Seeking Critiques

For me asking for and listening to someone else’s critique is one of the hardest and most confronting things to do. This is because I have suffered many feedback sessions over the years that where not handled very well by the people doing the critique.

Many have actually been a means of bullying. The have ended in tears, tantrums and totally giving up. These include:

  • Giving up on painting and drawing at art school, because my drawings weren’t good enough. I went to art school to develop my skills in drawing and watercolours.

  • Leaving a drawing class and never returning when the teacher drew on my drawing and told me I wasn’t doing it right. This was after a ten year hiatus of drawing, went to a life drawing class. I was enjoying drawing a model so much I had stopped following the teachers directions. Their reaction was, you are not doing it right.

  • Giving up colour photography because of a published critique of my exhibition (coming from someone whom had never seen one of my prints or had even visited the gallery). It is lovely to see that this blog has since been removed from the internet.

  • Being bullied out of the public service by my direct boss after discovering I had put in a formal complaint about their treatment of me and the team (this is probably the worst example). He decided to give me some feedback (apparently). I left in tears, didn’t sleep for weeks and never returned.

Yet, I have had some amazing experiences with feedback that have encouraged me and helped me grow. These include:

  • Dr Peter Sefton, a linguistics major, songwriter and literary award winner, told me I wrote really well, I just needed a bit of editing. This one discussion lead me to now considering myself as a writer.

  • George Schwartz who showed me what my first photographic projects were about, and who taught me to figure out answers using a problem solving approach.

  • Joe Cornish, David Ward, Tim Parkin, John Blakemore and Mark Littlejohn whom at the On Landscape Photography Conference 2016 elevated my work and settled my self doubts as to its quality.

  • Gordon Undy for showing me my intuition is indeed accurate when platinum and palladium printing, and that is a valid way of working.

  • Freeman Paterson whom told me to follow my passions and not worry about what doesn’t interest me.

I believe that learning to critique a photograph, an artwork or anybody for that matter is a skill that needs training and practice. I believe that anyone can learn and be helpful to us, particularly when it is framed appropriately and comes from a place of interpretation rather than of fixing.

I do think you need to choose your mentors carefully. I kept Peter’s name on a post it note next to my computer as I wrote to remind me that my work was good. I have a list, in my mind, of people whom I trust with my own photography. I recommend you develop a solid list of people you can trust with your work for critique. People with a good eye for art, people whom are supportive.

Good mentors and critiquers are:

  • Experienced

  • Gentle

  • Good listeners

  • Good observers

  • Have a sound basis of visual literacy

  • Tactful

  • Thoughtful

  • Facilitators

  • Educators

  • Inspire you to listen to them

  • Positive

  • Encouraging

  • Have your best interests at heart

  • Growth facilitating

This week I want you to consider who should listen too. Write a list of mentors and people who’s critiques you can trust and listen too. There is no need to publish this list. It is just for you.

Secondly, I want you to post a photograph, yes, just one for critique, and ask for a constructive critique. There is no need to explain anything about it. Just post it.

Thirdly, I want you to study my previous post on critiques https://www.lensschool.com/lens-weekly-photography-exercises/the-gentle-art-of-critique. Then I want you to practice giving healthy critiques, using the principles, rules and guidelines in that article, on other people whom have posted their photographs in the comments bellow.

Please post only one photograph for critique per post. No more than three photographs, and only if you critique more than three photographs yourself. Please critique as many of the photographs you can.

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Text and photography copyright © Len Metcalf 2019