Critics and Critiques

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Ed Sukach, Feb 10, 2003.

  1. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    This is a subject that I have been kicking around in my mind for many moons now.

    I'm going to put my thoughts up as "Fair Game" for discusson.

    I believe that the "vision" of each and every photographer is SACRED, and as such is not open to modification in any form. The reason - quoting:

    "A photographer's main instrument is his eyes. Strange as it seems, many photographers choose to see through the eyes of another photographer, past or present, instead of their own. Those photographers are blind."

    Manuel Alvarez Bravo
    Mexico City, 1986


    What Bravo labels as "seeing through the eyes" I call "vision." That vision is the underlying stimulus that sets the photographic process in motion - we CHOOSE to make the photograph. We "see" the image we wish to capture (whether or not we have staged it), select the tools, compose it, trip the shutter, etc.

    The decision to act is, to me, sacred, and If I try to exert influence on the photographer through critique, I am trying to make him "see through MY eyes", and therefore I am *blinding* him.

    When I post a critique, I can only report on *MY* reaction to the work. I can only report a very subjective introspection into the way the photograph has affected my emotions. I won't even come close to assuming that my "vision" is the "right" one - certainly there is no coherent conclusion I can make to support that idea. I'm no "better" than anyone else.

    The reactions of a body of critics are useful to some *minute* level - However, I really do not think that it should be anything like a primary moving force in my, or anyone else's future work.

    APUG has been wonderful in the way photographs have been critiqued - I can't see any of the pettyness, ego bashing, or pompous posturing infecting some of the other sites in the web world.

    Submitting a photograph for critique takes a certain amount of courage - it is a lot like dropping your pants in fron of an audience. Instead of darts and barbs directed to the person of the photgrapher, all the comments I've read here are concentrated on the image. In considering the emotional responses here, I've been able to shift my viewppoint of some of my own work, and add to some of the peception "tools" I use.

    Significantly, we here on APUG have the courage to write in our critiques, "Damn - I LIKE this - and I wouldn't change a thing." where it is appropriate.
     
  2. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  3. SteveGangi

    SteveGangi Member

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    A thoughtful critique can be useful. Someone might say "I like this but how about a different crop" or they might suggest more/less contrast. That's OK. It can be constructive. If they just say it stinks or you stink, then it isn't worth reading. If they say they like it, that is good because everyone likes and needs encouragement. Even better is if they say why they like it. I haven't critiqued anyone here. Maybe it is because of who they are. Who knows? Critiquing a Michael Smith, Jim Galli or Ed Buffaloe for instance would be uncomfortable for me. But there is at least a balance of sorts. Too many places I've seen only have negative critiques and no positive ones. It's all opinion.
     
  4. Robert

    Robert Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Ed Sukach @ Feb 10 2003, 02:49 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>
    APUG has been wonderful in the way photographs have been critiqued - I can't see any of the pettyness, ego bashing, or pompous posturing infecting some of the other sites in the web world.


    Significantly, we here on APUG have the courage to write in our critiques, &quot;Damn - I LIKE this - and I wouldn't change a thing.&quot; where it is appropriate. </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    I agree with the first part 100% OTOH personally I don't need to be stroked I need all the little faults that I might ignore pointed out. It's critical for a reason. Don't call me an idiot but that doesn't mean you can't honestly point out my failings. If I ever manage something worth being looked at then don't be shy.

    Maybe I'm old school but everything can be improved and that's the reason behind asking for some one to offer an opinion.
     
  5. Mark in SD

    Mark in SD Member

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    First, if somebody ever posts a request for a critique looking for a "Gee, you're a photographic god," he needs his head examined. You should always have a purpose when posting something for a critique other than looking for acclaim. When I ask for a critique, I'm usually specific about what I'm looking for so the people critiquing the work can help out. Some of my common themes are:

    1. I like/dislike this. What do you think? In this case, I will critique my own work, state why I like/dislike it, and ask for other opinions and reasons. It helps me to see the work in a different light.

    2. This didn't quite come out like I wanted. I was trying for XXX but got YYY. What could I have done differently?

    3. I took picture X thinking that it would be nice but also took Y because just to see what it would look like. X didn't work but Y did. Which do you prefer? Why? How could the other have been better?

    Obviously, these are pretty generic themes but they provide guidance to the person critiquing my photograph. They know what I was trying for, what I think, and can provide a thoughtful analysis of what they think. If they choose to offer something different or in addition to what I'm askinf for, great, that's a bonus.

    And, most importantly, DON'T TAKE CRITIQUES PERSONALLY. If somebody gets personal, they clearly shouldn't be critiquing. Contsructive criticism is what we look for.
     
