Evaluating your own photographs

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by David, May 25, 2005.

  1. David

    David Member

    Messages:
    309
    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2002
    Location:
    Melbourne, V
    Shooter:
    ULarge Format
    It seems a given that we are subjectively involved with our own images. From emotions, to experience at the time of photographing, to technical considerations ranging from exposure to printing. I find it really difficult, therefore, to evaluate my own images because I'm too close to them. The best I seem to be able to do is to say if I like a particular image or not. While other viewers will create their own relationship to the image that has nothing to do with my experiences of the print, I'd like to be better able to evaluate my images. Do any of you have a similiar 'problem' and if so, how do you deal with it?
     
  2. bjorke

    bjorke Member

    Messages:
    2,032
    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2003
    Location:
    SF & Surroun
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Get a plastic trash barrel. Mark it "June." Put all your film from June into it as it's shot. Do the same for the subsequent months. When you come back to June, process the film to clear it out for the next batch. THEN print.

    Or if that seems extreme, just go back over your old contacts every few months -- maybe a year's worth every six months, and ALL of them every year or two. Then you will not only be better able to distance yourself from the work, but also to answer the directive in the Thurber quote in your signature text :smile:
     
  3. colivet

    colivet Member

    Messages:
    236
    Joined:
    May 28, 2004
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    David, you bring a juicy and difficult question. It seems to take me some time to know for sure if my print goes to the stack of keepers or to the trash. Many times, maybe most times, I like my photographs because I made them or because I felt something special the moment of taking the shot.
    So I tell myself "Yes, I like them" and immediately ask myself but "Why would anyone else enjoy looking at my photographs" So I start looking at my photographs from the eyes of a stranger. The more I look that way, the more I feel the worth of my photographs without the intoxicating input of my ego. If the print holds my interest and my viewing pleasure time after time, I can certainly say the print is good. Good enough I guess!?

    To objectively judge one's own pictures is a vital part of the process and the better we do it the more we can move forward.

    Hope to hear more opinions from the more experienced photographers.
     
  4. Dimitri

    Dimitri Member

    Messages:
    81
    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2004
    Location:
    Athens, Gree
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    bjorke's system works for me too. I revisit my photographs every 2 or 3 months. If one sticks to memory or I spend more time than usual looking at it then it goes to a separate bin/folder/drawer/whatever. If it still looks good after another visit, or two then I work on it.

    However, even then I do find that some photographs do have a higher emotional attachment than others and no matter how long you wait they always have the same effect. If only I could pinpoint them I would have a better portfolio to show :sad:
     
  5. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    4,196
    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2005
    Location:
    North Coast,
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    Hi David,

    Join Date: Sept 2002 & only 78 posts? Have they all been this complex?!?

    I think what you're asking is probably one of the last hurdles in becoming a mature artist. Which work do you let out into the world? Which work stays in the files as a record of your artistic evolution? When has a print really become a Fine Print? (That last one is my current personal battle).

    I don't think we can let other viewers of our work enter into the equation at any point along the path. They will be looking at the images through their accumulated life experiences, expectations and entrenched biases...second guessing what people like leads only to the lowest common denominator...sitcom art.

    You said; all you can say is if you like a particular image or not. I think that's a good place to start. (Since you work in ULF you probably don't have too many images to wade through). Make two piles - keeper images and weak images. From the keeper pile, make three piles - best, good, maybe. By concentrating on what you *know* is your best will give you a little breathing space, and you can look at them and try to answer for yourself what makes them your best. Then, from time to time, you can go back through your work and re-evaluate some of your earlier choices. Trying to find a pattern by looking at every image you've ever taken is an impossible task.

    Funny thing is, that once you think you're sure of what you're doing, you would have been learning and gaining experience to get to that point which leads you to ask new questions and explore new paths. In other words, be prepared to be asking these same questions - in one form or another - for the rest of your career!! To stop asking them means stagnation...artistic atrophy.

    Oh ya, don't forget to have fun!!!!

    Murray
     
  6. 127

    127 Member

    Messages:
    581
    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2004
    Location:
    uk
    Shooter:
    127 Format

    Spot on Murray...

    If you're judging your own work, then give it 7 out of 10... reguardless of the work, or your standard. ;-)

    Maybe you'll have a few 6's or maybe an 8, but everyone should always end up 7/10.

    To mark more hashly fails to recognise your accomplishments. To mark more generously fails to recognise your own weaknesses.

