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'.
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.
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.
Originally Posted by David
A "subjective" critique is certainly possible, and that critique/ value judgement can be of use, interest and value.
Ed Sukach, FFP.
[QUOTE=Michael A. Smith
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.[/QUOTE]
I saw an interview once with a country music star. The interviewer asked, "How do you like being thought of as such a sex symbol". He thought about it for a second and replied, "A couple years ago, these same women who are chasing me now used to lock their car doors when I walked past".
I thought to myself, "Now there's a guy who hasn't let a little fame get to his head".
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.
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.
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Hi Michael, I feel no threat.
I'm actually surprised you held back from responding for as long as you did. Yes I did know what I was saying was confrontational. Here on APUG, all of us occasionally get called upon the mat to atone for what we have contributed, and I felt that despite your "fame", you shouldn't be immune from that.
It's my impression that what I quoted you as saying was a tad over the top, grandiose, and smacked of name-dropping. The rest was good advice. Maybe it's my intrinsic Canadian sensibilities...as a Nation, we prefer the self-deprecating famous person to the grandiose famous person.
To be fair...to the max...I didn't offer David any advice on Fine Prints. What I did offer was a way to organize ones thoughts and ones images...as was requested by him.
Originally Posted by Michael A. Smith
Concerning Fine Prints...I've been at this long enough to know that what I considered a Fine Print 5 years ago is quite different from what I can do now. In 5 more years I expect to be in the same position, which is to say, that my ability to print is continually evolving and improving. This has led me to question exactly *what* a Fine Print is. To definitively know what a Fine Print is, is to be stagnant as an artist, don't you think?
I've come to the conclusion that what one considers a Fine Print throughout ones career as a photographer, is akin to a recurrent role throughout ones career as a stage actor. An actor would draw upon decades of life and acting experience to fully flesh out and add layers of complexity to his/her interpretation of a role done decades earlier, or, they may dispense with the heroics and let the simplicity of the character shine.
If we print a negative exactly the same way as we did decades earlier, or if we become so confident in our abilities that there is no reason to strive to improve can we still call them Fine Prints? I don't think so. My job is to continually question all aspects of my art and my craft, to strive for clarification of my way of seeing, and to let others decide which they prefer.
All I did was to suggested a way to narrow the possibilities - a way of leaving the strongest images behind to learn from. If, as you say, editing is so important to a photographer, how can this be bad advice? Is yours the only true way? To think so would again, be grandiose.
Originally Posted by Michael A. Smith
Thank you, David. I needed that. I don't know what it is with some people. If someone knows something they just want to bring them down to their level.
Well, I am happy to turn this into a real discussion rather than a character attack. I'll ignore that portion of your response that was a character attack. You wrote, "To definitively know what a Fine Print is, is to be stagnant as an artist, don't you think?"
No, I don't so think. Once you know, really know what you are doing regarding making a fine print, you just keep making them. There does come a point where your prints do not become any better because they cannot become any better. Do you think Edward Weston would have printed his negatives of shells and peppers any differently had he reprinted them in 1947? If you do, you are mistaken.
That is not to say that there may be a number of ways to print a negative that would yield equally fine results.
Now, what does change and grow, hopefully, but in fact with most photographs does not, is one's vision. (John Szarkowski wrote in " Looking at Photographs" that the "genuinely creative period of most photographers has rarely exceeded ten or fifteen years.") If one's vision does not grow and change, there is stagnation. But that has nothing to do with knowing what a fine print is. If after five years (okay, ten years) anyone does not know what a fine print is they have not been looking at fine prints by the masters and comparing their own prints to them and they don't really know what they are doing.
Fo you, what a fine print is may change. That's okay. But that is not the way it is for everyone. There does come a point when an artist arrives at technical and expressive excellence. For a visual artist, one's vision can always grow, but one's technical excellence, after a period of time, should be at its peak. And once it is at its peak it simply cannot get any better.
From Murray: "All I did was to suggested a way to narrow the possibilities - a way of leaving the strongest images behind to learn from. If, as you say, editing is so important to a photographer, how can this be bad advice? Is yours the only true way? To think so would again, be grandiose."
No, my way is not the only way to properly and objectively evaluate one's own photographs (I never said it was), but your advice, Murray, "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," is indeed useless. As I wrote before, it is useless unless knows what to look for and has the vocabulary to evaluate photographs.
Now, if you had written about the things that David should be looking for, then your comment would not have been useless. But as written you comment was no better than the instruction to "make better prints." Unless one knows what qualities make for a fine print--and yes, there are no absolutes about that--what a fine print is for one photographer may be different than what a fine print is for another--the suggestion to "try to answer for yourself what makes them best" will not yield reults. That after what must be several five year periods you still do not definitively know why your best prints are your best is exactly the kind of thing I was writing about--people offering suggestions who do not know, from their own work, what they are talking about. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but regarding things like this, all opinions are not equal.
Paula was asked to give a few portfolio reviews at the recent Large Format Conference in Springfield, Massachesetts. The work she looked at was quite accomplished, but was not quite there--not quite where it could be--although to a quick look it was indeed excellent. (These photographers had regular exhibitions and print sales.) After her reviews two of the people whose photographs she reviewed came up to me and told me that her comments were the most helpful ones they had ever had. Why? Because Paula understands what makes a fine print (both visually and technically) and has the vocabulary to explain it. Most do not.
" ... This advice is useless. Unless one knows what to look for and has the vocabulary to evaluate photographs, the answers will not come readily, if they ever come at all."
The necessity of "having a "vocabulary", and as previously mentioned "writing it down" indicates the presence of a hard copy.
Could someone - anyone - post an example of one of these unemotional, purely objective, "devoid of human bias" evaluations?
I would be very interested in obtaining examples of that vocabulary.
Ed Sukach, FFP.
I have looked deep within myself to know myself and found nothing very interesting.
That sounds incredibly sad, and implausible, look some more - you may be suprised!