Washhboy Photography | My critique of the Critique, Part 2

My critique of the Critique, Part 2

May 19, 2014  •  Leave a Comment


As I broach the subject of the photo critique again, it comes after I've completed a chapter in my life. About two months ago, I completed a BFA degree program in Digital Photography. As part of any learning/education process, critiquing is a very important part. If you've read my first blog post on the critique, you know that I think critiquing is only useful in a very narrow set of circumstances. And I have to say the same applied to peer critiques in school. Throughout my three years of school, I explored just about every major genre of photography, including the history and business of photography. I think school is a great tool in filtering out what you DON'T want to do just as much as it helps you decide what you DO want to do. I was required to take four portfolio classes where we shot, critiqued, and narrowed down selections for our final portfolio. Let me start by saying this was a very useful tool. I always took the critique of my instructors seriously, and applied a lot of their input to my future photos. Not all, but a lot. I have a healthy respect for all my instructors. And if you remember from my first blog post about the critique, respect is an important criteria for useful critiques.

Now let's get to student/peer critiques. One of the biggest problems I had with student/peer critiques in an academic environment, particularly in the arts was the fact that we all for the most part had very different areas of concentration. I, being a documentary/editorial guy would find it hard to objectively, without bias critique a portrait photographer or food photographer. I honestly tried but found myself looking at their work through my documentary/editorial eyes. And I'm sure that's the way they viewed my work. While getting input can be useful no matter what type of photographer you are, I believe you would be doing a grave disservice to solely base where you go with your work on the critique of someone that doesn't even shoot what you shoot. Guidance on the technical, yes, but on your style and the way your present an idea, hell no. Nobody knows that better than you. Here's an example: during one of my portfolio classes, one of my peers decided to shoot all fine art nudes for the entire class. I'm not a fine art photographer, but I did recognized that my classmate did some outstanding work in this area. But the problem was there during the critique, there were a few people that seemed to not like nudes of any type. I suspect they lumped fine art nudes and pornography in the same ball. So critiques from them were always negative. There were a few others that didn't like males a subjects, so their critiques were biased. And lastly, as a result of feedback from the class, the photographer decided to shoot subjects that had more "average" bodies, and not chiseled like her first few attempts. When she presented them, the class negatively critiqued them solely based on the appearance of the models, which she was encouraged to shoot in the first place. As a student, this was all still a vital part of the learning experience. But as a photographer trying to "find" themselves photographically, not so much.

As as I start a new chapter in my life as a photographer post academic, my opinions of the critique are unchanged. I personally do not critique other photographers' work unless they personally ask me to. And I will ignore other photographers critiquing my work if I either don't respect them or respect their work. And remember, critiquing is not a synonym for being an ass, dick, or personal attacks. Critiquing is a tool used to point out what can be better in a photographer's work and most importantly, input on how they can improve. Because telling a photographer what they did wrong without any input is a waste of time. If you don't want to part with your "secrets" for better shooting, then you shouldn't part with your critiques either. If that's the case, keep them both to yourself.

And finally on the subject of critiques, if you are unable to be objective in your critiques because of your genre of photography, perhaps it would be best if you said nothing at all. Photography like life is a work in progress and what is accepted as the norm today can change tomorrow. Beware of people who critique your work using absolutes like "never", "always", etc. These words have no place in art, which is ever evolving. If all else fails, find a photographer you trust and respect and ask their input. If they are worth their weight in photographic gold, they will give you the feedback you need to be a better photographer. And to hell with the "know-it-alls".


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