Quite a story, Ed. You learned the most.
Part, a very large part, of being a good teacher is knowing when to say, 1) "This work is terrible!!" and when to say, 2) "Very interesting and quite fine, but did you consider . . ." A good teacher instinctively knows which is which.
And the photographs and photographer referred to in 1) above may be much better than the photographs and photographer referred to in 2). It is all in being able to evaluate exactly where the aspiring photographer is emotionally as well as technically and aesthetically. Some you do a disservice to if you are kindly--you need to be tough. With others it is quite different--they must be dealt with gently. This has nothing to do with the photographs they are making, but with who they are.
Having been on the receiving end of both categories of comments from you personally, I must confess to worrying about just what your evaluation is of my emotional state as you look at my prints. Should this really enter into the process at all?
Originally Posted by Michael A. Smith
"One day the Master cried out the moment my shot was loosed: 'It is there!' Bow down to the goal!' Later, when I glanced towards the target - unfortunately I couldn't help myself - I saw that the arrow had only grazed the edge. 'That was a right shot," said the Master decisively, "and so it must begin. But enough for today, otherwise you will take special pains with the next shot and spoil the good beginning.' Occasionally several of these right shots came off in close succession and hit the target, besides of course the many more that failed. But if ever the least flicker of satisfaction showed in my face the Master turned on me with unwonted fierceness. 'What are you thinking of?' he would cry. 'You know already that you should not grieve over bad shots; learn now not to rejoice over the good ones. You must free yourself from the buffetings of pleasure and pain, and learn to rise above them in easy equanimity, to rejoice as though not you but another had shot well. This, too, you must practice unceasingly - you cannot conceive how important it is.'"
Zen in the Art of Archery
This enters into the process instinctively, unconsciously. It cannot be helped. All of the best teachers, in any discipline, do this. As a teacher, you want to help people as much as possible. If one is too harsh with the insecure ones, you kill it for them and they lose all confidence. If one is too lenient with the self-satisfied ones, you do not help them to the next level, whatever that may be for them.
All of this is usually unconscious and automatic. It is rare that Paula and I are aware of doing any of this consciously, though I know, for me, that in the past there are times that I certainly have been conscious--usually on the side of protecting those who are insecure.
I sat here, behind this desk, for three hours this morning.
I thought that I had written some interesting - and probably, inflammatory statements attacking a few sacred ikons. After completion and *intense* gritting of my teeth - I hit the "send" key - and did just that. Unfortunately the destination was oblivion - "bit heaven". I Lost it all.
So - fighting a few pangs of guilt from not being physically able to descend the @#!# stairs to my darkroom (I HAVE to have a liter or so of "fried" color chemicals down there) I'll re-do ... an abbreviated version:
I have NEVER felt the need to be "tough" in pursing or leading others into the nooks and crannies of photography. Depending - If I have the right concept of what is generally though of as "toughness"... an evaluation of their work without *any* allowances for their inner feelings.
However - that is not "toughness" on my part - it is a method for proving - or instilling "toughness" in the students ... something I don't want to do. Why? - Because I've never been able to conceive of "toughening" students without having a negative effect on their sensitivity.
There has been mentioned here, two scenarios... An evaluation of a students work where the verdict is, "Fine work - BUT - it could be improved by..."; and "Terrible work - worthless".
I have experienced a third: "Excellent! Wonderful - I would not change a single grain!!", - that happens many more times than either of the others, with me ... not because of some mysterious process - but I find that more readily when I TRY to find that.
I NEVER lie about the way I see others' work. There is no need to... EVER.
What happens to those images that are considered substandard (by the student - they are more critical judges of their own work than I would ever be)? "Deep Sixed". The contact sheet is stored, and the "K's" (for "kill") are put away - on the chance that they may be viewed through "different eyes" at a later date. I am not interested - and will not allow - agonizing over interesting, if unsuccessful forays into photography - "baby steps" by neophytes.
Now - "self- satisfaction" and its inevitably following "complacency".
I don't think it exists. That hasn't ever happened to me - and to tell the truth, I have never seen it happen to anyone else. I have heard rumors ...but as far as I'm concerned that is all they are - rumors.
I HAVE seen examples of those "giving up" photography, for one reason or another - mainly because of frustration, or (as in my case) guilt; or due to injury, lack of funds, the student could not see any positive results - or many other intellectualized reasons ... but never because they were not "challenged enough".