  6. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I am always uncomfortable critiquing others work. Sure sometimes it can be helpfull to give some input on cropping or exposure or lighting. Maybe give some advice on composition. But I wonder what if Robert Frank or Lee Friedlander or jack Dykinga (sp) other famous potogs posted as unkowns. I can see it now, a post by one E. Smith of "Tomoko and Her Mother" ( the famous photo of the mercury poisoned daughter being bathed).

    Many critiques would say:

    Need to show more detail in the shadows!

    - You seem to have used only a single overhead light, perhaps a couple of additional 500W strobes would even the illumination.
    - To much contrast!
    - To Much grain!
    - Try to increase exposure and decrease development next time.

    On most critique sites it seems people are to concerned about technical proficiency and don't even look at what the images have to say.
     
  7. lee

    lee Member

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    Yeah, I am with you guys. I was in an internet print club before joining APUG.ORG. WE would send a print to everyone on the list about every quarter and then we would talk about the prints. It was a critique. The problem for me was two fold. First not everyone would critique and this is one of the reasons I got out. Second the critique always seemed to be like I would have printed it darker in this corner and I would not have used this film combo or I would have placed my camera more to the (pick one) right or left. Well, that would be YOUR photo and not mine. so, after a couple of years, I had to get loose from that. It is kinda the same thing with my local camera club and the blankity- blank competitions. Enough ramblin' I am off to drink my wine and get ready for dinner.

    lee\c
     
  8. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    I never liked the idea of critiques, unless the photograph presented is that of a very new person and glaring technical faults can be pointed out to improve the shot next time I find it very hard to critique photographs by people who are experienced. As lee pointed out, there are many what if and why didn't you comments. Frankly I loose patience with this, once I am done in the darkroom the picture is exactly as I want it. If someone comments on the content, saying this makes me feel like.....fine I can live with that, but when people start telling me to print darker here, or lighter there or why are the leaves so dark?....well I just tune them out. This is the problem I saw in many clubs, people critiquing me were many times much less capable than I, so I tried to be polite but in the most part their comments were in one ear and out the other. OTOH I had the opportunity to get some commnents by a couple of well known photographers by incredible coincidence, and that was really cool. Most of the things they said were right on target and one even commented on my matting. I had done the mounting and matting and I had not burnished the edges of the matt, he simply grabbed a burnishing tool and went at it in all my prints...lol...He then said, never miss any details in your presentation, even the smallest one makes an impression....now, that to me was a lesson! I like this kind of comments, where someone obviously much more experienced than I shows me some little thing that makes a world of difference.

    Recently there was a thread along the same lines in that other site, and I think Jay said it best, consider the source.
     
  9. SteveGangi

    SteveGangi Member

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    Jorge hit the nail on the head with the comment about people who know enough to give a criticism of value, maybe that is why I have shied away. I mean really, if a Carl Weese or Kerry Thalman (or a lot of others) posts a photo here, who am I to criticize? These are people I use as a point of reference, for what a print should look like, and they could rightly say to me "who the heck are you?". Their level of work is what I learn from.
     
  10. lee

    lee Member

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    OK back from dinner and rearing to go. Most people do not know how to critique content. Or they are too afraid to try it. I will admit that I have a hard time saying what I mean. Maybe that is evident after my posting all the time.\


    lee\c
     
  11. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

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    I was told once by a respected photographer to never ask a photographer what he thinks of your work... They can only tell you how THEY would have done it different. They are telling you about their photograph NOT yours.

    As has been said earlier, your vision is the sacred vision. You must grow and learn to see better -- with each roll of film:smile:.

    I took some pictures into a gallery not really expecting much more than some insight from a gallery's point of view. All I got was "you're not edgy enough". This from an about 26 yr old Art School Grad. Well I did learn I'm not edgy.

    I have put up one photo in the APUG critique gallery and every response was to the point and very helpful. I haven't submitted the new version because on my monitor at least, you can't really see whats different. But the point is I provided an intent to the photo that wasn't happening.

    Perhaps it would be a better critique if the intent were made of what that vision was all about. Why did I even bother to point my camera at that subject. What was I thinking, what was I seeing. It would probably make us all better at that vision thing if we tried to articulate it in words.
     
  12. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    When I started this, I expected a lot of energy-filled replies. To tell the truth, APUG is the first, and so far, only forum where I would expect any sort of coherent discussion ... and I have not been disappointed.

    I struggled with my first post. Much of it was condensed, many thoughts were omitted. - So I'll continue -"Thoughts from the back of an envelope style":

    Many critics (no, not ALL) make the assumption that the "submitter" does not know that "Every work is imperfect - and can be improved."

