should one judge other's photos?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by frank, May 28, 2003.

  1. frank

    frank Subscriber

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    Aside from technical considerations, how valid is it to suggest changes to someone else's images? Isn't that just saying, "Your vision is flawed. My vision is superior?"

    Isn't all we can say, "My vision matches your vision of a particular image and therefore I like it," or "My vision does not match your vision of this image and therefore I think it can be improved to more closely match what I think it should look like,"?

    Even some technical issues are personal. For example, for a particular image, some people prefer a darker printing treatment, some like grain, soft contrast, filed neg carriers, blur, or even out-of-focus subjects.

    (BTW, I'm not posting this as a response to anyone's criticism of my images, this post was brought about by my examination of my desire to critique others' images.)

    It does make me feel good when people whose photos I like, also like mine, but it could well be that a particular image resonates in me due to my peculiar history/experiences/influences that leaves someone else unstirred. That does not make it an unsuccessful image, unless the only reason I took it was to have others like it.

    Anyone have views on this topic?

    Frank S.
     
  2. Thilo Schmid

    Thilo Schmid Member

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    Criticism does usually not suggest any changes nor does it really judge about a piece of work. We have to differentiate between criticism and recommendations, although both might appear at the same place. This depends on whether recommendations are perhaps expected or custom. One can usually judge the value of an advice by the quality of the criticism.

    Yes. However, serious criticism isn't limited to the vision, because serious art isn't limited to that, too. There is usually a context in which some kind "further concept" exists. The critic ideally has to deal with that concept, too.

    A serious criticism usually contains:

    • - A description of what the critic sees
      - An interpretation of what he has seen. The more a critic knows about the context of a piece of work, the better he can interpret it. This ideally includes: knowing the artist, his concepts and his other work.
      - A well-founded conclusion why the work is good or bad (or art at all - :smile:)
      - Finally yet importantly: no one will refuse a critic a personal opinion. However, it should be clear that it is a personal opinion.
     
  3. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Criticism can serve a number of purposes. I think in the context of critiques of photographs by other photographers, the main purpose should be to help the photographer sharpen his or her vision.

    If the photograph doesn't affect the critic in the way the photographer intended, that is useful information that can come out in critique. Also, sometimes someone else might see a possibility in an image that the original photographer didn't consider, so the printing or rephotography process in the critique circle can become a kind of conversation where different versions are tried, perhaps leading to a "final" statement of the photographer's vision in response to this kind of dialogue, or perhaps many interesting variations.
     
  4. Tom Duffy

    Tom Duffy Member

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    I think it's ok to split the difference between art criticism and recommendations by calling it a critique. If you request a critique, you are saying, "What is your reaction to my work; is there anything you think I ought to consider from a technical or aesthetic point of view that would make it better?"

    At some level, we want our photographs to communicate something, i.e., elicit an emotional reaction. Our choice of format, subject matter, where we set up the camera, choice of B&W or Color, choice of film, paper and process could all have been done differently. Our cropping, tonal range, presentation, likewise.

    We are emotionally involved in our image before anyone else is, this can lead to blind spots based on our emotional investment in the image. I remember showing an image that was fairly mediocre but being very nonobjective about it. I remembered carrying the view camera down the ravine, getting eaten alive by bugs and standing in the water to make it. A "disinterested" (in the good sense) observer didn't experience any of this; they just saw a photo that should have never made it out of the darkroom.

    There are a range of reasons to ask for a critique, from, "I think I've done something significant here, does the Greek chorus agree?" to "This one is close, but I think I'm missing something, can you offer suggestions?"

    Generally, people asking for a critique are looking for an honest, if polite, response. We create as individuals and have our own blind spots. A well done critique should motivate a person to keep at it and will suggest ways to look at the world differently. Hypothetically, if I were looking a portrait you took, I might say, "This is really good, the expression you captured makes the person an individual. However, if you cropped a little off the left side, you'd eliminate that large, out of focus, highlight that's fighting for attention with the face." You had been spending so much time getting the exposure on the face exactly right, you weren't even looking at the left hand edge of the picture.

