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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Comments on Photo Clinic

Comments on Photo Clinic (Print Commentaries)

Three weeks ago, I went to PSS (Photographic Society of Singapore) to attend a Photo Clinic session which they held on every Friday evening from 7:30pm - 9:30pm. It's been months since I last attended. So I thought I went back to catch up with old friends. I've also heard about news that PSS has had appointed a new community members to run or operate courses, seminars and photo clinic sessions. So no harm in checking it out.

On my first visit on 29 June, the photo clinic session was conducted on the third level of the building - the gallery room. Unlike the past photo clinic sessions where each PSS member will take turn to showcase their work to the respective instructors, they changed the whole concept by gathering every member or interested listeners in the gallery room, more in a seminar-style with digital projector showing members' photographic work. An instructor will be present to comment. Well it was kind of refreshing to see this new concept of photo clinic session. They are trying it out for 3 months til September. If it doesn't work, they'll resume to the old traditional ways.


Based on my observations after that three sessions, with my last on 13 July, I do not find any parts of the photo clinic session or any comments the instructor gave so proudly with much enthusiasm, that help us understand the members' work. Even in some rare occasions where they see good photographic work, their praises hold no meaning at all but pretentious flattery. The instructor made silly assumptions by judging on the members' work which they did not essentially bother or require the members to explain about their own artwork. I do not see that it helps in the artistic or in this case photographic development of the members, especially to those new beginners and/or imtermediate and serious amateur photographers.

Related to personal preference is the often heard comment in a critique "If it were my image I would do this to it..." followed by some advice about cropping it here, straightening there, dodging, burning, etc. The point is, it's not my work. How I would approach a photograph, how I would change it, or how I would print it is essentially totally irrevelant. It doesn't tell us anything about the work as it is. It doesn't clearly tell us anything about the photographer's intent or success. It doesn't help us understand the context, meaning, background, intention, or historic importance of the work. How I would make it, similar to I like it, is a statement about the person who is making the comment. Even if interesting, these comments are meaningless in the context of looking at an exigent photograph.

When you're offering a critique to a fellow photographer, there is nothing of importance or value in these opinions for a photographer to hear. I like it or I don't like it it doesn't tell us anything about the artwork, although it does (again) tell us quite a bit about the person who makes the statement. Frankly speaking, why would you care if I like a piece of work or, for that matter, if I don't like a piece of work. It doesn't make any difference whether or not you like it. Furthermore, such personal preferences don't add anything to the discussion about the work. As the basis for a critique, this is a perfectly valueless statement.

Therefore the only important comments that we can make, the only useful comments that we can make, are about the work as it exists now. There is a great deal we can bring to the discussion - our reactions to it, our interpretations of it, the context, the background - all of this is fair game. But how we would change it in order to improve it seems to me to be fundamentally unimportant, at best, and a silly distraction, at worst.

Not long after I attended my first session, I came across this bi-monthly magazine, Lenswork* in the local national library. Issue #69 Mar-Apr 2007. I've always been a faithful reader of Lenswork, created by Brooks Jensen. So I borrowed it.

*In case any of you do not know about this magazine, you can get one copy at Borders, Basheer Book Store, Page One and Riceball Book Store. Or you can log on
here for more details about the magazine.

In that issue, there's a chapter written by Brooks titled, Some Comments on Print Commentaries. It's an interesting reading material based on his observations and experiences. The whole article is meaningful, which I find it very helpful as it changes the way I see (based on my own experiences too) about local photo clinic session. I strongly recommend you to read.