    As you progress, your critical skills should also progress. The standard you expect of yourself also increases - 7/10...

    When I was a child my school essays were marked - 7/10. At University my essays were FAR better - 7/10. Now if I'm lucky I get to go to a conference, and stand up in a room with the very best in my subject, and I can hear them thinking: 6.5/10...

    Ian
     
  7. gareth harper

    gareth harper Inactive

    Messages:
    386
    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2003
    Location:
    Ayrshire Sco
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Excellant question.

    I notice on APUG, like many other forums, people have their little quotes placed at the foot of everything they post. Everywhere we look we are greeted by these quotes, most of them from the great photographers of our time.

    I always remember what one professional photographer told me many years ago. Roughtly what he said was "Often the difference between a good photographer and a great one is, the great photographer can always spot a good shot after he's taken it."

    Often I find the hardest bit of deciding what to print. It's murder.
     
  8. David Henderson

    David Henderson Member

    Messages:
    342
    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2004
    Location:
    Datchet, Ber
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    "Do any of you have a similiar 'problem' and if so, how do you deal with it?"

    Just about everyone has this problem, but that its not by any means everyone that realises it. Further I think that realisation of the issue is a step forward- that is you're a lot better off knowing you have this problem than in failing to recognise it.

    I think that the essence of this issue is that photography requires a purpose. And that the purpose generates a set of criteria against which to evaluate your work. So the basis on which you consider a particular photograph if you are (say) putting together a gallery submission might be very different from the criteria you'd use to assess whether an image would look good hanging in your own home, as a part of a monograph, as an entry to a competition, or whatever. Of course you have to work at getting the knowledge to construct the criteria for each of the purposes you feel are relevant. But its much better than making a random judgement yourself or inviting others to do so, because without a context such judgements are unlikely to be of enduring value.
     
  9. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    9,281
    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2002
    Location:
    Bergen, Norw
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    I show the prints to my wife, a woman of exquisite taste :smile:

    If she likes them, they're good. If she's so-so, I need to print them better. If she doesn't like them they're crap - unless there are naked women on them. If there are, I have to rely on my own taste :tongue:
     
  10. Michael A. Smith

    Michael A. Smith Subscriber

    Messages:
    660
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    As you recognize, David, it is important to be able to evaluate your own work objectively--without the interference of your memory of your experience of making the photograph, either in the field or in the darkroom. When you have your finished photograph in front of you try to look at it as if it were not yours. Try to be a disinterested (in Matthew Arnold's sense of word) viewer. Stand back 8 or 10 feet from it, distant enough so that you do not get hung up in the "precious" details, and distant enough so that the photograph is seen as a unity, a whole, and not as the sum of its parts. Evaluate. Simply having the photograph physically distant from you makes it easier to be emotionally distant and objective about it. When we are holding the photograph in our hands, the physical contact implies emotional closeness as well.

    And if you are still not sure if it is any good try this: pretend the photograph was made by a photographer whose work you are familiar with, one who works in the manner that you do, and one who you feel has achieved undeserved recognition. Now, pretend that the photograph in question was made by this photographer. Do you still like it? If so, it is a keeper. If not, send it to the trash.

    To save you the trouble of having to finish the print before making this evaluation, set a piece of glass or plexiglas at an angle behind the fixer tray. Set it so you can put the wet print on it. Also set lights to proper viewing intensity. Now step back 6 or 8 feet and evaluate as above.

    I have been told by many curators that photographers are often not good editors of their own work. In 1980, when he was writing the introduction to my first book, Jim Enyeart, then Director of the Center of Creative Photography in Tucson, told me that I was the best editor of his own work that he had seen in a photographer. I believe this is because when looking at the finished photograph I have always been able to separate myself from the experience of making it. I can view it as just another thing in the world. You need to be able to do the same.
     
  11. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

    Messages:
    4,518
    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2002
    Location:
    Ipswich, Mas
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Do I have a similar "problem"?

    I am under the same "necessity" of evaluating my work, but I do not consider it to be a "problem".

    The first requirement is to ask yourself, "What purpose does this evaluation serve?"

    The criteria for submission to a Gallery may be far different than those for a Solo show. If a theme is involved, that should - must - be taken into consideration. It is inefficient to submit work consisting of Abstract Nudes to a Seaside Resort Gallery specializing in Seascapes and Ships Under Full Sail.

