Two weekends ago I took part in an event called Critical Conversations hosted by the Griffin Photography Museum in Winchester, MA. It was a great learning experience and it reminded me of how and why independent critique is so valuable in creative fields like photography. More after the jump!
Unlike traditional portfolio reviews where a photographer meets one on one with a reviewer, twelve of us met with reviewer Keith Johnson (http://www.keithjohnsonphotographs.com/) and went over each portfolio as a group. While Keith provided the bulk of the critique and commentary, it quickly became a group discussion with a lively give and take. For instance, points such as why an artist chose to display a certain print would morph into a larger discussion of how and why we choose images. The discussions went to a cerebral rarely touched in a typical twenty minute portfolio review! Which got me thinking – why don’t more photographer and artists go to these sorts of events? I imagine the main reason is fear. Deep down, we all fear that someone will call us out as a fraud, or as incompetent. But in a good review, that should not be the case. An artist’s work may have technical short comings, but those need to be pointed out in order to grow and progress (a key here is to match your experience to the critique- if you are still developing your craft, having experienced photographers review your work for technique may be better than going to a conceptual art critique). There is also a strong current of “I shouldn’t have to explain it” in some artists that makes them resistant to outside critique. Fair enough, but personally I find it very useful to present and defend my work, because it makes me think about why certain images resonate so strongly with me.
So what did I get out of that morning’s discussion? Well, Keith got me thinking of sequencing my images in an entirely new way. I tend to be a linear, strongly logical thinker. But he suggested thinking of the images as flowing in coda. That phrase- coda- suddenly opened up a new way of viewing and presenting my work that I had not previously encountered. So now I am experimenting with presenting my work in a series of groups that not only flow image to image but that refer back to each other rhyme and verse do in poetry and song. This also allows me to separate coda or groups of images with strong singular photographs that previously did not quite fit into a linear narrative. I’m thinking of using size to unify the coda and set apart the intervals. An example of what I am experimenting with is below. But most importantly, I got to meet some great people and make a few new friends in art world! I’m really looking forward to seeing how their projects progress in the future!