    You should be careful whom you ask for a critique/opinion, otherwise all your your picts will be of warm puppies.
     
  5. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I agree with most of the comments here. We are all on a journey. Any opinion of our work can be helpful. The opinions that we dismiss also go towards sharpening our beliefs in what we do. The opinions and critiques that we absorb will go towards making our work better.

    I have never found much value in people fawning over my work. I much prefer a good hard edged critique, more along the line of "tough love". I also have had great opinions from people who have never picked up a camera, some of their insights were profound. So just listening to the masters is not the only way to learn.

    Later

    Michael McBlane
     
  6. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    The critiques I have had of my prints have usually been pretty tough, not in the sense that the person said "this is crap" but where they really took apart the photograph in segments and pointed out little details in composition or technique which would have made the print more effective. I like this kind of cirtiques, but the kind which are subjective and get the person going with the art speak I cannot stomack, nor do I learn anything from them.

    So, I am in favor of pointing out small details which can improve my prints or technique, but certainly dont agree with the judgement part. Like they say...some say pootato some say potaaato....:smile:
     
  7. RAP

    RAP Member

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    This from an essay by Ben Breard, AfterImage gallery about dealing with untalented photographers.

    "I try to handle untalented photographers gently and positively. Most any of them can improve with more years of work, but they still might not be at a gallery level. I try to be truthful, but it's not easy. Frequently I hear myself saying (chickening out), "We just don't have a market for your kind of work." I usually don't have the heart to pronounce, "Your work just isn't of gallery quality, and it may never be."
     
  8. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

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    I think a critique is a two-way street.

    First off, if you put your work out there, you have to expect a certain response. I figure that if I am asking for a critique, then I should be open to suggested changes.

    Likewise, one doing the critique should offer constructive statements. Both positive and negative or just positive (if there are no negatives). They should also be open to the image and try to learn from it themselves.

    Ideally then both parties will come away enriched somewhat. The artist will get valuable feedback, and the critic will also have been enriched by viewing the image and THINKING about it (which hones their analytical skills).

    One should also be willing to simply accept that they may like an image and someone else may not. When that is the case I don't offer such an image up for critique.
     
  9. inthedark

    inthedark Member

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    I think that your desire to critique is more than fine. I notice that folks have their own opinions of their work. If they like it and you don't, then typically they will deem you unable to get what they are expressing. Contrarily, if they really don't think their work is up to par, no matter how much you love it, they will only figure it "will do" at best. The biggest worry I would guess would be to criticize someone who doesn't think they are up to par, and may be over sensitive to boot. But these people tend to wash out one way or another.

    Besides your opinion as a viewer is just as valid as the artists', maybe more. I gather you are also a photographer so you are worried about seeming superior; but would you say that an average viewer shouldn't voice an opinion? Then you should also be able to do the same. I think, short of being rude, the photographers' responses to your critiques are too personal for you to feel responsible about. If you don't respond, that could be just as hurtful, as could insincere support.

    Be yourself, say what you think; that is my vote.
     
  10. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I concur with Jorge's post. If you take your work to a gallery that understands photography or have it critiqed by a well known photographer you will discover that there are certain conventions that apply. These include rules of composition, tonality of the print, cropping, lighting etc. A lot of technical aspects that are seen before the subject is discussed. That is because a gallery owner understands that certain flaws in technique distract from the viewer seeing the artists vision. Of course for every rule there is an established artist that can break them or create new conventions.

    I think it is important to be open the criticism as a way to see how to improve our work. If someone has the knowledge to look at my work and point out ways to improve I am all for it. It can be only a couple of improvements that can make a mediocre image in to an outstanding one. i don't mind the extra help.
     
