Lest Ye Be Judged

Earlier this week I had the honor of judging a competition for the Park West Camera Club.  I had done this one other time a few months ago, but on that night it was 3 of us anonymously rating the images 1-10, which was fun and interesting though at times surprisingly difficult.  On Monday however I was the only judge, and not only did I have to grade them A B or C but I had to give comments on why.  Now this would be fine for a handful of pictures, but I there were something like 68 digital images, 30 prints, and 16 slides over the course of over 2 hours.  It doesn't need to be said, but it was mentally exhausting.

However it was fun nonetheless and many of the people came up after and asked me questions about my comments even when I was negative, everyone seemed to take them well.  The thing is, it's just one person's opinion, mine.  I started the whole thing off by saying that I was going to be honest and not sugarcoat anything, but if you disagree with me well then disregard everything I say and make your art the way you want to make it.  

That's the question really, who am I to be commenting on their work as some sort of expert.  I mean, I know how to take a picture and everything but there's so much more in there.  Maybe I'm cranky today, maybe I don't like cats or pretty landscapes or whatever.  For example, I definitely have a bias against that nasty WAY overcooked HDR look that was all the rage a couple of years ago.  There are people who do it amazingly well, but most don't.  And so HDR photos tended to lose points for it even though someone else may have said it was a lovely image. And some of the photos were lovely. Some of these photographers are really great.  I guess you've got to take comments with a big giant grain of salt.  I've had big dog photographers tell me to remove certain images from my portfolio which another big dog said was some of my best work. You just never know.

The funny thing is that when I was looking at the images and making the comments it felt pretty natural, because I was doing to them what I do to my own work while I'm editing down a shoot or retouching. Photography is truly an iterative pursuit for me.  How can I take this image and make it better?  Ok, how can I make it better than that?  More contrast? Less saturation? Straighten? Crop?  Some of you might be thinking that I'm taking all of the beautiful chaos out of it, and you might be right.  But I've learned that most of the images I'm drawn to were not a result of chance, but rather that of pure determination.  I was hard on them the other night, but I'm even harder on myself most of the time.  Maybe I should give a class just on image review and choosing the best shots. That could be interesting.

I think if there were a comment that overarched the whole thing is that many of the photographs felt like the photographer was scared to make a decision. Either they need to be wider to show more of the surroundings or they need to crop in and highlight the important stuff. Instead too many of them sat on some kind of middle ground of mediocrity where they wouldn't offend anybody at all  but also didn't really connect with anybody either.

A number of people came up to me after and said I was one of the better judges they've had which I take as a high compliment.  Mostly it just makes me more eager to find a way to teach, and not a workshop kind of thing, but a proper class where I can really dig in with a group over the course of a semester.  Need to look into that.  At any rate, it was a fun evening and I'd like to thank the club for asking me back as it was a great experience yet again.

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