In the last several years, I have been asked to perform portfolios reviews, consult one-on-one with individual photographers, and judge various photography competitions. In each case, I feel honored to provide this service.
And while I try to make some adjustments for each situation, I can’t help but uphold a standard of criteria when I look at photographic work. Sometimes this upsets people greatly, and they defend their work ferociously, even within an entry level photography classroom. This is fine. Others express gratitude for an honest assessment and helping them move into another phase of the development of their work.
I don’t pretend to know everything about photography. I am only one person, with one opinion. However, there are several themes that do seem apparent to me: Photography has no rules, never tells the entire truth, is bastardized frequently, and love is in the eye of the beholder. I have seen weak work garner stellar awards, and strong work pushed aside.
The truth seems to be that there is more to the picture than the picture.
This month, I am in the process of pre-screening 756 of this year’s Critical Mass entries. Each entry includes ten images and an artist’s statement. I am halfway finished, and after viewing 387 entries, I am starting to see a pattern regarding how I “judged” the entries. And often, very often, I wish that the artist is sitting right here next to me so I could ask them some questions.
Here are some of those questions. I hope this helps when editing your entries for any competition. As I reflect upon these questions, I realize many things about my own work and how I can alter my approach.
What were you thinking when you came up with this concept? Did you clearly state this in your artist statement?
If you’ve seen it before, are these images similar?
Does your work look strikingly like (blatantly derivative of) someone else’s work that you admire?
What are you really trying to tell your audience?
Do all photos form a song?
Do any of the images feel insincere?
Who is more prominently in focus: your content or your self?
How are these photos surprising?
Is your artist statement descriptive, and not overbearing or self-righteous?
How is your point of view different from others we have seen?
Did you take risks with the subject matter, execution of imagery, post processing?
Does one weak image take the others down?
Even though you captured important subject matter (cancer, crime, death), are the images interesting and different?
Have you gone too far just to be considered “different”?
Is the group of images cohesive?
Is the group of images repetitive?
Have you told anyone to blankly stare into the lens?
Are you trying too hard to solicit emotions from the viewer?
Were you engaged with your subject matter? How so?
Are you trying to please someone?
Have you taken a photo of a photo (or painting, or design) and if so, how have you made this your own image?
Do the images tell us something without having to read the artist statement?
Again, there are no right and wrong answers when creating a body of photographic work. It is yours, and should reflect your voice. But if we present the portfolio to others, especially within a competition, there seems to be another layer of pondering that might be useful in presenting something that is unique and therefore more aptly noticed.