Friday, 12 February 2016

Why did they take that?



Last night we had our Annual inter club competition between MPS and Ashby photographic club. where we pit the 30 of the best prints and DPI's as chosen by the members in an open category.

The club membership had only deemed one of my photos worthy, which was disappointing but fair enough. However it at least it allowed me to have some cards in the game, so to speak.

The image that was selected was the one of hammer smashing a light bulb

As it was my image was one of the 1st to come up and I was eager to hear the advice that the judge had to impart...

Judge :- "This image is technically very good"

Me : - "good start" I thought

Judge :- "But I can't see why they took it"

Me :- "WTF!!!" I thought

In the end the image was awarded 14 marks which was the lowest mark the judge made all competition. What was worse was that this was the only time the judge made that comment, so either he was not being consistent in his marking, or there was something specific about my image he could not relate too.

Now normally I tell myself to let judges comments slide off me like water of a ducks back, but I must admit this one really got under my skin and I let it affect the rest of the competition and the inevitable pub post-mortem.

So much so, that I did something I rarely do in competitions and actually questioned him later about his comments.

His explanation was that he had been reading a book by Susan Sontag, the long time partner of the legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz. In this the author had said that if something does not connect to you directly then it is worthless.

To me this is a difficult concept to understand. If we consider anything we do not understand or relate to as worthless, we are setting ourselves up as the ultimate arbitrator  of worth. If we do this, we are denying the chance that someone has seen something that we have not and therefore closed our mind to the chance of learning.

For example, there were a number of images last night that I could not understand why the photographer had taken them, or what the photographer was trying to relay. But rather than closing my mind to them, it made me curious to investigate and work out  why some saw things I could not. That is the way we learn; not by pretending that all that is closed to us is worthless, but by accepting that we must always re-evaluate our opinions and prejudices

Now maybe it is a requirement for a judge to remove ambiguities from their opinion, so that they can have clarity in their judging. However to me it is disappointing that a judge cannot move beyond their personal opinion and try and put themselves  in the photographers shoes.

Again I think the most disappointing thing is that the same comment could be said of many images last night and many images generally. Personally I cannot understand why anyone would take the same image of the millennium bridge in London, which has been photographed many times or a "bird on a stick" (however competently done).  However I am willing to accept that to they have a reason for taking it.

Saying that the one thing I probably would of changed last night was the name of the photo because it perhaps would of more clearly identified my reason for taking the image. However since the judge freely admitted he took little notice of the title, it would of made little difference in the result.

The judges other comment was that he felt the image did not add anything to the genre. Well here I am guilty as charged (a little judge joke there). However in my defense, if that is the criteria we judge images, 95%  of competition images should be thrown away now.

You rarely see anything in a competition which even pushes boundaries, never mind breaks them. Be it a photo of a waterfall, a picture of a mountain, a bird on a stick, or a portrait; in almost all occasions I have seen it done before and better. However that does not in anyway devalue the image.

Also this is the nature of competitions. Photo presented have been filtered in most part via the opinions of the member. Unfortunately it is also true that most images are chosen on the basis of how well they will do in the competitions. This has a tendency to remove the outliers because they are considered to risky in such a context.

If there were genre breaking photos, they are almost certainly been removed from the pile a long time ago like a dangerous mutation is removed from the gene pool.

However I did take some things away from last night.

Firstly is a realisation that while it is important that you learn from the great masters of art, you should not follow their advice blindly. After all we have no context to understand how they came to their opinions. Instead we should only use it to test our givens in the hope that it might reveal new insights, perhaps ones which are unique to you as an individual.

Secondly, judges opinions, while valued, are just that one persons opinions. They have a more value doe to their experience, but if you let yourself  be led purely by those opinions you just become the equivalent of a fake Rolex. Good but a poor copy of the original.

So you have two choices. Follow the accepted opinion, or have the courage to follow your own path. One way is harder, but ultimately more rewarding.

I know which way I'm going...


P.S the club one the competition last night


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