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|| News Item: Posted 2007-05-23

Preaching to the Choir: Critique
By Paul Myers, Brooks Institute of Photography

Photo by Paul Myers

Photo by Paul Myers
An oral exercise
Through critique we engage in a conversation with ourselves, our peers, our field of artistic inquiry and its history. We critique our own work and we are critiqued by others either individually or in a group setting.

1. Ask for a definition of "critique."
2. Spend time agreeing on a concise statement that addresses the primary goals and uses of critique.
3. Ask what is "expected" from critique. Some ideas that might arise include: making critique inclusive; creating a space that is useful for everyone in the critique; agreeing on a common language; exploring counterproductive methods of critique.
4. Use this statement defining critique as the basis for future critiques.
5. Thank the group and remind them that critique is a celebration of our potential as photographers.
6. Critique. The point of the process is to assist photographers in realizing their own methods and goals by mutually articulating what they want to accomplish as photographers. The methods that are effective and ineffective will be noted and critically evaluated for their storytelling usefulness in each situation photographed. Eventually this critical consciousness will migrate to the moment of photographing rather than remaining in the moment of critique.

The moment of critique serves not only the photographer but the entire group as one's best efforts are bared for all to see in the photograph on the screen. Here, the "learners" are everyone in the room, even the person whose work is being critiqued. Though emotions may run too high to immediately notice lasting or important information from the comments or suggestions, the photographer still benefits from the process. Many times it is only after six months or ten years that the photographer understands the lessons of a critique through the process of photographing, editing and struggling with the quality of the photographs. Sometimes it takes this long for their ego to get out of the way of their learning.

Through critique the group gains confidence, a voice, in their formulation of an approach to editing photographs. The tools of discernment they encounter become second nature and are later utilized while photographing and the applying the ideas at the speed of life. Whether effective or ineffective, when photographs communicate ideas, emotions, and interactions the photographers learn how to critically approach their own photography.

Photo by Paul Myers

Photo by Paul Myers
It is because of this space created by critique that photographers push themselves beyond their limits to make photographs that they hope will be acceptable to the group. This might explain why photographers seek quick answers or shallow assurances as to whether or not an image "works," an immediate value judgment placed on their efforts by another. "Sucks" and "great" are seemingly two of the few responses photographers are able hear or capable of internalizing during critique. Photographer: take a breath, write down what is being said, put it away and read it tomorrow morning, see if you find an intention that differs from that which you thought you heard today.

Again, learning to articulate ideas about photographs leads to understanding the difference between effective and ineffective communication. In this moment of awakening photographers begin to search for the sound of their own voice. They begin to realize that they have a voice and start to take steps towards vocalizing this burning idea through the camera.

Being a photographer is being in the world as a judge of composition, light, time, gesture and humanity. The interaction of these elements is on-going examinations of the world that change over time. The process of learning to be a critical visual thinker is guided by initial success and then it is tempered by variation over time. It is this cycle of sight, creation, critique, sight/creation that is the core of what it means to be a photographer in the world. A photographer is a human who becomes one with this cyclical philosophy and methodology in its most simple terms and in all it stages simultaneously. The photographer who has become one with the photographic process equals sight/creation/critique/sight/creation.

A silent exercise
I look into the eyes of the genius only to realize that you are frightened to show the depths of your humanity. You have beautiful eyes, you see. Still, you want nothing to do with the task at hand: editing is a brutal endeavor.

So many times the young photographer is assaulted through critique that, quickly, confidence is replaced by coldness and inquiries by arrogance.

Photo by Paul Myers

Photo by Paul Myers
Pride is the wall that defines humanity.
Pride is the wall that divides humanity,
Dividing itself through its own pain.
Why do we inflict these wounds onto those who emulate us?

It is an honor for me to edit your work. My intention is for you to encounter the photographs you love. My hope is that you dream photography. It does not matter what I think or feel about your photographs. It matters that through our conversation you are able to articulate why you love your photographs.

Out of all the worry and the madness emerge the photographs ordered for humanity, your edit, an edit that is a sweet song for the eyes. Thank you so much for sharing this process with me. You did it. You made a beautiful edit of your work with all the dedication and angst that is the heart's ache and throb with each beat of the creative process. I can't stop looking. Your order keeps me returning to the series through and through, learning.

I feel the sun warming, the voice clearing and the music running through all of our veins because of your photographs. Yours is the gift of sight that we all dream of, yours is the reason for hope in this world.

(Paul Myers is a faculty member of the Visual Journalism Program at Brooks Institute of Photography in Ventura, CA. Prior to his arrival at Brooks, Myers worked for a variety of publications including newspapers in Freeport, IL and Marysville, CA.)

Related Links:
Paul's member page

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