    If you are trying to determine which of your own photographs are "best" -- the question becomes "Best" - in whose eyes?
    What I have found, over many years, is that the work I LIKE or I consider to be my best work (with no one else involved) is most likely to connect favorably with the audience. Not completely iron-clad *always*, but more often, by far, than trying to judge it through the eyes of someone - anyone else. Subjective? Certainly!! Art is subjective.

    This touches on a wider subject - not beaten to death yet, in my mind, and it never will be - the search for that element that makes a work "Art".

    "If I say it is Art, it is ART!!!" At first glance that sounds incredibly pompous, facetious, --- dishonest - and indicative of someone trying to foist crap on the --- US honest practioners. However ... I think, under closer examination, that would only be dishonest if I made that statement about ALL of my work. That does not happen -- very few of the images I produce meet my internal self-established "standards" of what to be considered as "Art". Very few. Too few, damn it.

    One has to ask, "What is the aternative to exhibiting work that you - subjectively - consider your best"? That can only be, "exhibiting the work that you assume - guess - will be seen as `best' through someone else's eyes." I've tried that. It doesn't work. Possibly, if I had some infallible way to know what others consider to be "good", it might. I don't. I've expended a LOT of effort trying, and I seem to be farther away from that lofty goal than when I started.

    Of course, if I was infallible about anything... including these ideas ...
     
  12. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

    Messages:
    3,242
    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2004
    Location:
    Milwaukee, W
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I do not believe that anyone is in a position to objectively evaluate their own work. If you are making images to suit yourself, as am I, then an objective evaluation is less likely to be meaningfull.
     
  13. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

    Messages:
    4,518
    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2002
    Location:
    Ipswich, Mas
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Possibly I rambled far too much in my last post. This subject is something I've given a LOT of thought lately.

    Assuming that an objective evaluation is possible, what would one look like? - And what purpose would it serve?

    Does anyone have an example of an objective evaluation?
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. colivet

    colivet Member

    Messages:
    236
    Joined:
    May 28, 2004
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Claire, I don't agree that evaluating ones work objectively, if it is indeed possible, should turn into a sterile unmeaningful event. I believe a removed and clinical look at our own photographs is not liekly to help in determining our best.
    I believe it is still possible to look at things as if you just arrived to the world, as a stranger who sees everything new for the first time, and who doesn't have a standard for what is good or bad, nice or ugly, acceptable or not acceptable. Looking from that point of view is looking from a point of view of an open heart and open mind.
    I believe the other important part of the equation is to be familiar with the history of photography, to know what our materials and tools can do when used to the maximum, and to strive for the best we can do without having the history itself limit us in our development. It is all to easy to do work that is not ours, that is painful.
     
  16. Thomassauerwein

    Thomassauerwein Member

    Messages:
    1,627
    Joined:
    Apr 20, 2003
    Location:
    Southern Cal
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    I fight with an image till I get what I want. Sometimes I'm supprised and something un-expected happens we shoot it and I'm thankful but for the most part I dig and Dig to get "it". Sometimes "it" happens the first time and sometimes it takes years. You know "it" though when the shutter is released, at the moment. The tough part is when there is a mechanical problem or processing problem that ruins what was captured knowing the moment is probably gone. periodacally that happens and that really hurts but there will be another moment so the battle continues.
     
  17. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

    Messages:
    3,242
    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2004
    Location:
    Milwaukee, W
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Colivet I said nothing about being sterile. I said that I do not care if my evalution is objective...or least that is what I was trying to say. I regularly see the works of others in one form or another. I am well tuned with the history photography and capabilities of the items I use. My work is always being personally evaluated against my own internal standard which I consider to be subjective. Which leads to work that evolves and comes closewr to what I want.
     
  18. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

    Messages:
    3,219
    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2002
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    I find it helpful to periodically have both mentors whose work has inspired me and peers whose work I respect look at my pictures. An informal peer review process. This gives me an idea of how 'objective' my assessment really is. Or isn't, as is often the case.
     
  19. David

    David Member

    Messages:
    309
    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2002
    Location:
    Melbourne, V
    Shooter:
    ULarge Format
    Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful responses. A theme in the responses was the notion of distance: either in time, emotional space or in Michael's good idea, physical space and thought (imagination). I also appreciated the reference to purpose. Usually I ask 'why' I am taking a picture in the first place as forcing the articulation clarifies many diverse elements of the image. The 'why' isn't, of course, always evident.

