Photography and Framework

What is the first thing you see when you look at a photograph?

What is your framework for the experience of photography as art? Do you read it? Do you critique it? Do you think "I could have shot that."?

One of the things I've found inherently wrong with the critique and competition culture is that it taught me to view a photograph with these questions, "What is wrong here? What could be improved?" It became not just my primary, but my only framework from which I read other photographs.

Once that critique mindset became my go to, I found it difficult to see what the artist might have been trying to say about themselves or about the world. I stopped what might have been an enlightening conversation with my judgement. I dismissed their voice. Thinking, "I could have shot that", is a sure cue that you are also damaged artistically.

This habit of approaching every photo from the framework of critiquing it is like reading books desperately searching only for the grammatical errors. This is an essential job for editors, but a very damaging perspective for readers.

It is like listening to a musical performance only to point out pitchy notes or bad timing.

There are certainly times when I am reading a book and a typo or grammatical error pops out, but I dismiss it with the thought, "bad editor". I don't let it stop me from enjoying the writer's voice or the story itself. So when I see an obvious beginner's error in a photograph (straighten that horizon line), I think this is someone who has not yet come into their full potential as an artist, but I continue to look at what they did say with their photograph.

There are times I still need to remind myself that it is not respectful to walk up to a piece of art and say "Oh, I see Picasso used an aqua blue and he really should have chosen cerulean blue. And what is he doing with that nose? And BTW, I could have painted that." 

You might not yet see the harm or damage in critiquing instead of experiencing work of other photographers. You may even believe that your experience entitles you to "help" others. So here is the bottom line. This critique perspective ultimately damages your own creative voice. When you can't hear or see the voice in others, it is very likely you can no longer hear your own voice.

The danger in not having your own voice is that your work is trite or copied. You not only "could have shot that" you probably will go out and do just that. What choice do you have when you've become blind to your own visions?

Turning this around starts with learning to read art again. Ask yourself questions. What is the artist saying to me? What is the conversation? What do I see in this work? Is it simple, playful, sensual, serious, political or even humorous? What grabbed the photographer's attention? Why did they choose this subject? This light? This moment?

You can open up your own artistic voice again when you start to read and hear the voice of others. 

In this way, you can truly learn to "see" the world again through you own lens. 

 


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