  11. roy

    roy Member

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    If you are willing to show the picture, presumably you are happy with it. A critique is merely an opinion by someone not involved in the taking process with that picture. Sure, opinions may be interesting and of use in commercial applications but the chances are that given the opportunity again, you might not take the picture again in the same way. If you invite somebody to judge your picture then you must take your medicine !
    roy.
     
  12. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  13. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    A carefully considered and sensitive critique can only help the author of the work being reviewed although there are times when an almost savage destruction can work too. I think respect is probably an essential element here, the author needs to respect the critic and vice-versa.

    My work has been savaged by high profile photographers and teachers in the UK and I'm convinced that the critiques were a turning point in the development of my photography. At the time of the critiques I was hurt and felt that I was inadequate and a failure. However, after reflection I realised the sense in what had been said and my photography moved forward. The three photographers in question, John Blakemore, Paul Hill and Thomas Joshua Cooper are good friends who I respect very much and they still guide and influence me.

    I frequently look for comment on my images from non photographers who view them with no baggage relating to phototechnique etc., and find their views refreshing for they are responding only to what they see and that it often totally different from the way that I view the image. I think it is essential that we are all prepared to look for, and accept, informed comment on our photography.
     
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  15. RAP

    RAP Member

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    The first photography critique I ever recieved was from my college photo teacher on prints from the very first roll of b&w film I ever shot. He said "These are terrible, horrible, get them out of my sight!" Yes, he was right, they were, muddy, grainy, the worst.

    When reviewing my work later on in the course, he silently went through the prints, pulled one out and said, "This is a masterpiece."

    By next semester, I was his teaching assistant.
     
  16. frank

    frank Subscriber

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    Thank you for all your replies.

    Les, if you would be willing to share this, I am curious to hear more about your turning point, brought about by the criticism of your photography that you mentioned. What was said, and what did you change?

    I like the analogy of a photographer being on a journey. Following that line of thinking, I suppose that there are 2 types of photographers: those that like to travel with others (and we all begin this way), and those who feel their journey is an individual one, on their own path.

    Those photographers who have travelling companions would be eager for criticism of their work from their group because their aim is to conform to the collective sensibilities of the group and to keep together with their group while on their shared journey.

    The other type of photographer, while still sharing the same type of journey, is not that concerned with the paths of others and in fact prefers not to follow an established path because doing so would prevent him/her from finding and following their own unique path. For this type of photgrapher, criticism from photographers on other paths is not that relevent to them. They aren't interested in conforming to someone else's vision, they are focusing on developing their own. (Couldn't help myself from wording the last line that way, sorry.)

    What do you think?

    Frank
     
  17. SteveGangi

    SteveGangi Member

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    I'm jumping in a little late here. A critique or criticism has to come from someone your respect, and it has to give you something useful. To just hear "This is sh_t" is useless. To hear that it is too light/dark or too busy can be useful. We all critique every picture we see anyway, categorizing it into the "like" or "don't like".
     
  18. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    To the original question: It *IS* "valid" to **SUGGEST** some sort of change, with a few hunderd caveats. One must be cognizant of the sensitivities of the critique-ee; never lose sight of the absolute RIGHT of the crititque-ee to make a photograph of whatever the #$!@ s/he wants to; realize the similarities/ differences in each of our individual visions; and above all KEEP it as a [ suggestion ], not a mandate or (ugh!) "command".
    I have had my work "savaged" as described here - I have NEVER gleaned any useful information, let alone inspiration, from that savagery.

    I have Sukach's first law of exhibition: 1. LISTEN to all critique - no matter what the motivation of the critic (takes a lot of self-discipline); 2. CONSIDER the content - I allow about three (3) three seconds; 3. If there is anything of value, INTEGRATE it into your pre-conscious - that is a pearl of great price, and a wonderful discovery ... If there is nothing of value, let it go as if it was never said. No reason to clutter your pre-conscious with unnecessary crap; and 4. Be nice - even though you may want to choke the living #@!$ out of ... anyway, be courteous and civil.

