I was sat in the front yard yesterday reading Gradient Light by Eddie Ephraums and was struck by the truth of something he says really early on in the book, on page 10 to be precise:
… judge the quality and content of our images by our own standards rather than those dictated by photographic convention
I found myself nodding at the page. Not because it was an earth-shattering revelation nor because it was an “Eureka!” moment. It was simply that it resonated so strongly with my personal belief. It just struck a chord with me … so many within the hobby seem to strive to make images to satisfy club judges whereas I’ve always thought that was secondary to making work that is pleasing to yourself. Competition success or the applause of your peers shouldn’t be the goal but the cherry on the cake – a welcome bonus yes, but not a means of validation.
Take pinhole photography. I love experimenting with pinholes, I enjoy the unpredictable nature of the genre and I like the aesthetic. But I know better than to put a pinhole image into a monthly folio at my only photography club. Or rather, I now know not to enter a pinhole image.
I’d enjoyed some unexpected success in the club’s annual competition and had graduated from “new member” to “not a bad photographer”. As I said earlier, I do not seek validation for my work but at the time I was working 60+ hour weeks and so the club was a way for an anti-social old #insert word# to chat to others about the hobby. I decided therefore that following this success it was time to let loose my art. That is, my more creative and less conformist images. I was ready to share those images I really cared about rather than the homogenous, sterile work I’d been producing in order to fit in. I started with a pinhole image of an old harbour and a receding tide.
Now whilst I was ready to share, I wasn’t ready for the barrage of comments from the others in my folio group. “Not a sharp line anywhere”. “A bit soft … you perhaps need to improve your PS skills”. “I can’t work out where you focused”. “Not sure what you’re doing here …” and the real sting “I thought you were a decent photographer … so I’m really disappointed in this”.
Luckily, after working in banking for many years my skin was very thick, and so I wasn’t bothered by any of the comments although if I’m honest, the last one stung a little. But, I quickly came to the conclusion that my image wasn’t the problem it was the mindset of the others in the group. Most of the group were slavishly following whatever was flavour of the month with the judges on the club circuit. Rather than creating work that pleased them they were striving to produce work to satisfy the whims of a self-elected group.
Now, you might be thinking that I voted with my feet at this point. But no. I enjoyed the company of the group and decided that differences over art weren’t going to rob me of the friendships I’d made. I did however stop entering the annual open competitions. In my own mind I guess that I pragmatically decided to agree to differ and look for an alternative outlet for my less conservative work.
As an aside I once entered a darkroom print into a monthly print folio. Eleven inkjet images and just my lone silver print. My favourite comment? “I think you needed to add a subtle S-Curve and perhaps tweak the Levels too in Photoshop.” To reassure you, dear reader, I’ve not spent the last year or so looking for the Curves and Levels sliders on my enlarger.
So, the point of my soapbox this afternoon is – do what pleases you. If you are doing things to please others then you run the risk of pleasing no one. If you enjoy validation from your peers then consider looking for like-minded folk to share your work with. Not sycophants though, they are good for your ego but not your art.
The last word goes to Geoff on Twitter:
Couldn’t agree more, the image needs to satisfy the intuition not the intellect … Geoff McGuffie