Sticky Critiques

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by MurrayMinchin, Apr 20, 2006.

  1. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    We've all shown our photographs to people. While I've never had an official critique per se, there's been comments made about my work that have stuck with me over the years.

    Here in Kitimat we have a huge aluminum smelter that has its own newspaper, the Ingot. In the early 1980's I spent some time there as a darkroom technician (slave) and the editor was Gerry Dieter - who ten years earlier was the photographer who documented John Lennon and Yoko's 1969 Montreal "bed-in".

    I was a young pup in my early twenties and had a collection of 4x5 contact prints from my wanderings in the forests and mountains on the north coast which I showed him one day. He flipped through the stack and upon finishing he chuckled to himself, "I remember taking pictures like this".

    I'm true to myself, and have never taken a photograph because I knew it would sell...in other words, I've kept my photography a purely personal expression. Still, his comment cut like a knife because I knew he was right. My images were all pretty nature scenes, devoid of any real attempt by me to communicate what it is of nature that amazes me.

    That changed me.

    The other time a comment hit true to home was when I showed those same 4x5 contact prints (the results of my first months in the darkroom) as my entrance portfolio to a fine arts college - there were no drawings or paintings - and they accepted me on the strength of my compositions. I took the same contact prints to the head of the colleges photography department, and he said my printing was good, but my compositions were weak.

    I walked away knowing people in positions of power can be blind.

    Have you had comments made about your work that's stuck with you over the years, and why?

    Murray
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 20, 2006
  2. Peter Schrager

    Peter Schrager Subscriber

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    critiques

    Murray-I'm too tired to properly contribute to this but it is an important thread.
    I'm going to think about it so I can make a positive contribution...
    Best, Peter
     
  3. Mark H

    Mark H Member

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    My first gallery show was all landscapey-type photos. A photographer friend came up to me during the opening and said "Where are all the people?" That comment stuck with me and led to doing nudes and portraits.

    Another inspirational comment came from my wife, who some years ago told me never to use her camera (a point&shoot) again, as I just wasted film with the terrible pictures I took. Which led to my getting a "real" camera and the determination to show her I could take decent photos. She eventually conceded that I did indeed have some talent, except for some of the nudes, which she considers indecent.
     
  4. rogueish

    rogueish Member

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    Not a lot of people have seen my prints. Some fellow students, the wife and few friends. One or two postings here on APUG long ago. Only one critique really stuck, came from a teacher in a night photo class.

    I already had my doubts about the way this guy taught. One of those "my way or it's wrong" types. All prints must have white borders, highlghts must not blend into borders, all subjects must be looking at the camera, there is only one proper method of developing, you must follow the rule of thirds, etc etc. After quickly going through my small portfolio, his only comment as he thrust it back was "not enough contrast". That was it, nothing else. My thought was, "I'm wasting my time with this guy". I ended up being right. In all fairness, he did give a good mark even though we didn't get along. The only thing I learned in that class was having knowledge does not mean your a good teacher.

    Two people who had a good influence on me were also teachers who knew the technicals and the art of photography. There was suggestions instead of "my way". No one particular critique stands out, but the semester, as a whole. It was a learning and, just as important, fun experience.

    Hopefully Ethan and Sonia are both still "influencing" minds and are members here.
     
  5. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    I received a copy of a newsletter recently from an art film house where I showed my short video/documentary late last year. It had two comments from the staff, and they were published as a small film review. I didn't know they would do such a thing.

    Basically when they saw my documentary they didn't get it, and that's what's on the newsletter. How wonderful! On the other hand, the ones they got were so wishy-washy, and I just thought maybe I had just showed it in a wrong place.

    That had stuck in my mind for maybe about a half day, and I forgot about it.
     
  6. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    Never has anyone commented upon my photos. They immediately went to sleep. I was always stuck with the options of either catcng my photos or catching the viewer a they both slid off the chair.

    I have been considering naming a school or movement after my style..The Narcoleptic Eye.
     
  7. Bill Hahn

    Bill Hahn Member

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    My late father once commented on one of my photos: "A perfectly exposed, well-composed and sharp photograph of subjects of no interest." (Dead leaves on a log.) I didn't take offense - I was happy to get the exposure and focusing correct!
     
