Everyone's a critic


One of the many things I dislike about the photographic Internet is how, despite what you might think, any kind of original thought is often stamped on. Too often it reminds me of some kind of bully pack trying, via peer pressure, to impose convergence as to what constitutes the 'right thing to do' from gear choices to how to take and process an image. I've had the dubious pleasure of photographers whose online work defies belief in it's talentless waste of bandwidth tell me how I'm doing something wrong. I usually construct some 'robust' reply, or simply deny them the opportunity to abuse me again. I do this on the basis that I would never 'advise' a photographer on the choices they make, so I'm damn sure I'm not tolerating anybody telling me what to do. And with the sods law of the internet that means only the most self obsessed and yet self deluded individuals chuck this advice around, I have no qualms about having a pop at them.

i remember one particular individual who used to inhabit the Dpreview Canon forums, back in the days of the 5D Mk II and the early days of HD video. He used to lay into everybody, left right and centre, with his sneering comments, arrogant misinformation and purported professional experience and opinions. I checked out his website and discovered he was a poodle photographer, who had close to the worst website I'd ever seen, including a picture of  a steamboat from the city in which he lived as his lead picture, with a sloping horizon. He was also one of those who like to populate their sites with different fonts, inappropriate italics and misspelt ungrammatical testimonials he had obviously made up. If he wasn't so annoying, I would have felt some sympathy for him. 

Conversely I corresponded with a photographer from a website / forum who was very self effacing and regarded herself as a beginner and very much an amateur. However, her images of her life, surroundings and family were a joy to view. She had insight, a great sense of composition and her pictures were interesting and technically excellent. Much better in fact than the supposed 'gurus' of the forum (men of course) whose ability to offer up second hand cliches masquerading as serious photography was second to none.

I have been asked to offer advice to photographers and to critique them. While I have been willing to offer some thoughts on the suitability of images for stock photography, which I feel I am able to do, I have always declined to go further than that. Because who says one picture is better than another? And using what criteria? I've been well aware of some surprising 'best sellers' in terms of my stock portfolio and lack of interest in what I consider to be my best work, so I'm well aware that one persons also-ran is another persons 'That's just what I'm looking for' image. And you only have to see what wins acclaim in the photographic 'fine art' world. See 'Two blue buckets.' or the deeply unpleasant work of the ghastly Martin Parr

Too often photographers lack the confidence to follow their own path. And while that has never happened to me, I can understand it. But I would always encourage people to ignore the crowd and if you are happy with an image, then that's a good thing. Because if you end up creating pictures that get internet approval, as far as I'm concerned your talent will be lost forever. Because the internet is a poor judge. Cliches are rewarded and approved of and it is banality not creativity that rules here. 

I also try to steer clear of looking at a lot of photography. I'm interested in seeing what's out there and spending so much time on the internet it's difficult to avoid two dimensional imagery coming at me from everywhere. But I draw the line at that. I've never tried to analyse an image and certainly never tried to copy one. I remember a while ago reading an account by a well-known landscape photographer who stated that on arriving at a location he heads for a shop selling picture postcards to work out what to photograph. I nearly choked on my muesli when I read that, because I can't think of anything worse. Because isn't the point of photography to record those fragments of time that we see and want to preserve. And also to record OUR perspective on what we see, to select the details that we, not somebody else, think are important. If photography isn't one of the most personal artistic activities then I don't know what is. 

So next time you feel the urge to go against your instincts when you take a photograph, because of what you have read or what you have seen, resist it under all circumstances. There is no guarantee that you will become a great photographer, but at least you will be an honest one. And if you want a succinct catch phrase to sum all of this up how about 'Own your mistakes.'