I want to share some thoughts on a quote. I found in an article Documentary Dynamo, about the work of Jeffery Lamont Brown written by Larry Brownstein and published in the on-line magazine After Capture. Although the quote, by a poet, is directed at writers, it reads equally well if you substitute photographers.
“Some writers (photographers) confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.” W H Auden
What a great statement and what a world of difference it would make if photographers were more concerned with authenticity, the really good ones are, rather than originality.
For the past five years, even though I frequently post critiques, I have refused to numerically rate photographs on the critique site Photo Net. In their "rating" system, a number between one and seven is assigned to two categories, aesthetics and originality.
In the first place, aesthetics is extremely subjective. What is aesthetic to me may not be aesthetic to others. Aesthetics depend a great deal on, among other things, the person's past exposure to and understanding of visual art. On a critique site it is frequently based solely on whether or not the image fits into some preconceived "rule" of composition. Besides that aesthetics is an it is or it isn't. How do you rate aesthetics on a scale? What is a five on the scale of aesthetics? Ludicrous.
Originality? What hasn't been photographed? With billions of photographs produced annually, what hasn't been photographed in almost every conceivable way? Just because I haven't seen it done doesn’t mean that it hasn't been done.
Authenticity, is the photograph truly the photographers? Without regard to whether or not it is original, did the photographer truly make the photograph his/her own? "Art feeds on art and the changes in current practice are, for the most part, the result of a thousand tiny shifts in perception brought about by exposure to a thousand influences, not least the work of other artists." (Sturgeon, 1982. p 189) Artwrite