  8. Travis Nunn

    Travis Nunn Member

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    I only ever get three critiques:
    1 - The critique from people I share the darkroom with.... "Oh I like that." or "Oh, that's nice." Neither are very helpful.
    2 - The critiques I get when I post them here on APUG:
    "..........................<sound of crickets chirping>......................"
     
  9. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I've gotten quite a range of critiques of my work. The most frustrating is the "oh, that's nice! I really like your work!" followed by the sound of no cash leaving a wallet still in someone's pocket.

    One that stuck rather hard in my craw was from a photographer I know who has a reasonable reputation, but is not a "Name". He does have his Masters of Fine Arts and teaches at several art programs in the Baltimore area. He shoots a lot of nudes, and in looking at my nudes, he said they were "too commercial". What really made it stick was the fact that he said it to someone else, and didn't think it would get back to me. It did. I still shoot some work the same way that I did when he derided it, and I've broadened my work as well. I don't know if he would approve now, or not, but frankly, like Mr. Butler, I don't give a damn.
     
  10. BWGirl

    BWGirl Member

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    Oh Claire!!! How soon we forget! :surprised: I distinctly remember commenting on your photos...I realize I'm not much of an expert, but I remember well the snow on the wrought iron fence, the movement of tail lights in a night shot, the boats in the harbor...

    and not once did I fall asleep! haha :D
     
  11. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    They can be blind in ways other than artistic ones. They may have you nailed as to technique and how expressive your vision is or isn't, but may be psychologically ignorant enough to deliver their critique in a way that discourages.

    Since the only bona fides which count with me is a photographer's work, I discount any comments from photographers I don't know or whose work does not impress me. This includes complimentary remarks as well as damning ones.

    The best critiques I've received were insightful and instructive enough to show me the error of my ways, often very blunt, but not crossing the line which prompts me to say in anger, "I don't need this abuse. I'm giving this shit up." Michael Smith is a master at this. He's said some pretty rough things about prints I'd showed him in the beginning, but the end result was mastery of my craft. He knows just how far to push the indignation envelope to get maximum motivation out of the protege he's critiquing.
     
  12. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    Not to diminish the importance of the topic, we've had other discussions about critiques here, and I think they've all been fairly inconclusive. Giving someone else a critique of their work, or even just a single photograph, is an art in itself. Not everyone is good at it, as the experience of many critique-ees would suggest.

    Perhaps the best critiques are those in which a level of interactivity is possible - that is, a discussion of the image (or, body of work), and the intent or motivations behind it, rather than simply impressions without context.

    I think it's also important to put critiques in the context of being just one person's opinion - even if that one opinion is important to you. Photography, like most arts and/or crafts, is a means of communication. Not everyone will get the same message, or have the same impression of an image. Thus, the relevance of the critiques is perhaps better viewed as a pool of comments, enabling you to determine whether your "communication methods" are working for a majority of people. Even then, however, that has to be balanced with the desire for self-expression.
     
  13. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    That quote is getting jotted down, and will join the other quotes on my darkroom wall :smile:

    Comments are mostly like water off a ducks back to me, as the last sentence in your qoute pretty much sums it up. I have found though, that if a comment sticks in my craw and pisses me off, there's usually a kernel of truth to it.

    Murray
     
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  15. Sportera

    Sportera Member

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  16. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    That was blasted off without much thought when I was home for lunch, and I could have chosen my words more carefully. I was thinking in terms of a critique or when somebody is giving advice, not when somebody is giving an unsolicited emotional reaction to my stuff...I'll never tire of that!

    Murray
     
  17. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    Jeanette that was not me that was my evil twin bro.
     
  18. katcall

    katcall Member

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    This is my all time favourite comment and I've had it a few times. "That's a great photo, you must have a great camera". I don't get deflated anymore.

    Regards



    Kathy
     
  19. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    Oh Claire!!! How Ms-Anne-Thrope-ic of you.

    Admit it...you like being liked here on APUG, you curmudgeon :smile:

    Murray
     
  20. Travis Nunn

    Travis Nunn Member

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    I think my all time favorite is "So, what do you do, just walk around and take pictures?"
     
