Mar. 2, 2020

When Kay-Chin Tay was young, he wanted to be a fighter pilot. However, his focus changed when he bought a camera to photograph aircraft when he went to airshows. What started as a hobby eventually turned into his life’s work.

Picture of Kay-Tay Chin and Indira Williams Babic

Kay-Tay Chin, left, and Indira Williams Babic listen to judging instructions from Lynden Steele.

Tay, a University of Missouri alumnus and Singaporean documentary photographer, went on to study at the Missouri School of Journalism. Tay chose to attend MU because it hosts Pictures of the Year International, an annual international documentary news photography and film competition. As a student, Tay learned journalistic skills, chased tornados with his friends and was a volunteer for Pictures of the Year International. He recently returned to Columbia as one of the judges for this year’s competition.

“For me, the years I spent in Missouri were some of the best, and I’ve always looked for opportunities to give something back to the school,” Tay said. “I would like to think that my trip back to Missouri this time is because I have done something right in the past 30 years.”

After his military service and education, Tay worked for more than a decade in newspapers in Singapore and the U.S. He co-founded Shooting Home, one of Southeast Asia’s first photography workshops, as well as PLATFORM, a photo collective to promote photojournalism and documentary work in Singapore. The competition not only brought Tay to MU and his career but also back to Missouri alongside other judges and photojournalists.

Kay-Chin Tay and Yanran Huang

Kay-Chin Tay, right, speaks with Yanran Huang before the start of one of the judging sessions.

Pictures of the Year International celebrates the works of photojournalists and photographers from around the world, bringing them to MU for a monthlong competition.

“I feel that now, more than before, it takes a special breed to still want to be a full-time photojournalist,” Tay said. “These heroes don’t do it for money or fame but for their desire to tell stories.”

The competition

Click, click, click. As the judges move through the entries, casting their votes, a machine records the votes with a click, and then they are on to the next photo.

Now in its 77th year, Pictures of the Year International is the oldest photojournalism competition in the world. Founded in 1944, the competition brings top editors and photographers to MU each February to select the year’s best work. Entries come from photojournalists working in nearly 100 countries with more than 30,000 photos submitted annually.

This is a picture of the judging set-up at pictures of the year international

The judges at Pictures of the Year International have to view many photos during their selection process.

From greeting guests and mingling with the judges to projecting the slides and manning the scoring machines, Tay said it was a privilege as a student volunteer to be a part of the competition’s family, and it was an honor to be back this year as a judge.

“It feels like I never left Mizzou,” Tay said.

Since being back, Tay said he feels how great the responsibility is of being a judge.

Reportage judges

The third week of judging at Pictures of the Year International included the categories of the Environmental Vision Award and Photographer of the Year, International. From left, the judges were Kay-Chin Tay, Indira Williams Babic, Michael Kamber, Prashant Panjiar and Amy Toensing.

“It requires a lot of thinking,” he said. “I thought I would be sitting here and making decisions, but things can get really emotional with things you feel really strong about.”

Judging is split into four divisions: news, sports, reportage and multimedia with various categories and awards within each division. Tay helped judge the reportage division, which consists of categories including Photographer of the Year International, News Picture Story and the Environmental Vision Award.

Hundreds of people, including a couple draped in Mexican and American flags, marched through central El Paso on August 2, 2019 in a protest against gun violence, in the wake of the Walmart terrorist attack. The Latino communities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez were horrified to learn that the killer, who gave himself up for arrest, was specifically targeting Latinos and drove 600 miles to the Walmart where he gunned down scores of shoppers, killing 22.

Hundreds of people, including a couple draped in Mexican and American flags, marched through central El Paso on August 2, 2019 in a protest against gun violence, in the wake of the Walmart terrorist attack. The Latino communities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez were horrified to learn that the killer, who gave himself up for arrest, was specifically targeting Latinos and drove 600 miles to the Walmart where he gunned down scores of shoppers, killing 22. Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez.

Global connections

During his time judging this year’s competition, Tay said the diversity and range of entries — in where they are from and who is submitting photographs — has only increased.

“It could be someone sitting in some remote corner of the world,” Tay said.

The Cloud Factory

Lisa Jacqart holds her grandson Trey in the front yard of her home near Canada's largest refinery. Her neighbourhood was evacuated in 2018 after a butane leak from the refinery and many of the houses were purchased by the Irving family and bulldozed. There was no offer made on Lisa's house, and after a large explosion a year after the leak, she now lives in fear of a disaster but cannot afford to move. Photo by Chris Donovan.

The competition brings together a diverse group of professionals to judge the photos every year, between professors, editors, photojournalists and freelance journalists of the likes of the Associated Press, National Public Radio and more.

Winner highlights

The winning photographs will be displayed at Orr Street Studios in Columbia from March 30 to April 24. People will have a chance to meet some of the winning photographers on April 24.