    Possibly there are some of "those" out there - so far I haven't found any of them. Every photographer I know - at every stage of developement - has been infused with a burning desire to improve... at least until the critics hell-bent on defending or "improving the art" get to them.

    Do any of you identify with this?:

    I am struck with an inspiration ... and photograph... with the myriad decisions of film selection, compositon, exposure. To the darkroom - devlop, select the image, print... and evalute the results. The first print ... well, not bad, but ... I could really use more contrast, and a little less printing exposure. Another print, another evaluation. Somewhat better... but, if I dodge here, and burn the upper right corner for ten seconds more.... and so it goes.
    After fifteen or twenty prints (it has happened) I'll force myself to stop. Spreading out the prints on a table, I'll agonize for a while, do a great deal of introspection and soul-searching ... and finally decide on which print "works" best. From there, I'll make an 11" x 14" or 16" x 20" "exhibition print.

    The chosen configuration was number 4. Number 3, dodged and burned for ten seconds in the upper right corner, simply did not "work" for me, using *MY* vision, *MY* biases, whatever those internal mechanisms I have deep inside my being (no, I DON'T understand them).

    Now, to the gallery.

    Invariably, some critic, most often unsolicited, with the zeal of a crusader, will say something like, "You know, you have to (note the imperative) dodge here, and burn the upper right corner for ten seconds to make this "worth anything".

    I've found that, usually, it does no good to try to argue this out. To describe "my vision", and try to rationalize the process simply takes too much energy ... and to tell the truth, although I've tried, I've never succeeded.

    Possibly I should include, under my print, my darkroom wastebasket, with the nineteen rejected prints as some sort of defense against the label "slacker"?

    At least to SOME extent am I not justified in thinking (I always try to be poilite) "Oh yeah? This is MY work. If you think you can do better, go out a take your own damn photograph -"

    Your comments?
     
  13. lee

    lee Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Ed Sukach @ Feb 12 2003, 06:03 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>
    Now, to the gallery.

    Invariably, some critic, most often unsolicited, with the zeal of a crusader, will say something like, &quot;You know, you have to (note the imperative) dodge here, and burn the upper right corner for ten seconds to make this &quot;worth anything&quot;.

    </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    Hi Ed,
    You need to find a different set of galleries to hang out in. Just kidding! I agree with what you have said. The thing you must do is made the print the best you can do and SO PERFECT that there can be no critique. That may not be possible, I don't know. I just thought of that. I have always thought that really the only things I can control is how I live my life (and that has a set of hobbles on it too) and what sees the light of day from my darkroom. I explained that to a couple of guys in LA one time and it was like a light going on. They were showing everything in an informal critique that asked that I do. They thought they weren't any good because there were some clunkers in the portfolios. I explained that EVERYONE has those but some of us CHOOSE not to include those in the portfolio. I was pretty stunned when they reacted like that.

    lee\c
     
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  15. SteveGangi

    SteveGangi Member

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    We've all done that, making print after print, trying to get it just right. We have all made clunkers. Back when I had a lot more patience, it was not unusual to spend an entire day to make just one print. It was educational, and some nice prints came out of it. Maybe not perfect, but they were pretty darn good for a beginner. Since this was a darkroom in the hobby shop on an Army base, it was easy to get advice from other people, to see examples of what they were telling me, and to actually see how they did it. The whole situation was very casual and laid back, with none of that "do it my way" attitude. None of it even felt like a critique. It was just like going to school, but without paying tuition. Compare that to some of the "critics" who just want to take potshots, and never show their own work. It's a bit different. You have to wonder too, if many criticisms are just based on whtever is "in fashion at the moment". Right now it is fashionable to slam any and all "rocks and trees" photos as being trite or "it's been done already". At one time it was fashionable to slam the F64 type photos for being too sharp. Before that, the pictorialists got slammed. Right now, the fashion seems to be deliberately "edgy" (whatever that means) or grossly oversharpened photos. Personally, I have better things to worry about than unsolicited "attacks", like keeping the bills paid and food on my table.
     
  16. frank

    frank Subscriber

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    I've belonged to a few photo clubs and done the monthly competion thing with judges scores and comments. It was like reading photography magazines (the popularist kind, not the darkroom/fine print kind). They are both helpful up to a point in a photographer's development/evolution, but then at some point you already know everything the photo mags are saying, and you find yourself disagreeing with judges' remarks. At this point you're more or less on your own on your own spiritual/sacred photographic journey. It's like when being on an organized bus tour of a foreign country is no longer what you're looking for. You are looking for your own road, not anyone elses.
    Great thread!
    Frank
     
  17. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  18. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

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    Well, I've come to the conclusion critics do not define art, artists define art. Can someone show you a shortcut (dodge here/burn their)? No. There is no short cut. Only you know where to dodge and burn. Could a critic make you wealthy, probably.