  21. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hi murray

    when i got out of school i showed my former photo teacher my portfolio. after we looked at it together and chatted for a few hours, he suggested that i contact aaron siskind, who used to teach at risd, and was living on the east side of providence.

    i called aaron, and we agreed upon a date that i could show him some of my work. i arrived and he invited me in. he looked through my portfolio, it took about 2 minutes, then told me i was wasting my time with photography, to throw away my camera --- nothing else.

    he then took me to lunch at a little bistro where he and the 4 or 5 17year old waitresses flirted with eachother the whole meal.
    he said in a loud showman-type voice "you can have anything on the whole menu."

    i ordered a grilled cheese sandwich.

    then almost shouting he said " i have a pacemaker in my chest, touch it, touch it!" i did, just to keep him from embarrassing me any more.

    on the way back to his house he insisited we stop at a lady friend's place. it was in her garage, that he was storing all his posters. she opened it and out of it came my door prize, one of his posters! it wasn't the only thing i got, he shook his finger at me and in a threatening way said, "i take photos like this, don't you ever!"

    i dropped him off, and drove home.
     
  22. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    YIKES!!!!!

    So many questions jump out, but the biggest ones have to be what expectations did you have, and how high did you hold him in your esteem? If both were high, how did you recover?

    From what little information I have to work with, it sounds like you thought he was giving you a warped warning...why?

    Murray

    P.S. For those relatively new APUG'ers, I think jnanion is possibly the most creatively experimental photographer here on APUG, but you'll never know it if you search his gallery because he 'cleanses' it often. Keep your eyes peeled, because the only way to know is to let the images build up over time and to catch them before they disappear :smile:
     
  23. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i though he would have at least said something to me productive.

    in school i did the critique sessions, they could be harsh, but at least something productive came out of it ... not sure why he threatened me as he did, maybe he was olde and loopy by the time i saw him - certainly acted olde and loopy! :smile:

    did i hold him on high ?
    he was a great photographer, and did a lot of things before a lot of folks ... i have to admit, i like some of his work. the stuff he did in south america was pretty cool, and some of the road-work he did on the mount hope bridge was kind of eccentric ( having the police stop traffic so he could photograph the roadway ) but other than researching for papers, and seeing his work, i didn't really know him at all. how much do you learn from articles, art critiques, books - about someone, really, unless you meet them. now i know what kind of a person he was (some of the time at least), and i feel kind of sorry for him, and how pathetic he was.

    recovery? my brother and i drove across the country soon after that, and i shot lots of film. i guess photography is the best medicine for a bummer like that. i also figured i wouldn't listen to a word he said, and if i could help someone out i would .... :smile:


    thanks for the plug!
    john
     
  24. Gay Larson

    Gay Larson Member

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    I've had several critiques from people I respect and learned from all of them, whether it was to never listen to them again or follow their suggestions. The most outstanding moment for me came when I had my first and only so far show at a small gallery here in town. It was the night of a "gallery crawl" and people came in and out all evening long. I sold a couple to people I knew but then a local artist that I did not know came in and looked then came and took me by the hand and went to 4 or 5 of the prints and described just what she saw and liked in the prints. She encouraged me to continue, to get a web site and then promptly bought 4 prints. I was estatic and hope someday I can do the same thing for someone having their first show. What a high.
     
  25. toddstew

    toddstew Member

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    One of the hardest pills to swallow is the fact that not everybody likes black and white photography. I have had the misfortune of showing somebody some prints, hoping to get a reaction of some sort from them, only to hear those same crickets that were mentioned earlier,or a "they are _______(insert any courteous, fluffy word)." It took me several instances like this to learn when and to whom to show work that means a lot to me.
    Todd
     
  26. Troy Hamon

    Troy Hamon Member

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    When somebody doesn't like B&W, I usually take that as an opportunity to point out what I do like about it, the sorts of images that I prefer in color and why I shot those particular ones in B&W, and then let it go unless they want to talk more. It works. They start thinking about it in terms of your own decision process and approach it more openly the next time.