Posts Tagged ‘critique’

Reflecting on our photography and looking at the “bigger picture”.

September 3, 2009


As I sit and type this blog entry in the lounge room of my wife’s parents’ apartment and wait for the “higher powers” (not supernatural ones, just ones with connections) to tell me when I can go out and photograph what I want, I realize – I haven’t shot anything meaningful since I left India. That was in March!

I’ve had an unusually long break.  When I travel, which is most of the year – it’s intense photography virtually every day, but for the past six months I’ve barely lifted my camera. While I’d like to photograph non-stop, all year-round, I have come to appreciate my time away from shooting. I try to utilize this time in the best way possible. For me that means marketing my work, sorting through thousands of photos to find ones which I will submit to contests, magazines and to Getty Images. This is also the time to learn more about photography, to read blogs and to look at other people’s work.

By doing things photography related, without actually shooting I’m able to distance myself from my own work a little, and by looking at all the other photography out there, I’m able to see where my images fit in the larger scheme of things, to see what role if any my photos play in the world so saturated with imagery. The time away from shooting allows me develop a self-awareness that helps one grow and evolve as a photographer or artist.

I really like what Alexei Brotdotovich, one of the first photography theorists said in regards to evolving as a photographer. I don’t remember  the quote exactly, but it was something along these lines:

Once you develop a style and become known for a particular kind of work – turn in the other direction, stop being formulaic and re-invent yourself”.

The phrase is very idealistic and conflicts with commercially motivated things like branding and the importance of developing a particular style that sets you apart from others, but there’s wisdom here.  Personally, I wouldn’t go so far as to turn in a completely different direction, but I do try to change the way I shoot and the way I approach photography every now and then, sometimes fairly dramatically.

My hope is that people will still find a common thread throughout my work, but I don’t want my photography to be consistently predictable, I don’t want the viewers to be able to  pin down my images to some formula. A sort of semi-self-re-invention may even go down well with clients or editors. While they may not be pleased by a a completely off-the-wall new body of work, an element of surprise within limits might be very welcome.

An interesting “re-invention” quote that comes to mind is from one of my favorite filmmakers – Wong Kar Wai, whose visually distinct work has gained him a huge following over the years and started new industry trends.  In one interview a couple of years back Wong said – “Too many people are making Wong Kar Wai films these days, I’ve got to make different kinds of films now”.

Here’s a real example of an artist who’s reached a great level of success and fame, but is thinking of changing the formula that has made him what he is. That’s inspirational. In this case the artist is not bound by his work, he is a master and not the slave of his own creations, because he isn’t afraid of creating something new and different. Sure there’s a risk and the possibility of failure, but there’s always the chance that something amazing and genius will evolve from the new approach and to me that is much more exciting than repeating the same known formula time and time again.

Hopefully, in about a week, everything will be sorted out, as far as my plans to go out into the countryside and photograph in villages. In the meantime I might just put my own thoughts into action and shoot some stuff I usually wouldn’t, right here in the city. One thing for sure – all this time off is making my head swell with ideas!

Check this blog tomorrow, if everything goes as planned, the new eBook on light will finally be released.

Photo Contests, self-critique and David duChemin’s book.

April 9, 2009

It’s been longer than I’d like between posts. I’ve been busy preparing images for various contests and magazines. Some of my least favorite work after post-processing, but I’m finding out just how important it is. You really learn to critically look at what you produce. It can be a little discouraging when you face the reality and see that a lot of the stuff you thought worked, doesn’t, but it’s an advantage to learn how to discern this yourself. I’m still learning and think/hope I’m steadily getting better.

There are people who aren’t crazy about photo contests, some have their egos bruised when they don’t win and others think the idea is stupid in general. I have mixed feelings on the matter and I do think that some contest  judges are on crack while making their decisions. However, I try to see photo contests for what they are – opportunities to get your work seen by a large number of people and chances to win – money, prizes, recognition. I think I have also understood that these things are extremely subjective, nevertheless the winning images that you see in “big” contests are more often than not inspiring, and that is never a bad thing. If the quality of your work and the timing complement each other, you’ll win, if that’s not the case – you’ll at least learn, if not from other people’s images, then from having to critically look at your own work and seeing what your weaknesses are.

While I’m on the topic of critically looking at images I’d like to mention a site with which I have been involved lately. I know that many readers have probably found me on this very site, but for those who didn’t, it is called Onexposure. I think the whole idea behind this project is quite brilliant. For those more serious about their photography it is a great alternative to Flickr.

It works like this: You have a weekly limit of image uploads and the images you upload are either published on the website or rejected.  After you upload,  knowledgeable photographers/enthusiasts look at your work, if it really sucks a “screener” instantly rejects it, if it really rocks it’s instantly published. More often than not the decision is not instant and the site members (including you, once you register) have to vote on what should be published and what shouldn’t. A decision not to publish is usually accompanied by a   reason/s e.g. – lack of impact, poor composition etc. An important detail is the fact that the whole process is anonymous. The voters don’t know whose image they’re seeing and the photographer doesn’t know who voted for or against. In my opinion this is great because it prevents rivalry, popularity contests and the ridiculous “mutual masturbation” that you sometimes see on Flickr – “Receive a star and give 5 stars to 5 other photos”. On Onexposure if your image is rubbish it simply doesn’t make it to the front page, when it does the comments are for most part of the positive and the congratulatory type and people can “favorite” your photo . In some way this is a page out of Flickr’s book, but on average, the crowd on OneExposure is much more photographically intelligent and with much less trash to look at, you’re really only presented with very decent to absolutely awesome work.

Anyway that’s enough about Onexposure, nothing better than seeing it for yourself.wtfcover

Before I sign off, I’d like to plug the book of an internet friend David duChemin – a brilliant fellow and a very fine photographer. His blog is full of wisdom – inspiration, the business side of photography, practical gear related stuff, it’s all there and anyone interested in photography beyond snap shots must check it out. Needless to say, an author of such a fine blog is very capable of producing an invaluable book for all those who aspire to better themselves as photographers and it seems like David has done just that. The book is still about a month away from being available, but it’s looking good from the sample PDF provided on David’s blog. I urge you all to check it out.