Taking criticism on the chin!

Man and dog relaxing

If you pick up almost any book on modern photography, whether about a particular photographer or about photography in general, and take a look at the images they contain, you’ll find very little in common with the images that do well in club photography today. The simple fact is that so often, revered and highly regarded images from some of the best photographers of any generation would most likely bomb in club competition anywhere in the world. Would Saul Leiter, Shirley Baker, Vivian Maier or Fred Herzog do well in my club competitions? I’d really ike to think they would but I suspect there’s a fair chance that they would struggle.
Conversly,  I feel that the types of images that do well in club competitions would not necessarily acheive critical claim in the broader world of photography. To my mind there is good photography, and there is good club photography and the overlap between the two sometimes appears to be quite marginal. For this reason, I’m not a huge fan of club competitions because I often feel alienated as my interests lie in general, in reportage and documentary, and outside of the more popular genres of landscape, portrait, sport and wildlife photography more associated with my club and indeed other clubs I know of. That being said, I’m not adverse to participating in any of these other genres of course, in fact I love to spend time with my fellow photographers irrespective of where we find ourselves. If that is in the studio or on Dartmoor that is absolutely fine with me. It’s just that if I have a preference, I would be shooting urban and social documentaries rather than seeking out the natural landscape.
This brings me on to my main reason for posting today. Now, I will be the first to admit that the image above is not “typical photography club fare”. It is however what attracts me to photography and it is what continues to make me want to take photographs. The sad thing is that this image, although having much more in keeping with many of the photographers I admire, is never going to win over the hearts and minds of the typical club judge. That is a dissapointment to me, and I would assume it must be a disappointment to many other documentary and reportage photographers who take what they see. It’s this diversity in photography, just like any other art form, that makes it such a special genre.

All of the above being said, the one thing competition does deliver is criticism or more importantly, a critique that you can often work with and which helps to improve the image. The header image above is from a recent club competition and while in general the comments were bland and meaningless, the judge did suggest that perhaps it could be improved by converting to B&W. Now normally, I prefer my street images to be in B&W because, as the judge concluded, colour often distracts but I chose colour for my submission because I felt that the colours and tones better played to the deprivation of the scene and so added something positive to the image overall. In hindsight though, I think that the judge was right to suggest going with B&W as it does produce a particularly gritty image that adds rather than detracts from the social message I was trying to put across. If I was putting the same image in competition tomorrow would I choose B&W? You can make your own mind up as to which image, if any, works best for you and if you have any comments, it would be good to hear them.

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