Hello again everyone. I didn’t die in a freak accident with no witnesses, leaving the blog to slowly expire. I moved house (which turned out to be much more complex than anticipated) and lots of very positive family thinks happened. Keeping day-to-day business rolling took all my energy and so I had to take time out. Several months and one glorious week of Cretan sunshine later, here I am. So let’s kick off with a post l’ve had in mind for some time, but had completely forgotten about….
One of the challenges with moving one’s photography forwards is knowing who to listen to. There are innumerable experts offering their input (usually for a small fee), camera clubs, Facebook groups, as well as friends and family. Sometimes the advice is solicited and sometimes it is given during the course of making photos, sharing them, or just living with people who see what we’re up to. If you’re an active photographer with engaged family and friends, the chances are that you have fair amount of advice coming in from here. The challenge with advice from close friends and family is that it often seems like we should take it more seriously because of the closeness of our relationship with that person. This is a bit daft, of course, because our relationships with people are in no way correlated with their knowledge of photography or their creative aptitudes. Over time, like most of you I suspect, I have become accustomed to politely listening to input from people I’m almost certain to ignore. Doing so is of course important to those relationships; I feel very grateful to be surrounded by loved ones who have an interest in what I am doing – interest enough to let me know what they think. Besides, every now and again they do say something that really makes me pause for thought.
I have also been quite surprised at who is able to provide useful advice. My ex-wife, who has no real inclination towards creative activities, was superb at picking out the best print from a string of almost identical images. She had no idea why she was picking print X, rather than Y, but she almost always picked the one I felt was the most accomplished. Doing so assured me that the small changes I’d made were indeed worthwhile. When she concluded that there was no meaningful difference, I usually already knew that I’d been splitting hairs in any case. Another person whose input I am finding increasingly interesting is that of my eldest son. He’s 14 years old, is far more into video, gaming and animation than stills. Nonetheless, when I have shown him my work, I have been surprised by his comments. He clearly has a very keen visual and creative side that is not being fully exercised in other areas of life. He often struggles to find the right words, but we can always reach an understanding of what he is getting at.
About six months ago, Ben became very excited at some of the images he saw while I was flicking through a few books from my collection. This wasn’t vanilla enthusiasm, but ‘wow, Dad, stop…. that is AMAZING!’ I asked him to describe the kind of work he liked most, but he couldn’t find the right words, so we flicked through the book (I forget which one) and he quickly identified the ones he found most engaging. His responses were instantaneous and it was clear he was processing lots of visual information very quickly. Based on which images he’d reacted to, I then went over to the book case and pulled out a couple of books I thought he’d appreciate the most. If the first choice was near the middle of the dart board, Josef Koudelka’s Chaos was the bullseye. The images in this post are some of the ones he picked out.
Over the last five years or so, I have found myself increasingly drawn to ‘near abstraction’. I felt this developing over the years, but it was put to me very directly by Simon Norfolk, who visited my exhibition of Russians and Royals, A Tree Falls and Terrestrial Cosmos during Les Rencontres d’Arles in 2013. Although I had been aware of it ‘in the background’, I had not given it the consideration it perhaps deserved. I have no idea why or how my 14 year old son has fast forwarded to almost exactly the same place, but there he is. I’ve gone over my own work with him since and can say with certainty that I would take his feedback very seriously. Not only does he possess a sophisticated eye, but he shoots from the hip. His responses are far more spontaneous than mine could ever be (as is the case for anyone who is reviewing their own work) and I trust him to be brutally honest. The last point I made is why everyone should be so very wary of social media based feedback. It is perhaps the least critical feedback you’ll ever hear and tends to conform to herd trends (not to mention often being driven by social factors, rather than creative-critical ones). This is why I’d rather have one ‘Ben’ cast his eye over my work any day of the week. At 14 he’s kinda sorta where I am at 42 in terms of the photographs he’s most inspired by, but he isn’t me. I see things he doesn’t, but he most definitely sees things I don’t and that’s what excites me most of all.
How do you deal with feedback? Have you been to professional portfolio reviews? How do your partner, parents, friends or strangers influence your decisions?
The End….. but here are a few more images that Ben picked out as favourites along with one of my own photos.
He was also very keen on the vertical panoramas within Chaos, whereas I find the format less ‘right’ in this orientation:
Now for a Koudelka photo that Ben picked out along with an image of mine that I know he likes a lot.
And yes, I will be reviewing Koudelka’s book, Chaos. It’s a cracker.