    I think there are two reasons to make photographs; one is because you gotta and the other is to make money.

    Any of us can work in a Mall and take baby pictures for a living but I doubt many of us would make a comparable living trying to make art. But those who do sure must be proud, and rightfully so.

    It's soul searching today and looking at yesterdays efforts and realizing "I got better today because yesterday I sure sucked." No critic is going to warm your soul like looking back and realizing you've grown in your vision; perhaps the old vision was met when you weren't looking and another, more grand vision is in front of you. Just gotta keep pushing that boulder up the mountain.

    Well, I'm rambling now, talk soon...

    Bruce (who is not edgy enough)
     
  19. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Bruce,
    You have expressed my sentiments as well. If one is going to march to anothers drum beat then where does self expression enter? If economics or the accolades or criticism of others are one's sole motivation, in my view, those are ego driven attempts at self gratification. Those are fine if one realizes that they are selling themselves in that way, but I promise that this will leave one feeling empty and unfulfilled.
     
  20. SteveGangi

    SteveGangi Member

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    You have to do what YOU want, not what some professor says. You already have a vote of 2 to 1 in favor, if that really matters to you (it shouldn't). One said you were great, the other wants you to teach him. So what is "too pedestrian"? That sounds awful vague to me. Is it like "not edgy enough"? Blah. If that was the "critique" I would just blow it off, shine it on. It is an absolutely useless remark. What about the log? Do you leave it in or kill the tree? Leave it in. Assuming you are an amateur like me, the best advice I can give is this.... Look at other people's work, take from it the lessons and things you like or aspire to, and discard the rest. Don't be too shy once in a while to tell yourself "Damn I'm good". [​IMG]
     
  21. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Bruce (Camclicker) @ Feb 12 2003, 02:36 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> Well, I've come to the conclusion critics do not define art, artists define art. Can someone show you a shortcut (dodge here/burn their)? No. There is no short cut. Only you know where to dodge and burn. Could a critic make you wealthy, probably.

    </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    Absolutely right.....those who can do, those who can't critique.
     
  22. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

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    "Absolutely right.....those who can do, those who can't critique. "

    Remember the old saying:

    Those that can't do it, teach it and those who can't teach it sell it.
     
  23. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    Well,

    Jorge's famous last words not withstanding,

    I critique for a living. In Real Life I coach the nation's biggest talk show hosts. And while it's not photo or art critique, there is something very important that applies here.

    When you are photographing, you are expressing yourself from a very internal and deeply personal place. Or at least you'd better be. It's the place where "the voice inside your head" lives. Where "the little kid in you" still lives, the place where you hope from.

    So to critique work or expression that comes from that place is a very delicate thing. You have to make it all about making a person's strengths and brilliance shine even more, get even more light, while managing the things they're not so good at. I kind of take the approach that everyone has talent, but that everyone also gets in their own way much of the time, and my job is to highlight and focus on the talent while teaching them how to manage the rest.

    Thus, a critique isn't really about what's good and bad. It's about what's strong and could be stronger and what's not strong and should be pushed to the back a little more. Saying things like "when you expressed x over there, it was HUGE. Blows me away (and it genuinely must). So I know what it feels like to be blown away by your expression. So over here at y I don't feel the same. Howcome?"

    At the same time, you have to comment but NOT suggest unless invited to do so specifically with each comment. Otherwise, you will cause someone to start remaking their work in your image. The critiqued has to say "you're right, I see how y doesn't stand out as much as I thought. What would make it stand out more?" and THEN you offer suggestions.

    In my experience, most other methods of critique are either too harsh, too gratuitous, or too likely to make someone strive to please you rather than strive to be better with or without you.

    FWIW.

    dgh
     
  24. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (David Hall @ Feb 13 2003, 07:14 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>
    Thus, a critique isn't really about what's good and bad.

    At the same time, you have to comment but NOT suggest unless invited to do so specifically with each comment. Otherwise, you will cause someone to start remaking their work in your image. The critiqued has to say &quot;you're right, I see how y doesn't stand out as much as I thought. What would make it stand out more?&quot; and THEN you offer suggestions.

    In my experience, most other methods of critique are either too harsh, too gratuitous, or too likely to make someone strive to please you rather than strive to be better with or without you.

    FWIW.

    dgh </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    It is worth a LOT!!

