That time of year again and we made good use of the 100+ prints in the travelling critique by taking a clue from the title and doing a team critique. Split into four groups we did a round robin to see if the clubs judgements matched the WCPF’s. That there was some correspondence between our groups and the WCPF is suggestive of something, but how much that is fashion and how much is warranty of excellence is always going to be open to debate, which is why the WCPF have their own judging guidelines. By having such guidelines there is a basis for standardisation.
Standardisation produces a number of benefits. It provides a start point from where interpretations can be made and also provides a reference point that can be used on review. With something that has as much variation as photographic images – each one, after all is unique – the technical, basically the exposure triangle plus composition, represent the common variables. No, you cannot overcome people’s visceral likes and dislikes but you can have a common framework and if people are open about their likes and dislikes – and at least attempt to compensate for them – then you have room for an interpretive framework.
By having such an interpretive framework then notions of quality can be established – but only within the terms of the chosen controls. This blur factor is necessary in photography exactly for the reason outlined above. The uniqueness of each image. Replace unique with the term “Art”. Art is an expression, an attempt to, through the application of skill to materials to craft an object that conveys meaning in the estimation of an audience. It’s what we do in our club competitions. That is not going to be the same meaning in every viewer. To legislate for that is to tell people what to think, never a wholly successful enterprise. Thus we look to regulating, mostly, the application of craft and the bigger thing that creates, the art if you like, of the picture.
This rather raises the question of what purposes such art serves, what effect are we trying to create? Broadly, and I do mean broadly, this fits into three categories. The physical, the social and the personal. The physical relates on a scale from something to nothing. A fountain pen has a physical function, writing, but can also be a functioning work of art. Art is not measured by monetary value, as this example might suggest, the amount that someone is willing to pay and why they are willing to pay it is a function of value, present and future, something quite different. Money is just the way of keeping count. I frequently find use for a tea cup, way beyond most people by volume, but never yet a tea cup covered in fur. I have none because I have no use for them, at least the covered in fur part. I may understand, or attempt to understand, the symbolism of such a statement, I may even add one of my own (futility in case you were asking, though I suspect that was part of the original message), it doesn’t mean I am going to become a furrier to my tea service. The sum is greater than its parts.
The social looks to our notions of a shared life, rather like street photography does, or environmental portraiture, or even portraiture itself in some aspects, as opposed to one persons outlook. Think of the work of social photographers like those involved in the Farm Security Administration sponsored documentary of 1930’s Dust Bowl America. It wasn’t just a record for of the resettlement of those dispersed by a man made ecological disaster. It had a political dimension. War photography isn’t just about two militaries engaging in what Von Clausewitz called “The continuation of Politics by other means“. It has news (therefore commercial) value, it has deeply personal meaning for the photographers there, it can be a contact point for those who weren’t, it is about humanity at its opposites of best and worst. Above all it has a collective purpose.
The personal aspect is probably the most like nailing water, because it is subtly different from person to person. However, as hobbyists it is perhaps easiest to generalise that we take photographs – make art – for our own gratification, as matters of self expression, either to share an emotion or feeling or for no particular reason other than we can – or did. Still this has two aspects, what the photographer meant is not necessarily what the viewer sees and that is a good thing, because otherwise we wouldn’t employ our curiosity, probably the most successful of human characteristics, which is the same as gets us to come to a camera club to learn and share about our hobby.
Just goes to show what you can do with the exposure triangle and the rules of composition.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Annual General Meeting. Important because without one we don’t have a club, so please attend, members.