    I'd write much more, but I keep getting timed out here.
     
  19. fhovie

    fhovie Subscriber

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    I think in the beginning, a critique from a seasoned photographer can be useful to improve ones technical ability and eye for composition. There are things that most would think "work" better that other things in more than half the situations.

    I am very certain about something else. When I expose a frame and spend my energy to make a print, I want to make ME happy with it. No matter how great I may think my image is, someone will suggest an improvement that I know would ruin my interpretation of the image. I think the idea, "suit yourself first" is exactly right for fine art photography. It is for that reason that doing commercial photography can be frustrating - people want to pay you to do uninspired work. Thank God for the Sears photo studio -When people want a portrait, I send them right over to Sears! When I want to make their portrait, I'll do it for free - so I can please myself and make the photograph reflect my idea. It also amazes me which photos I sell, not usually my favorites but at least I am satisfied with them and proud of them.
    Frank
     
  20. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    It depends a LOT on the definition of "critique" from ANY source. The only time I will offer *any* suggestion is in an effort to "expand" the vision of a neophyte. Too often - FAR too often - I've heard the "lofty" dominatotors pass judgement that ONLY serves to LIMIT someone's vision and force them into some sort of "mold". The "finest" vision in my opinion is the unspolied, unadulterated (literally un-"adult"-erated) vision of a child.

    In teaching, I've learned FAR more about vision from my students than I've ever been able to teach them.

    I agree with "making ME happy" - a bunch!!!

    Iahve this carved in stone on my "innards" - the line from "Garden Party" by Ricky Nelson: "You can't please everyone, so you've GOT to please yourself."
     
  21. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  22. harry

    harry Member

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    Aggie, I think you're right. Too many people are afraid of criticism. What matters about criticism is how you choose to deal with it, regardless of whether it's quality criticism or not. The world would have missed out on a lot of good work if everyone quit when they got their first, "Um... yeah... " response.

    I try to remember that when someone gives my work that look. One of my favorite nano-reviews has been "You spent all that money on those cameras and you made that?" This was the first photo I made where I had visualized the print from the beginning and put a lot of work in it. It was a cheap shot, but so be it.

    I think if a cheap shot puts you off and makes you want to quit, you were never much of an artist anyway.

    ps- But it still sucks.
     
  23. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    Ah...well, never fails there is an a**hole who thinks this is the right way to make an opinion. Dont let it bother you, I had someone tell me once my prints were crap, so I said, ah well....please show me yours so I can learn. He refused.....figures...:tongue:
     
  24. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Yes: And if I'd had to spend twice as much, I would have done so, and been no less happy:wink:
     
  25. Sean

    Sean Admin Staff Member Admin

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    That hit the nail on the head Aggie. I had some good photo teachers in College, but there was one highly arrogant one. He subjected everyone to bashing during critique sessions. I had one image that I knew was pretty damn good for a student, and all he could say about it in front of the entire class was "hmm, I don't even see the point of this, this image is a waste of time, why did you even bother printing this?, next please". I was pretty angry about it and my motivation to achieve anything in his class took a dive. After the class was over and he left several classmates came up to me saying that they thought the photo was awesome and don't listen to the jerk.
     
  26. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    To me, there is a parallel: A literary critic pronouncing, "This book is crap. I don't know why you wrote it. It is written in Finnish, and I don't read Finnish."

    It is true ... The critique reveals more - actually, nothing more - than the mindset, pre-conditioning - and "being" of the critic.

    We can answer a "call for help" ... "Does any know how I can make the clouds stand out in the sky?"
    We can report on how an image affects US ... how we perceive it through our "vision"; how we react to it emotionally.

    But to pronounce it "good" or "bad" - no way. It may have been "written" in Swahili, and I don't read Swahili.