Camera Position 36 : Who’s Lookin’ At You?

Who is in your critical circle? Who looks at your work to help you define what is good and what “works”? Do you do it yourself? Can you trust yourself to be a good critic of your own work? This episode examines the idea of being your own best friend and your own best enemy.

Tuscany: Cloud, Tree and Hillside, 2005

Tuscany: Cloud, Tree and Hillside, 2005 – Photograph by Jeff Curto
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8 thoughts on “Camera Position 36 : Who’s Lookin’ At You?”

  1. Jeff:

    I have been listening to your pod casts for about 5 weeks now. They are all very good, but this one is may favorite (so far). I have struggled how to critique my work and youhave given some paths to follow. I will be in Vermont on Saturday and am going to try to get to your lecture. If I do I will hopefully get a chance to introduce myself.


  2. Jeff,

    Thank you so much for answering my question. The idea of having a purpose is starting to make more and more sense over time and as I take more and more pictures. After thinking about what you said on the show, I realized that most of the time, if I like something at first and then dismiss it later, more than likely it doesn’t fit into that molding purpose or style. Like you said, being very honest with yourself is a good thing. It’s almost like a natural filter, weeding out what doesn’t fit. I guess time is the best judge of all though. As always, great show and thank you again!

    Joseph M Arthur

  3. Jeff,

    Thanks for the good thoughts on getting critiques and self-critiquing. It was also nice to see all your color photos, quite different from your B&W portfolios. I suppose B&W gives the “timeless” flavor you want, but I would be interested to hear more about this in a future podcast.

    I would like to mention a self-critique method that some might view as dangerous, but that I’ve found very helpful in understanding “what matters to me” — which may not be very clear in advance. (In fact, one of the things I like about photography is the way it helps me discover what I care about.)

    I apply my method after having at least several images that seem the germ of a project, though one could start from a single image. I start by trying to find as many similar images on the web by entering searches like “photography ghost towns” on Google, either regular or images search. Yikes! In a spirit of live experiment, I just discovered Lynn Radeka has a couple of _very_ similar images to ones I took. I mean the same exact subjects, in one case from the same exact angle. Guess I didn’t use those particular search terms before…

    So after the shock of seeing *my* images pre-stolen by someone else, or more likely just some generally similar ones, I come to the crux of the method: figuring out, hopefully articulating verbally, what is really similar and what is different, what I like and don’t like. I won’t pursue that exercise here, but suffice it to say I find it really instructive. Of course, it could be even better to discuss the comparison with someone else also. But I find that even by myself, I become aware of things about my own images that I hadn’t thought about before, or hadn’t realized the importance of.

    This method may not be not for everyone; it’s easy to get intimidated by some of the great work out there. But I find discovering differences, and that I might be able to bring something more personal, possibly unique, is ultimately empowering. I may choose to emphasize my idiosyncracies, or I may adapt/steal ideas I get from others and incorporate them into my developing “style.” I don’t care where it comes from, if it helps me make pictures I like better! (By the way, the Radeka-like shots were ones I didn’t include in my online portfolio. Although I’m still not entirely sure of “what I want to convey,” I didn’t feel they fit as well with the others I wanted.)

    Stephen Durbin

  4. Good podcast, very thought provoking, and something I’ve been dealing with for the last year or so.

    I joined a site called for this very reason, to be able to compete against, be critiqued by, and recieve help from other photographers and enthusiasts. It does seem that the pictures that I enjoy of mine the most are not always the most well recieved by others. While I have learned to make my visions technically better in composition, find a “photographic voice” has been difficult in a site built on contest that encourage conformity for the most part.

  5. I like Stephen’s method of searching for images that are like yours… an interesting idea. I often use the “keyword” search feature at PhotoEye to do something similar to this… to find out what others who have some of the same visual and “emotional” ideas that I have are doing with their images.
    (then, either use the “search” function or use “explore by: keyword” in the pop-up at the bottom.

    Steve B’s strategy for putting yourself out there in critique situations on the ‘net is also a good one, but has some pitfalls, which he’s discovered. The primary problem is that some of the people who are looking at and critiquing the work imagine that they have more visual acuity than they actually do. I’m not saying that this is always the case, but it can be a factor. Obviously “taste” can’t be legislated, but when you’re getting a critique from someone who has less experience or training or authority (owns a gallery, is a photo buyer, is a photo editor, etc) than you do, then it’s kind of a roll of the dice.

    That’s why, when entering juried shows, knowing that the juror is someone whose taste and judgement I respect is important to me as I make my decision about which shows I’ll enter and which I’ll pass on.


  6. I think one can be too self-critical. I’m close to that camp — I used to be in danger of being so hard on myself that I never want to pick up the camera again. I don’t think I’ll ever achieve ‘fine art’ status with photography, nor do I limit myself to calling myself a ‘snapshooter’. The chief problem is that the better I get, the more pressure I put on myself to fix ‘the issues’, which have become more and more minor, generally unnoticeable to my ‘audience’, if you will.

    What I’ve discovered I like most about photography is what it teaches me. I like the experimentation element. In fact, to me the actual photograph is secondary. Perhaps my wedding couples would disagree with that at first, but if they thought about it, what I bring is more than just a camera. It’s being invested and engaged in their big day. And I try to take that attitude with me every time I have the camera in my hands. What it means is that I have no favoured subject, no strongly emerging theme (colour, texture, etc.).

    I think it’s critical to have a wide variety of people whose opinion and critique you trust. One or two respected photographers is good to have in there, but getting a reaction from non-photogs is also a great way to tell if your work is making sense in a larger context. I think that was perhaps implied in this podcast, but I just wanted to express it myself. 🙂

  7. Brad;

    See, I think that by saying “the better I get, the more pressure I put on myself to fix ‘the issues’” and “What I’ve discovered I like most about photography is what it teaches me. I like the experimentation element. In fact, to me the actual photograph is secondary”, you are, in fact, working towards the “fine art” aspects of the medium.

    In my opinion, it’s all about the sense that what you’re trying to do is get better all the time and that you’re learning from the experience. The learning that you’re doing isn’t just about photography, either… it’s about looking and seeing and being in the world.


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