade show attendance of more than 15,000 that WPPI had far more total paying members than it seems to have.

Fully 64% of the membership has not earned the minimum of 5 HOE points in order to be considered an Associate of WPPI. Almost 31% of the membership has earned the title of Associate of WPPI. That means that since 2007, almost 95% of the membership has earned 5 or less HOE points in competition, with twice as many earning less than 5 points than those who have earned the Associate title. Only about 5% have exceled at earning points in the honors program, with only 57 members reaching “Master” status, eight reaching “Double Master” status, none reaching “Triple Master” and only two reaching “Grand Master” status.

So, I’m a Master of WPPI – at least until December 10th. That’s when my WPPI membership expires.

According to the notation on the new awards site, “you must maintain your membership in order for your title to be recognized.”  I’m not sure what that means or how they can take away a title I’ve earned. I guess it could mean that if someone asks and tries to verify my title after my membership expires , they won’t verify it.  Of course, I’m not sure that anyone would try to verify my title, especially when I have the screen shots to verify how I earned the designation.

It could also mean that I would lose my standing and have to start the HOE program again if I drop my membership or let it expire and then return to WPPI later. Either way, it’s kind of a moot point, because I don’t intend to pay for a membership just to keep my “Master” title or to keep my point total. In fact, I don’t intend to keep my membership at all.

About a year ago, I dropped my Professional Photographers of America (PPA) membership. While I know a great deal of people who enjoy and benefit from belonging to PPA, it just wasn’t for me. I found myself disagreeing with many of the political and photography philosophies of the association. I just wasn’t a good fit for PPA or the attitudes toward photography that I found prevalent among its membership. The benefits did not outweigh the cost for me, so I let my membership expire.

On December 10, I will do the same with my WPPI membership. It will lapse, and I will let it go. Up until this point, I have derived great benefit from WPPI, and I’ve pushed many of my friends and colleagues to join and participate in it.

When I first started, I felt like WPPI was an association that “got it.” They pushed new photographers to be better photographers without the condescension I’d seen in other groups and associations. They said, “You can do it” to thousands of fresh new faces in the industry, and they weren’t hung up on traditional methods of making photographic images or traditional models of business associated with photography. It’s one of the things I loved about and reasons why I promoted WPPI.

Over the course of the last several years, however, I’ve watched as ownership of WPPI has changed hands a couple of times and made changes. In the last couple of months, I’ve seen many of the attitudes and philosophies that made PPA a bad fit for me start to become more prevalent in the philosophies of WPPI. And, while I don’t think WPPI will ever become a clone of PPA, I do see it becoming more of a “PPA Lite” than it has ever been before.  That’s why when December 10th comes and goes, so will my membership in WPPI – and maybe my title as well.

It was a helluva run though, wasn’t it?