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Good criticism

About a week ago I started a discussion with people on our company photography listserv. I work for a technology company, so most of the email that goes back and forth on the list is about gear. There are some people that know quite a lot about lenses and stuff (one guy used to be an engineer for Sigma) but on the whole it rarely excites me very much.

I wanted to generate the same kind of discussion as on the now-defunct Hardcore Street Photography "Image critique thread." That thread eventually got out of hand, but while it was around it was a great place to post an image and have it picked apart. (I never did it myself.)

I posted the Kisekae image of the boy at the Golden Gate Bridge vista point to start the thread off, and as it progressed I got a really good response off-list:

[Yours is] a picture of something that is beautiful/meaningful within a particular context (where context is time, location, meaning, movement, detail). A very generic thing that I think about when I am trying to improve is: if my picture needs context, what are the things I need to have had in it to reduce the amount of extra context I need to add to make it interesting?

This comment reminds me of something that I used to see on the Hardcore Street Photography thread, "your image doesn't tell a story." Or, it does not answer the question, "what am I looking at?" Or, in more Brechtian terms, the image does not "speak for itself."

I like this picture better than most other things I've done recently, and there were even some things about it where I got lucky: there are no people in the middle ground, and the people in the background are turned away.

But I think it's true, it does not explain itself well enough. I know what I was experiencing when I took it, but there's not enough in the frame to explain what's happening here.

Not that it's a terrible image. Let's call it a good failure.


jessica petunia said...

I certainly don't think it's a failure. For me, it's not so much that it doesn't speak for itself, but (and this is a point that would come up often in the HCSP critique threads) it doesn't make me ask any questions. I think what has set apart a lot of the really genius photos that I've seen lately is that "wtf" quality.

mcvmcv said...

hey jessica, thanks for commenting!

this is a good point, it's something that i'll keep in mind when editing my photos, i.e. deciding what's worth editing and what's not. maybe at some point i'll even get it in my head when shooting.

btw, i don't *really* think this photo is a true "failure," i'm definitely not beating myself up about it... on the contrary. i just don't want to get too satisfied with anything right now.