Let me out it this way: In teaching someone to swim, do you immediately load the student down with weights. to "challenge" their skills" - and, as soon as they seem to be losing fear of the water, and enjoying the first small glimmers of success, add more weights - to increase their "skills" - and insure that they do not become "complacent?"
My goal in helping the "new ones" in photography is to empower them... to nurture and encourage them to realize and accept their own unique, personal visions.
If I can, there - I will attempt to remove every barrier - or weight - that I can find. Here - the knowledge and skills of technical aspects become important - as TOOLS of empowerment in support of their vision.
There - I hope I stay clear of "bit heaven" - and that I have stirred up enough thought, pro or con, to save the thought-waters from stagnation.
Ed Sukach, FFP.
Bravo Ed, I like the way you put that. Save the challenges for those that seek it. Most folks take up photography for the enjoyment and beauty of it, it makes sense to do what you can to enhance the experience.
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I don't think I've ever seen work which did not contain some imperfection, not even Weston's. It's certain that Michael has never seen anything of mine upon which he couldn't improve, or get me to improve.
Originally Posted by Ed Sukach
The greatest gains in my competency have always come out of the harshest criticism. Maybe I'm too thick skinned to be a good teacher.
Good anecdote, Ed. Glad you shared it.
I was fortunate to have patient and generous mentors from the time I showed an interest in photography, at age eight or so. My mom saved some of those early photos. A couple actually weren't bad. In general, tho', my early photos serve to prove just how patient and generous my early mentors were.
I've avoided Leicas for the very reason you alluded to. That line of cameras seems to have an odd effect on some users. Not all, granted, but the effect it has on some is inexplicable. While I'm fairly confident it wouldn't infect me I don't want to take any chances. I stick with humble but competent gear.
Three degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon.
I've heard that ... the theory is "There is NO perfect work."
Originally Posted by c6h6o3
I have *never* been satisfied with my OWN work ... and I'll worry over that far before I'll worry about someone else's ... not as a matter off selfishness, but due to the limits of my capabilities - I can really only control my own work. SO --- no, I'm never "satisfied with my own work... and it becomes a matter of discipline ... I know I must stop somewhere, so I will.
I would be hard pressed to find fault with many other works ... where is the "improvement" to be made on Adam's Half Dome? How would I - or anyone else - "improve" Weston's Nude, 1936, or any of his photographs of Tina Modotti, on the Azotea, 1934?
Are any of these "perfect"? I doubt it ... but then *no* diamond is "perfect" either.
The incessant quest for "perfection" is not, in my mind, a "good" thing ... the logical outcome is, inevitably, "overworking". Case in point ... Michael Jackson's plastc surgeries, or Joan Rivers'. I'd *MUCH* rather gaze on a few *very* "imperfect" faces: ... Marilyn Monroe's, Sophia Loren, Julia Roberts ...
I will call your attention to one image I posted on the "Critique" Gallery - entitled "Lips". A criticism was applied to that image - I'm sure, with the best of intentions... not one whit of doubt in my mind that it was NOT meant to be derogatory, mean spirited, or anything else than what it was - a valid, reasonable suggestion of a possible change ... to crop the top portion of the image to remove the area containing the model's lips.
I had considered that photograph at length. There were prints made, with that EXACT crop.
In *my* eyes, the configuration here served to express what I wanted to say; the emotion bound in that particular 1/125th second of time. With the suggested cropping, the image was decidedly *different* - and not my choice. It stayed as shown - and was entitled "Lips" - not in the least part for that included element - which serves to "soften" the viewers attention-fixation and present something other than what would otherwise be. in my mind, a fairly boring, run-of-the-mill "formula" figure study.
Now ... How, knowing that *I*, exercising my choice, and (grit teeth - artsy-fartsy cliche' to follow) artistic freedom, change that image to look "better" in my eyes? I understand something of making it look "better" in yours - but it is MY photograph.
Could one of the "Great Lights" TELL me how to "fix" my work? Probably ... but I have NO doubt that they would NOT. They, to a wo/man, value MY "Freedom of Vision" as dearly as they do their own --- and believe me - they value their own!!
Would they help with the technical end of things? If any of them ever refused in the future, I could truthfully say that it was the first time.
So... does acidic criticism produce the best results? Emphatically, IMHO - *NO*!
It is much better to realize that one ifs FREE to do whatever we will - and have the blessed freedom to make our own choices, and risk our own mistakes. We have the BEST chances of success in that atmosphere!
Ed Sukach, FFP.
