Twenty years ago, calendars of the Isle of Wight were rather predictable and dull.
The front cover would be a view of the church in Godshill with a couple of pretty thatched cottages in front. Over the next twelve months you'd have 11 pictures of Osborne House and perhaps one picture of the Needles. The target audience was old ladies who had been on a coach trip and wanted a way of remembering grandchildren's birthdays. It would usually be purchased along with a box of fudge and a tea towel.
For some reason, the calendars were always thin and long, meaning that the photos were about the size of a small postcard. Sunsets or misty mornings rarely featured in the images.
Thankfully, Isle of Wight landscape photography has improved a lot in recent years. My theory is that digital photography has allowed more people to fiddle around in a creative way to actually capture the most beautiful parts of the Isle of Wight rather than relying on the more famous bits which we've all seen a hundred times. Photographic risks can be taken when you don't have to send off your photos and wait a fortnight for them to be developed.
For many years, my favourite Isle of Wight calendar has been produced by Available Light, which has got a shop in Newport.
Above: one of many cracking photos by Available Light
For a while, Available Light produced a panoramic calendar which I still regret throwing away. It was one of many reasons why I started to appreciate the beauty of the Island rather than just seeing it as somewhere I grew up. The calendars are now a more conventional A5 size but they still do a great job of showing off the four corners of the Isle of Wight.
Each Christmas, my mother buys me the calendar and I spend 10 minutes on Christmas Day making "ooohh" noises. The same noise is then repeated on the first day of the month throughout the year.
This year though, controversy arrived when a family member received a different Isle of Wight calendar. Further still, they claimed that this calendar was even better than the Available Light calendar.
Unkind words were said which I think we all now regret. And in hindsight, my tirade of four letter words on Christmas Day was indeed 'a bit much', as Mrs Guru politely put it whilst basting the turkey.
The calendar causing the consternation was by Ainsley Bennett who specialises in 'night sky and landscape photography'. I'd admired his images on Instagram and Facebook before but hadn't seen his calendars.
We decided to settle things in a more civilised way.
We assembled a distinguished panel comprising a cross section of Isle of Wightophiles. Well, it was three adults and two under sevens but that was the best we could manage during a national lockdown. One was on Skype which didn't help but we battled on.
For anyone wanting to try this out at home, our recommended judging criteria is to compare each month side by side. Everyone votes and the highest scoring picture gets one point before moving on to the next month. In the event of a tie, the front cover is voted on.
Available Light took an early lead and by the end of May it was 4-1 up.
And then things began to turn and we found ourselves at 5-5 by the end of October. Things were becoming tense (Ed: I think you might be overegging this).
Some months were agonisingly close. During May, both calendars had a photo of St Catherine's Lighthouse and we began an argument about the use of light and the rule of thirds. The four year old judge was surprisingly opinionated.
By the end of December, the score was 6-6. Some judges wandered off for a bit of fresh air. Or perhaps they just lost interest, it's hard to say.
Either way, we headed for the tie breaker.
So who won?
This will sound like a complete cop out, but we failed to reach a conclusion. Both calendars featured a similarly lovely sunset shot of The Needles as their cover. Two of us chose Available Light, whilst the other two chose Ainsley Bennett's shot of The Needles. The deciding voter had left the room to watch CBeebies.
It's fair to say that they are both terrific calendars which do a good job of showing off the Island. Perhaps I'll get both for Christmas next year.
Feel free to comment below with your choice, or to recommend other outstanding Isle of Wight calendars. Apologies in advance to other talented photographers who we have thus far ignored.
The final vote came down to this image...
...versus this image.
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