    It is true, as was mentioned, that direct purpose dictates the judgment about the image inasmuch as there is a standard by which to judge. A commercial picture is 'good' if it describes or depicts what was desired. A fine print, on the other hand is good for me if it is evocative, usually best if it inhabits the borderland between beauty and emotion (not necessarily warm, fuzzy ones). Maybe the beauty emerges out of the print itself rather than the specific object being photographed.

    Since starting this thread I have read Minor White's article entitled 'Silence of Seeing', While the article focusses on criticism (not just the negative variety) it highlights the state and stages of photographic criticism. The following extended quote was noteworthy:

    "I am viewer, photographer, critic and image at various times and in random sequence. Nevertheless the larger creative cycle turns within relentlessly, though not evenly: inception, the waxing upturn, the full flowering of the idea-feeling force in the image, the waning downturn showing images to friends and benefitting by their responses... All the phases have characteristic and emotional rises and falls...

    "In the role of photographer I rarely can observe in myself the currents and cycles of all these forces working, beyond an intuitive recognition of rapport with livingness. In a state of heightened awareness an intuitive recognition of living energy accelerates work on an image. My energy is expended in the rite of exposure. but things go differently in the role of the viewer. I can see the whole inner-outer action that results in response. At htis stage I become aware of what was going on during the exposure ritual. Long years have given me faith that the photograph made in a peculiar kind of half-seeing and half-sensing its importance it will reveal to me later the whole of the experience. I can make the journey in leisure. To be sure sometimes I am surprised at what the journey reveals that I had no inkling of during exposure.

    "In the role of the critic (enlightened and knowledgeable viewer) I am saddened when I feel obliged to pass judgement. Hence I feel that I dare not make evaluations from anything less than the total experience of the image in a state of concentration and contemplation. I feel compelled to give out of my deepest self, response, and out of God knows where, judgement.

    "No matter what role we are in - photographer, beholder, critic - inducing silence in seeing in ourselves, we are given to see from a sacred place. From that place the sacredness of everything may be seen."

    I find that the work of photography is both serious and fun. Ultimately the photographs that matter to me are the ones that come from some deeper place and then take me on a journey back to either that place or new places. So I can be concerned about tonal ranges, compositional arrangement, lighting, subject matter, ad infinitum, and also the personal experience. When these elements work together, then it is good.

    One of the joys of photography is that it can't ever really be figured out, that there is always more to know and that it is possible to grow as a person through the process.
     
  20. mark

    mark Member

    Messages:
    5,264
    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2003
    OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHH! that's a good one.
     
  21. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

    Messages:
    4,518
    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2002
    Location:
    Ipswich, Mas
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I cannot agree more with what has been written here. I am not especially familiar with Minor White - this is my first serious contact with his internal philosophies. I share that viewpoint about that aura of mystery, that "unexplianability" of the entire process.

    That challenge (if you will) to post an example of an "objective" criticism was loaded - I do NOT think one exists - at least none that I have ever read that make an attempt at objectivity have by the greatest stretch of the intellect - or imagination - ever passed a higher test: that of coherence. The "doublespeak" in some of those "objective" critical reviews would shock the characters in Orwell's 1984.

    "Objective" infers, by definition, measureable. The temperature today is 10 degrees Celsius. That is objective. To say that the temperature today is "cool" is subjective.

    So, subjective we are, and as far as I can see, subjective we will stay ... unless someone - some as yet undiscovered genius - can devise a system ... a "meter" to measure the human soul - and its reaction towards art.
     
  22. David

    David Member

    Messages:
    309
    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2002
    Location:
    Melbourne, V
    Shooter:
    ULarge Format
    I do my work and have enough confidence in it to continue - in spite of the questions and uncertainties that persist. If 'out in the world' there is a recognition of some merit in the work then I am encouraged to continue. If that never occured I might still be pursuaded to continue because of my own belief or reasons but the 'objectivity' of some level of recognition helps me to know that I am on the right track. Of course this assumes that the sources I listen to have some ability to recognize, not merely flatter and to be truthful. That is, I think, the balance that Minor White was attempting to achieve in the article quoted above, (the whole article is really necessary, not just fragments). In short I can and should learn from others but not take my cues from them. Some cynical artist once said, 'whatever they are criticising you for, emphasize'. :cool:

    Kierkegaard said 'truth is subjectivity' and while it's implausible to simply throw quotes around and be meaningful it's also true that we find a subjective need to find objectivity. This paradox and conundrum I think shows itself in the present discussion. Two seemingly opposed notions (art is subjective and criticism is possible) both being simultaneously true and necessary. Furthermore the opposite of subjectivity doesn't need to "...a system...a 'meter' to measure the human soul - and its reaction towards art". Prescriptive formulae is not criticism and as White demonstrated, criticism can have soul.

