When the Canon EMEA Ambassador Programme was launched in 2008, it was a pioneering initiative that brought together some of the world’s best photographers and videographers from across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) to collaborate with Canon and share its passion for visual storytelling.
In 2020, a raft of new Ambassadors joins the ranks of specially selected image makers who spearhead change and share Canon's passion for visual storytelling. Bold and inspirational, the Canon EMEA Ambassador Programme represents and supports current and future generations of photographers and filmmakers.
"The Ambassadors are an amazing group of people who can talk about the industry, our products and their genre of photography from a unique perspective," says Susie Donaldson, ITCG European Marketing Director for Canon Europe. "That might be through workshops or education, or through the amazing images and videos they create which inspire our customers to do more and challenge themselves."
The close connections forged between Canon and the photographic community are built on mutual respect and an appreciation of the challenges facing today's professionals. Photography editor, curator and panellist for the Canon EMEA Ambassador Programme, Monica Allende, believes stills photographers are increasingly expected to diversify their output and create a broad range of content. "We have documentarians taking photographs, video and creating soundscapes. They're investigating every aspect of a scene and looking at their subject from multiple perspectives, and these different narratives are then presented as multi-sensorial, documentary experiences."
But no matter what content they’re producing, being able to tell a story that resonates is of critical importance. “I’m passionate about stories,” says Monica. “In the way that I have always worked and how I work now when I’m curating, I look for stories. For me, the medium is all part of the language you use to enhance your story. But I expect the stories to be profound and well thought out.”
It is this mixture of challenge and opportunity, caused by the rapid evolution of technology and society, that the Canon Europe Ambassador Programme seeks to address.
The current list of Canon EMEA Ambassadors can be found on the Ambassador Programme Hub, with links to profiles of the photographers and filmmakers showcasing their work.
Since the programme was started, it has always comprised the world’s leading photographers and filmmakers, as well as respected industry experts, and that isn’t changing. They share their passion and technical know-how with fellow professionals, as well as the ranks of enthusiastic amateurs who want to develop their skills. You’ll find these luminaries at various Canon workshops, seminars and industry events throughout the year, across EMEA. The Ambassadors also advise Canon on product development, pre-testing new cameras and lenses so that the equipment meets the needs of all Canon’s customers.
Canon receives a lot of enquiries from people asking how to become an Ambassador, with many wanting to know more about the selection process. Photographers and filmmakers around the EMEA region are proposed by their local Canon office (usually the Canon office in the country they live in), and then reviewed by an independent admission panel.
"The regional offices nominate a shortlist to the central Canon EMEA team," Susie explains. "The offices may already have been through rounds of discussions about who we might want to bring in. We work closely with the regional offices so they can provide us with as much information as they can in terms of our selection criteria.
The next stage relies on the selection panel, which consists of independent experts representing a variety of styles and genres, analysing each shortlisted portfolio using a fixed set of criteria. A frank conversation follows, and panel members then put forward a list of candidates they believe are eligible. "It's a very long and thorough process," says Susie. "We respect the opinions of the panel because they're able to cast their eyes over things we wouldn't see. They know how active the nominee is in the industry, how their work is perceived and also if they've got upcoming exhibitions and awards."
In terms of who is chosen, "There's no one single factor we're looking for – there's a blended approach looking at the photographer's work, the awards they've received, how active they are, their stories and presentation skills and more," says Susie.
"We also look at what they can bring in practical terms, such as taking part in trade shows, events and workshops. They also create content which helps us to launch our most important products. This is done either through interviews because they've had a chance to get their hands on the products, or because they've got a story that can highlight the capabilities of a product. We saw great examples of that with the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6 launches, where Ambassadors were able to talk about their experiences in practical terms – how they tested the camera, how it felt, how it gave them a different angle on their story.
"My advice to those wanting to be part of the Ambassador Programme is don't sit and wait," she continues. "Make sure we know who you are, that we see your work, that you've built a profile for yourself and thought about what your Ambassador submission would be."
But becoming a Canon Ambassador isn't just about reaching out; you have to have hit a certain standard. We asked some of the Programme's adjudicators what they look for in potential Ambassadors.
Lars Lindemann, photographer, curator and senior photo editor at GEOkompakt, joined the panel in 2020. He says proficient communication skills are vital, but fundamentally the quality of the work is paramount. "There has to be an outstanding photographic portfolio," he says. "Storytelling is central, so how you sequence and edit your portfolio is extremely important. But the technical side is also critical. You have to present technically superb images that encompass new approaches and stylistic ideas. Try to surprise your audiences and not repeat stereotypes."
Thomas Borberg is an experienced photo editor and jury member of numerous international photo competitions including the 2016 and 2018 World Press Photo contest. For him, it's about a gut reaction. "There's no right or wrong way to make a good photograph, but if it hits my stomach, it's a strong story."
Thomas says breaking new ground is just as important as maintaining the cornerstones of good photography. "Being in the right place, at the right time to tell the story in the best possible way; that's amazing and that's one kind of Ambassador. Then you have someone who is developing their own storytelling language or taking photography somewhere else. Both are equally important. We need someone to take care of the traditions, and we need someone to push it forward – to take us somewhere new."
Both panellists agree that in a challenging world, the Ambassador Programme has never been more important. "The photographers who are selected to become Ambassadors are beacons for young photographers and those who have been in the business for years. It is inspiring," says Thomas. "But this is not a traditional photographic competition. The Ambassadors are picked because of the quality of their whole body of work and if they are good ambassadors for photography."
Lars agrees: "It's becoming harder for photographers to finance their projects, to develop their visual language and to continue to work on long-term projects. We need storytellers, so the additional support from Canon is extremely valuable for our industry."