Rilke: " Works of art are of an infinite lonliness and with nothing to be so little reached as with criticism. Only love can grasp and hold and fairly judge them."
That is absolutely true.
But, when someone looks to you as a teacher, it is a grave disservice to not say anything that would be helpful in an aesthetic way as well as in a technical way if you know what you are talking about. When people come as students they are not presenting finished works of art, but are coming for help. If they were 100% satisfied with their work there would be no need for them to put themselves in the position as students in the first place. Comments of an aesthetic nature, if made properly, enable the student to expand their capabilities and to have their work become more the way THEY mean it to be. It is a total misunderstanding of the creative process of the critique to assume that any comment in that direction will only be a reflection of what the teacher likes and will limit the student and make their art less of a reflection of who they (the students) are. That being said, I have heard many, many critiques. Most are wrong-headed and so off base that, here I'll agree with Ed, most of those giving them would have been better just shutting up. But, although it appears that Ed, and perhaps some others, have never experienced a proper critique, that is no reason to assume they cannot be helpful.
Based on your laudatory comments, Ed, of a few of the pictures in one of the galleries here, I looked at them. I could not disagree more with your comments. So for you, yes, it is better not to say anything in an aesthetic way. I would never comment on a scanned print on the Internet, pro or con,--there is no way it can have the feeling of the original and so all one is commenting on is are reproductions--and always, because of the medium, poor ones at that (though some are more poor than others).
I do not know the picture of Ed's that he refers to--the one someone suggested cropping. Let's assume the person making the comment about cropping knows what they are talking about and that, if the top part were cropped the picture would be better. And let's take Ed at his word and assume the photograph, as is, is exactly the way he wanted it to be.
Hopefully, the function of the comment about cropping will encourage Ed, the NEXT TIME he make a picture to consider other possibilities, and not stay locked into "the way he wants it to be." We are all limited by who we are. The more we can expand who we are, the richer and fuller our work may become. The proper function of a teacher is to enhance that process of expanding who we are--enhancing personal growth.
To go back to my original comment: in order to do that in the most helpful way possible one must have a sense of who one is talking to, in addition to having knowledge and expertise in photography. Since we do not have that knowledge when "critiquing" photographs posted in galleries on this site, it is, in my opinion, presumptuous to make any critique whatsoever--pro or con--except for an " I like that," which is not a critique, but a statement of personal taste. Receiving a too laudatory comment can serve to stifle growth even more than a comment that is critical. Unwarranted laudatory comments reflect contempt on the part of the makers of those comments. The unstated, and perhaps even unconscious, assumption is, " they cannot do any better, so I will tell them what they are doing is fine, so they don't feel bad." Whereas comments that point out all of the problems with a photograph, aesthetic problems as well as technical ones, challenge the student to grow. It should go without saying, that these comments need to be made in a positive, not a negative way--the point is not to be critical and kill the excitement of the student--which I believe is what Ed is afraid of, but to enhance the excitement of the student by challenging them to improve. Such comments can only be made if the teacher believes the student can improve, hence such comments are always great compliments.
It is my opinion that if you ask/request a critique by placing an image in the "Critique" Gallery you should really expect an honest critique. It may not be what you want to here, it could be your best work so far - and no one will "get it", but the fact you have ask other to review your work and comment means you are ready for All levels of comments - how that critique is delivered is important. It need not be harsh, hateful or hurtful - it should be aimed at helping one improve their work.
Nothing is learned when everyone showers you with praise. Most of us know when something needs more work, and if we ask for assistance we should be prepared to hear that it does.
What does this mean as it relates to APUG? I think in order to improve, I need feedback from others, who's opinions I respect. If an image is posted on ANY OTHER GALLERY, it should be commented on if one likes it only! If you don't care for a work, if you think it should be done this way or that, a private message might be appropriate, but a critique is not call for - since it was not requested. This is hard for many photographers (I include myself in that group), we all want to 'fiddle' with an image - to apply our own vision to it.
Maybe that is what should be understood in the Critique Gallery - we ask others to comment on our work, but really we are saying "here is my vision, tell me what your's is". Sometimes we agree, other times we do not. There is no right or wrong, there is no prize to be won, we do this because of the pure joy we feel by sharing our work with others that enjoy the same thing we do.
So the next time any of us post an image to a gallery we should first decide where it is posted and what resulting input we get on the image...the worst thing we could do is as not comment on an image that someone wants to make better.
Enough, this has become a bit of a Rant, Sorry..the opinions of this post are subject to change (after all there are little robots on Mars, what's next)