    I asked the question about how to evaluate personal work because it is a real question. And while the answers are helpful, it is still the "I" (the self-observer) that must answer the question, i.e., subjectivity. That the question can be asked in a group implies a certain level of confidence in objectivity.
     
  23. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

    Messages:
    4,518
    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2002
    Location:
    Ipswich, Mas
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    There is an assumption here that criticsim must necessarily be obective. I disagree - I believe that objectivity, at least PURE objectivity, or even objectivity to a "high degree" - not to be confused with imaprtiality - in a critique is not possible.

    A "subjective" critique is certainly possible, and that critique/ value judgement can be of use, interest and value.
     
  24. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    4,196
    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2005
    Location:
    North Coast,
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
     
  25. Michael A. Smith

    Michael A. Smith Subscriber

    Messages:
    660
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    I really should let the above comment go and not respond. But I have found that it is dangerous to do so. Of course, it is dangerous to respond, too, but I feel the danger of not responding to an attack is far worse.

    I don't get it Murray. Are you trying to say that you think my comment was egotistical? Did you understand that I was quoting someone else and not making that statement myself?

    I wonder why that quote bothered you as much as it appears to have done? What is it in you that felt threatened?

    I regret that my comment, which you took out of context, offended you, but I certainly would not retract it nor apologize for making it. This thread started because a photographer was looking for help in evaluating his prints. In this, and in other threads, many responses are given as advice. Some of the people responding know what they are talking about, others do not. How does anyone know which advice to follow? I have seen the photographs made by a number of people who have responded extensively on various forums with words of advice regarding aesthetic issues. On a number of occasions the work I viewed was so bad that I was amazed at the arrogance of those who presented their opinions about things which, judging by their work, they knew next to nothing about.

    I happen to know something about evaluating one's own photographs (and others photographs, too). In my response I advised using a specific technique for evaluating one's own work. I quoted Jim Enyeart as a way of saying that other extremely knowledgeable people feel that I might know something about this, so you might want to pay attention to my suggestions. Too bad you thought that was arrogant.

    I just reread your contribution to this thread. As part of it you wrote, "When has a print really become a Fine Print? (That last one is my current personal battle)." So you have not figured this out for yourself yet. Not definitively. And you offered suggestions on how someone else might do what you have not yet figured out. To me, that is arrogant and egotistical. To the max.

    You also wrote, "By concentrating on what you *know* is your best will give you a little breathing space, and you can look at them and try to answer for yourself what makes them your best." This advice is useless. Unless one knows what to look for and has the vocabulary to evaluate photographs, the answers you refer to will not readily come, if they come at all.

    I may have already written this or a variation thereof, but I'll write it again. A few months ago a curator asked me and Paula a question about our visual concerns and how we evaluated our work. After we had spoken for couple of minutes he said, "You must write this down. In my experience [and trust me, his experience is deep and is well over three decades long] I have never heard a photographer discuss so clearly the visual aspects of their photographs."

    And just this morning this quote came in an email. It is from someone who just took our Vision and Technique workshop this weekend. "I truly enjoyed your workshop. The experience expanded my perspective and I have not felt this level of excitement since I started in photography. The best workshop of the dozen that I have attended."

    I hope you don't think it is egotistical of me include the above quotes here. I am doing so to show, by the words of others, not by my words, that maybe, just maybe, I might know what I am talking about. That's not arrogance. Nor is it egotistical. These sentences I quoted may give confidence to those reading my suggestions about visual things that I know what I am writing about and am not just writing from an uninformed place, as many others (though certainly not all) do.
     
  26. David

    David Member

    Messages:
    309
    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2002
    Location:
    Melbourne, V
    Shooter:
    ULarge Format
    it's working

    I wanted to follow up on the suggestions given. I found that the physical distance and 'dissassociation' the Michael suggested has opened a door that was closed before. Thank you, Michael A. Smith! I have found your insights to be real and practical on a number of occassions and wanted to say so publicly.