My critique of The Critique

January 16, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

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As a photographer, artist, or just about anything you can be that your results are evaluated, at sometime you will be subject to a critique of those results. Critiques can be positive, negative with feedback, or just negative. Either way, a critique is an evaluation of your work by someone else. But for the sake of this blog posting, I'm going to focus of the photographic critique. Keep in mind this opinion applies only to random critiques; it does not apply to potential employers, academic instructors, potential and current clients, or industry professionals.

I want to say first off that this is MY opinion and view of the photographic critique. First off, photography can be both art as well as just a service. When you provide a photographic service, your client is the only critique you need to be concerned with. That's not to say you can't seek out advice and ways to improve yourself, but in the end, if the client wants, the client gets. Second, you the photographer and the client decide if the photographs are "successful", meaning they convey the intent the client wants. A random photographer in a Facebook group commenting on your photo doesn't determine that. And third, outside of the technical, what input can you offer as an outsider? You're critique will ALWAYS be biased. For example, I don't particularly like newborn photography, so I would never offer an opinion on such work because it would be extremely biased, which serves no purpose other than hearing myself talk.

What about the "art" of photography? This is where it seems like every photographer in his or her high horse has an opinion and it seems to be negative. I can't stand the "random", unsolicited drive by critique. This is the random photographer that writes a book on your photo, but offers no feedback and has no idea what you were working towards with that photo or body of work. Facebook groups are good for these type of people and their critiques mean absolutely nothing to me, as they would for most. I'm a firm believer in two things: 1. critiques are only desired if asked for and 2. your critique will only serve a purpose if the person being critiqued respects your work. If you shoot newborns and you're critiquing a fashion photographer's work, it will fall on deaf ears. Photographers have different tolerances for critiques. I personally take them with a grain of salt because as art history has proven time and time again, critics are often wrong because they don't have a historical perspective in which to draw upon. What this means is that often critiques are linear, limiting, biased, and lack a global view. I support and welcome technical critiques WITH FEEDBACK. Don't tell me my white balance is off without telling me which color or how to fix it. If you don't provide feedback, then you're just bitchin'. And you don't have to be a photographer to do that. If you're going to critique on my concept or theme, then the first thing out of your mouth should be "What are you trying to accomplish with this photo?" Because how can you make an informed critique if you have no context in which to critique from? It's like trying to sank a free throw blindfolded. All the basketball knowledge and skill in the world won't mean a thing if you don't know which direction the goal is. Once you have some context, then have at it. But be aware there are many ways to convey a message or feeling, not just your way. Saying things like "I would have done this or you should have done that" may offer some new insight to the person you're giving the critique to, or it may not be inline with what they are trying to say. Artists are as diverse as the population they represent. That means how they choose to visually communication concepts and ideas will also be just as diverse. 

In conclusion, here are a few things I believe will help the critique be a more successful form of art discussion. Only critique when your input is solicited. You are not the photography police. It's not your duty to correct all that is wrong with photography. For every time I was told not to tilt a photo, I open a publication and see a tilted photo. For every time I was told not to crop at joints, I open publications or see a billboard where photos are cropped at the joint. For every time I was told that selective coloring was too cliche and a fade, I have 10 clients requesting it and I see a jewelry ad using it. When you do critique, don't be an asshole about it and always give feedback. Reframe from critiquing the type of photography you know you don't care for. It's impossible to be unbiased toward something you don't like as a genre. And the final thing I would like to suggest, and this is for you holier than thou photographers that always have a critique ready: dial it back a bit. 9 times out of 10, by the time you get to saying something useful, the person has already tuned you out because of the shitty way you approached the whole thing. No one really likes to be told negative stuff about their work, even more so if you have an attitude about it. Do your photographic thang, and if your opinion is wanted, it will be asked for.


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