Given the travails that we went through to get last meeting off the ground, loosing not one but two judges at very short notice, then Bristol traffic conspiring to wedge the prints in an immovable traffic jam on the other side of town, just when things looked like they might be going right leads one to wonder just what the universe was telling us. Absolute sterling work from the Competition Secretary, Mark O’Grady, frustrated by circumstance. Big thanks from all of us Mark, for going above and beyond. Then – and British readers of this blog will want to make sure that they are resolutely braced before taking this bit in – the tea urn went missing. Still we got somewhere in the end.
So, why does a club have competitions? There are, of course as many reasons for that as there are club members. Recognition, acclamation, ideas, feedback, discussion something to fill a hole in the calendar, are just a few of the headlines you could write a whole blog and more on each. No, don’t panic, I am not going to. When children draw they don’t have a concept of consequences, is this good or is this bad? Right colours? Does it look like it should? and so on. What they produce is intensely personal and very honest. As we grow older we learn notions of correctness and benefit and we unlearn the naiveté that made making pictures fun. Even of the abstract we come to demand technical proficiency. We corral our imagination.
In time we improve or abandon the pursuit according to circumstances and according to what we want. We buy a camera because we want to record a special occasion, a holiday or maybe our own children or children we are close to, a few of us because we are curious about pictures and want to get better at making them. Now- a-days, rather than buy a camera specifically we are much more likely to turn to our phones. The pictures we want to make are generally those we can create without the many hours and mess involved in painting, never mind the fine motor skills, which some turn into is photography art debates (Yes move on). Cameras and pictures are so much a part of society these days that picture making is pretty much second nature.
Most of those pictures being taken at this very moment are dull, boring, technically flawed and mean something only to the person who will forget they took it by tomorrow. They are constructed for different purposes. We decide to get better at this sort of thing and, suddenly, (nearly) everyone else’s pictures look better than ours. That can be a spur or it can put us off. Access to the ways of doing things is a lot easier now than it was, there are blogs and video channels aplenty as well as the more traditional routes through books and courses galore that blend all these. That, however, can make matters confusing rather than easier. So we know about the tools of odds, of thirds, of lead lines and negative space, symmetry, foreground interest and the effect of focal length, and the importance of balance and we know all about the exposure triangle. In fact we can know a lot about a lot and can still make pictures that lack impact.
The problem, at least in part, is that we have all these tools and rules but they are tools and rules of thumb. Certainly they exaggerate elements of the arrangement of the objects in the frame and hold others back but we keep coming up against the idea of technically proficient but subject deficient – and other people’s photographs still look better than ours. It is self doubt that becomes, once one has learned the basics, the biggest drag on learning. Sometimes we cannot see for looking. Sure, we need a mind open to development, open to seeing other people’s work, looking at other pictures in that picture but the frame of mind has to be positive and the habit has to be always looking for the picture – even when you can’t carry a camera. The habit is the thing that enables everything else, the letting go of the half-expectation of finding something to photograph and replacing it with the opportunities to see something to photograph.
That can be where club competitions come in. Yes we want to test our metal against others, but we also need feedback. No we don’t always agree with the judge, but we need to be able to say why. Yes the judging is subjective, yes its structure does mean certain types of photography may not fare as well, but it is a structured feedback on pictures that are anonimised and it is something that you can work with if you choose. The more experienced judges should come with a wider perspective anyway and whereas they will have their likes and dislikes – some of them strong – the perspective they are showing is a start.
If we can get into the habit of the feedforward loop we will do ourselves an enormous favour. Feedforward is when we take the experience of a previous occasion and use it to improve (control) a future event. Learning from the future ” Images of adaptive future behaviour, hitherto not mastered” (Wikipedia) or in our case getting the picture we see in our head as a Jpeg by design not accident, is something we can only do as design.
Next session is a 10 by 10 (or there abouts) where members talk about their own images, what they got from them, what they would do differently (among other things). Open to all members, bring some along and join in, especially our newer members, as we are all interested in photography and this is a good opportunity to share it.