Saturday, November 29, 2014

Back on PhotoSig

With the termination of the articles for the NWHPC newsletter I will have additional free time on my hands. Thus I have just recently returned to a photo forum that I have not participated in for some years—PhotoSig. It is an interesting forum in a number of ways—it is required that you critique if you wish to post. Now, in truth, I do not know how stringently that is being enforced currently. One of my reasons for originally dropping the forum was lack of enforcement. It does require that you give the photograph a 'rating' from three thumbs down for really bad stuff to three thumbs up for really good stuff--then you must write a critique that goes well beyond the ubiquitous I like or I dislike. That makes it a fairly worthwhile venue for posting for critiques as long as you are willing to settle for the general conventional wisdoms.

There was a time when I would spend hours each day critiquing photographs on PhotoSig and PhotoNet. But I am very particular about the photograph that I spend time on. A single critique can take from a quarter of an hour to several days. I take critiquing seriously. I chose the photographs very carefully.

I try very hard not to critique photographs that do not have a statement of intent. If the reviewer does not have that there is no way to judge how well the photographer succeeded. Sometimes a photograph will be interesting or intriguing and I will break that rule but not often. Generally most of the photographs on the forums are terribly boring run of the mill, you've seen them a hundred times before so I don't critique real often.
Not long ago I requested a statement on a somewhat interesting photo [on PhotoNet]. The photographer replied with a statement but stated very snottily that they prefer the photograph stand on its own without comment. They made sure that I knew it galled them to be requested to comment on their photograph. If they can't be bothered, why should I be? That attitude might be fine for an established photographer but not someone posting to an Internet critique forum. If you are that damn good then you are posting to the wrong venue.
I often suspect that better than ninety present of the photographs are posted with only the desire to be told how really good they are--few are worthy of real praise. I don't have time for ego inflation.
Paul Saltzman and I first met on PhotoSig. He says that I gave his photo two thumbs down. I’m not sure about that. Whatever it struck up a several years long conversation about photography. I am assuming that Paul will be pleased to know that of the two ‘critiques’ that I have posted so far, each received a one thumbs down—yeah, critiques get rated also.
I am not displeased because I approached the photographs as content, I was very diplomatic in both but I did not regurgitate the standard conventional impediments so my comments were not well taken. In my not so very humble personal opinion both were very useful critiques. If that was not recognized that is not my problem. 
I just did my third post. This time I put it under comments rather than critiques. Comments do not get rated but they do not count toward your quota for posting photographs. Since I have no intentions of posting my photographs that is not a concern.
The photograph I commented on was a ‘selfie’ and as you might know, I am especially interested in photographs that photographers post of themselves. Even if the photograph is taken by someone else but posted by the photographer I make an assumption that photograph says something that the photographer finds of some importance and thus I count it as a selfie. Every photograph makes two statements; one about the subject matter and one about the photographer. In the case of a ‘self portrait’ both the subject matter and the photographer being the same person make those statements even stronger. I love self portraits for that reason. I love commenting on self portraits for that reason. Interestingly, to me, men are much more likely to post self portraits than women which helps me considerably because I know absolutely nothing about women and don’t want to—I prefer they remain the mystery they have always been. I would hate to know what is going through the mind of a woman. That would take all the fun out of viva la difference.
Anyway, this particular photograph was a very close up head and shoulders shot that had the face very, very washed out. He got the standard regurgitation of conventional impediments in the critique—all were rated one thumbs up I believe--just barely satisfactory. 
Here is what I wrote:
Alexander, just a few thoughts. There (are) many ways to look at photographs. I seldom comment on photographs that to not have a statement of intent from the photographer. Unless your intent is known how can it be determined whether or not you have succeeded?  You are left with the usual camera club regurgitated conventional wisdoms which are useful only to homogenize photography. What is important about photography, what is worthwhile cannot be summed up in rules—beyond photography as craft.  If you simply want to know how to make your photograph look like the presumed ‘norm” you have succeeded. However, if you want to know how well your photograph makes a statement and what statement it makes you have failed to receive much help.

I always look at a photograph with the assumption, unless otherwise stated, that the photographer sees something of value or importance in the way the photograph is presented. [Considering your blog and website I think it is a fair assumption that you understand photography enough to know that the washed out skin tones were not going to solicit favorable comments.] The approach to such a photograph always begins with questions not statements. Even though I have no idea why you presented the photograph as you did I would be interested in knowing.
This photograph could be experienced several different ways—one being that you do not like the way you look and are saying so by presenting your photograph in such a way that others will not like the way you look. To me the shape of your face, your facial features appear very normal, probably above average in appearance so I cannot imagine why you would not like your appearance so I somewhat discount that hypothesis. Maybe you are saying that you do not see your Self well, that something about your Self is hidden but you would like to see but can’t—or maybe you would rather not see. Maybe you would just  rather that other people did not see it. The closeness of the crop implies an intimacy. I like photographs that are cropped tightly, even much tighter than this one because they say that I can look closely at the person without embracement or reservation—it says, I am willing for you to see me. Why else do we look at photographs of complete strangers other than to see and analyze them?  We make assumptions when we look at pictures of people—we make an assumption as to whether or not we like them, would like to have them for a friend or acquaintance—whether we have similar or very different tastes. We make all sorts of assumptions about the people in photographs. Hiding your face behind a white ‘mask’ cuts off some of that investigation making you more anonymous, less of the individual that you are. I do not know why you have presented your photograph with what is most often considered a major photograph flaw and for some reason I believe you already knew that the washed out face was not going to be seen well. So back to the question, what symbolism, what metaphor do you see, do you intend in the photograph? Or am I wrong? Is the photograph simply a gross mistake?
And a link to the photograph and the other critiques: Handy Selfie 

 Addendum: I first joined Photosig probably in 2002 or so. Was on it for a number of years then dropped off. Now I get back on, post two comments and what do you know, Photosig goes belly up. It was the best site on the Internet for getting critiques--even though I thought most of them were misguided at least you would get a critique which is rare on other sites. Sorry to see it go. The link above will not work.

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