    Excellent post, dgh.

    I couldn't agree more.
     
  25. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Aggie @ Feb 12 2003, 10:14 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>I just had a critque of sorts yesterday.&nbsp; There are three professors at the college I do my work at.
    ...&nbsp; Of the latest work I have been doing, one said," You are doing the best work I have ever seen.&nbsp; Keep it up."&nbsp; The next had this to say, " I wish I knew pyro, would you teach me."&nbsp; The third and the one I usually listen to,...</td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    Aggie,

    I view one aspect of art as being a sort of non-standardized Rorschach Ink Blot test.

    As each of us will perceive different images in ink blots, we wil perceive - interpret - each piece of art differently. I don't know of any "right" answers - and I seriously doubt that there COULD be any critique that is totally - or even reasonably - objective.
    This is why I have said that I see critiques as primarily a definintion of the perception, and derivatively, the "being" of the CRITIC - far more than they are indicative of the merit of the work.

    I've developed a system - or, more properly, in listening to a number of critics, a system has developed within me - to handle the wide variety of "interesting comments". I can't internalize all of them - many of them are conflicting - and I DO NOT want my work to be anything resembling the product of random motion.

    You might consider this:

    First - I will LISTEN to each and every critique. I have worked on disciplining myself to listen - no matter how arrogant, elitist, domineering, posturizing, socially inept, ... even vicious .... the critic. I will asume that all are clean, fair and genuinely trying to help. Yeah, I know - Polyanna and all - but it serves the purpose.
    As an aside, not much discipline is required here on APUG.

    Second - I will consider - evaluate the citicism for three or four seconds. That should be enough time to determine whether of not there is anything of value. The "good insights" as rare as they are, are not difficult to recognize - they seem to strike as a bolt out of the blue. Man... what a KICK it is to discover one of these!

    Third - If there is something of value, I wil internalize it - let it drop into my preconscious, write it down if need be (although I don't, usually - the "good information is hard to forget).
    The other stuff - I let it go as though it was never said. No use cluttering up the memory banks with useless junk.

    The end product of our individual visions is STYLE. The more well-defined our vision, the clearer our style will be - and thet is far more important to me than trying to satisfy the whims and sensiblites of others.

    I just remembered a line from the song, "Garden Party' by Ricky Nelson:
    "You can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself."

    .
     
  26. steve

    steve Member

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    Critiques can help anyone if their goal is better communication. However, the level of critique must match the level of artistic / photographic sophistication of the photographer.

    The critiques for a 1st year student are going to be totally different than those for an advanced photographer. Likewise, the people giving the critique must be of a level to understand the photograph and communicate to the level of the photographer.

    As a photograph is about communication it is good to have a photographer's statement about what they were trying to do with the photo. At that point, you can evaluate your personal feelings as to the success of the artistic statement and whether they were successful.

    For example, if someone is trying to make a high-key subject rendering for a certain effect, then it makes no sense to say, "I think it should be printed darker" since that defeats the artist's vision and intent. You must evaluate the artist's intent with how well the intent is communicated.

    I personally try to stay away from "drive thru" comments such as, "crop xxx way," "I'd have done it this way," etc. I would rather have a dialog with the photographer and through a discussion of the photo with appropriate questions, let the photographer come to his/her own conclusion as to the success of the photo.

    I am also of the opinion that you should be able to defend your work if you really believe in it. This, for many people, is taken as being "ego" rather than a clear vision of what you wanted in a photo and whether YOU think you have been successful and why.

    I really like discussions like that. I also agree with several other people here that if you posted photos by well known photographers on most photo critique sites, they would be roundly bashed - especially those by photographers who's work is difficult or subtle.

    For example, William Eggleston's work is about ordinary, common things that escape most people as being worthy of being photographed. Therefore, the appreciation of that work is difficult because it at first appears so mundane. Eggelston would be told by most photo critique sites to come back when he learned how to take "good photos." This is a lack of sophistication and appreciation on the viewer's part because they are looking for photos that fall into certain categories that they have learned are acceptable, instead of evaluating the photos for what they are - a personal vision.

    That is the crux of the critique bisquit - learning to really LOOK at the photo. To NOT compare it to a certain photographic category; and to not have a predetermined or defined artistic value system.

    You must attempt to put aside your personal value system and evaluate a photo only on its merits alone. For a beginning or less experienced photographer this may mean explaining why you have a reaction to something with real reasons.

    For an advanced photographer this means stopping trying to "help" through suggested "improvements," but asking whether THEY feel something adds or detracts from a photo and why. It should be about establishing a dialog about the image.