Nice Comp Ansel, But I Would Have Used Color FilmCopyright Mark Hobson. All rights reserved.
Photographic pearls of wisdom are where you find them and a mother lode (bed?)
of pearls was just waiting to be discovered in Lens Work (Issue No.
50 Dec03-Jan04), a beautiful and noteworthy bimonthly photography publication.
Editor Brook Jensen reflected on 34 years in photography with a random list
of 131 things hes learned in an article aptly titled, Things Ive
Learned About Photography (Revised, 10 Years Later). The list is composed
of his original thoughts mixed with a few from authors he credits. He calls
these thoughts personal and experimental, and suggests that they may not be
true for everyone. His rationale for publishing them is to stimulate thought,
an item that he declares to be of some small value.
Small value, indeed. So, for thought/discussion starters, how about this item
from Jensens list?
When showing their work to another photographer, they will often try to
help by offering comments about how they would have done it. This the epitome
The first supposition about how I would have done it seems to have
particular significance for Image Critique Forums found on sites such as NPN,
ample evidence is found here, and on other sites, to support his contention.
Just a brief dip in the critique pool on NPN yields up these "IW"s;
I would ...crop just a bit off ...just try to darken ...consider cropping it
out, making it a panoramic...crop the horizon line ...try a ND filter ...be
tempted to clone out ... - all copied and pasted directly from just three NPN
image posts. If one were to include the I would prefer and I
would like, which are in the same spirit as the "IW",
the evidence in support of Jensens point is not just obvious, it is overwhelmingly
Certainly such "IW"s are suggestions, not directives, given in the
spirit of helping others learn. And, yes, they are most often couched
in phrases such as the ubiquitous IMO to avoid direct offense to
the creator of the photograph and to also avoid the appearance of self-aggrandizement
on the part of the other photographer who steps into his role of Critic.
So, what's wrong with that? Surely the etiquette is proper and to form, and
the suggestions sincere. So, why does Jensen assert that This
is the epitome of insensitivity?
At least part of the answer can be found in another item from his list -
The quality of a photograph is inversely proportional to the amount of intellect
used and directly proportional to the amount of intuition used when composing
All great art has the artist's heart and soul as its wellspring. The artist's
connection to his art and subject matter is preternatural and subconscious.
Most can not fully explain why they do what they do, or what drives them to
do it, but, they do know that they are driven, oft times compulsively, to do
so. In short, they create their art intuitively. As one writer (I believe Red
Smith) once said, "Writing is easy. I just sit down in front of a typewriter
and open a vein."
Indeed, art created with this kind of passion and commitment is a very personal
matter. Great artists write, paint, compose, and photograph what they "feel"
about their subject matter. And, while some artists may claim to have carefully
selected their subject matter, in truth, their subject matter, has most often
Therein lies at least part of the answer to our question. True artists are
not creating photographs, they are presenting to us, usually complete strangers,
their inner most feelings and emotions. They are trying to establish a narrative,
a dialogue, to express what they feel about their subject. To begin our response
to this narrative with how you would express yourself is insensitive,
and, to the artist, completely irrelevant.
It would be much better if we can learn to "listen" to what an artist
is trying to say. Then we can take a giant step towards appreciating
and understanding Art.
When you make your next image critique, why not start by asking yourself what
you perceive the photographers intent to be. Then open a dialogue. Respect that
the photographer has created something of value. Tell him how the photograph
makes you feel and grant him respect for his art by asking him why he did what
he did. Ask him about what he was attempting to say, even if it seems obvious,
because things are not always what they seem to be.
Learning then becomes a two-way street.
As artists, we will inevitably learn from formulating a response to
thoughtful questions about our work. We are challenged to identify our vision.
In the process, we learn about ourselves when we confront our actions/decisions
in creating our art and then define the reasoning behind them. If, indeed, all
great art comes from inside, artists have to do the dirty work of digging it
all out. No one can tell anyone else how to do it.
As viewers and critics of photography, our ability to appreciate, interpret
and understand the work of others will be enhanced by learning about the varied
and often fascinating motivations and intents of other photographers. We can
then begin to get beneath the surface of photographs, where, most often, the
real narrative lies. Others have much more than technique and craft to teach
us about photography. Be humble and realize that even the neophyte, who still
may be learning technique and craft, may have something to tell you that you
might not already know.
By taking this approach to our critiques, we might even overcome the greatest
barrier we have to understanding, appreciating and creating great photography
- looking at photographs through the eyes of a photographer. Always remember
another, and, perhaps the most important item from Jensen's list -
Emotions are more important than details.
What do you think? Join the conversation!
MARK HOBSON is a family guy lucky enough to be living in his favorite place on earth, the Adirondacks. A former agency creative director and commercial photographer, Mark has brought his love of the wilderness and photography together to form Nessmuk & Stoddard Trekking.
Mark's photography has been used by Fortune 500s such as Kodak, Xerox, Heinz, PPG, and Bausch & Lomb. As a creative director he has produced campaigns for clients such as; I LOVE NY, Lake Placid, The Adirondacks, Cooperstown and the Finger Lakes.
His Adirondack photography has been exhibited in galleries in the NE. He has won recognition as a repeat finalist in the Carnegie International Nature Photo Competition. Mark has also been a judge for the Kodak International Snapshot Competition as well as the Kodak Camera Club.
Be sure to visit Mark's website at www.adirondacklight.net.
Comments on NPN nature photography articles? Send them to the editor.