I have found, along with many other experienced photographers, that giving your work time to mature is very valuable. Letting go of the emotions that effect your ability to critique your work effectively takes time. For me, the longer I leave my work to mature, the better I see the work for what it really is.
I often leave my work for a year or two to mature. Seriously, more than a year.
On reflection, I believe this is because I criticise my work based on my intentions I had when I took it. When the photographs aren’t congruent with my intentions I am inevitably disappointed. Thus being hypercritical of my own work. Basically, I think it is crap.
Over time, I modified my rating and critique process and procedures. I no longer use the rating systems I had read about. Classical photography books, written by professional photographers describe a system that is designed to choose your work straight after capture. They tell you to rate each on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. Then look at your five star images. If you don’t have enough five star photographs, then go back and reload at your four star ones.
I found that once I rated my work I never looked at it ever again. Thus missing many great photographs that I had given a low rating based on my intentions when taking the photograph. Great shots were overlooked.
Now I only use five stars. I now go through a shoot whenever I feel like it. I rate a few. Skimming very quickly. Process and show them. Then I let them sit.
I actually, try not to do this step as soon as I get to my computer. I prefer to let them sit for a month or so before I even do this step. I do this so I can get some feedback for myself and reward my sell with a few lovely shots.
Then I put them down. Like a good red wine. I let them mature. Give them time to breathe. To relax. Time for me to forget. To create more work. I leave them. A year. Two years. I then return. Having totally forgotten about them and have my serious look through. It is now, after this extended time frame, that I find some, most, of my best work.
They key, for me, is totally forgetting my original intention.
I am not alone with this procedure. Garry Winograd did this as well. He had a garbage bin. He would date his rolls of film. Three on most days. He would shoot in the mornings. Date his rolls and put them in this bin. In the afternoon he’d reach to the bottom, pull out a couple of rolls, all taken on different days and process them. Searching through is work that he had never seen before that was at least a year old. He wanted to have forgotten what he was trying to achieve. To look at his work, fresh, without the emotional attachment of the taking phase.
For me this works. Amazingly so.
So this week it’s your turn. Post old work that you have not rated previously nor already processed. Search through your discarded work. Your old work. Two years at least. Or the oldest you have. Process it today, look for what excites you today.
Post three to five photographs.
Ask yourself: If there is any benefit in this approach? What did you see this time around? Are you often disappointed in your work because it’s not what you intended? How does it feel to discover beautiful work in you old discarded work?
Lets discuss this…
Photographs and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2019