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  1. #1

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    Evaluating your own photographs

    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. #2
    bjorke's Avatar
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    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

    "What Would Zeus Do?"
    KBPhotoRantPhotoPermitAPUG flickr Robot

  3. #3

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    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. #4
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    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
    Too many Chiefs not enough Indians.....

  5. #5
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    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. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by MurrayMinchin
    ... 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.

    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. #7

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    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. #8

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    "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. #9
    Ole
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    I show the prints to my wife, a woman of exquisite taste

    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
    -- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
    Norway

  10. #10

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    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.

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