Yesterday I read an interesting article in a photo magazine talking about criticism and how to handle it. It was a nicely written article and as I was reading it I realized that, maybe unlike most photographers, I really didn’t have to deal with criticism.
I believe it has a lot to do with my approach to photography (non-photography) when a perfectly exposed picture is not necessarily a good picture and when the practice of taking pictures follows an inner drive instead of a set of instructions created by someone else.
I mean, how can people criticize my pictures without appearing a bit foolish? How can you tell someone their picture is, for example, not composed correctly when this person doesn’t care and maybe even promotes off balance composition?
Its not to say that I didn’t get any negative criticism but it was not my work that was ever criticized it was my ideas about non-photography that irritated a few people and even sparked some anger in a few other beautiful souls. True, some people don’t feel comfortable straying away from the herd, but they even dislike it more when someone else does.
But anyway, I find that this type of criticism actually fuels me, helps me stick to my ideas and it even drives some of my ideas further into the extreme.
The only time I did get any negative criticism to my photographs was actually before non-photography was born, when I took pictures but didn’t think I was in any way doing photography.
It happened when after a few years of living in Los Angeles I put together a website to share my view of this city through pictures I took while bike riding along the streets. It was a website about the city, not the photography, and the photos where just there to help me share my view.
It was all nice and mostly fun until I received an email message from a professional photographer, who was also a professor of photography in a university somewhere. He absolutely hated my pictures and claimed I have no idea what I was doing. This was absolutely true. But as it always happens in my life, criticism pushes me to the exact opposite direction, into the realm of “I’ll show them!”
Obviously I knew he was right, and that I was not a photographer, but that doesn’t mean I cannot take great pictures, right? So instead of having a normal and sane reaction to his criticism, you know, just telling him I’m not trying to be a photographer, or maybe quitting taking offensive pictures like this I essentially began developing my non-photography attitude and never quite looked back.
Imagine what a great loss it would have been had I indeed listened to him!
I know, most articles, books and “professionals” will tell you, you should listen to criticism and try to learn from it. They will tell you that criticism improves your photography.
I’ll tell you what, the only thing that will improve your photography is you, and you doing it, you doing your thing just the way it feels right to YOU. This is it. Negative criticism should be avoided if not ignored.
Yes, there are types of advice that might do you good, but this kind of advice you will only get from your friends, people who know you and strangers who really appreciate and care about your work. These are the people who will give you true constructive criticism and you can definitely listen to them.
But other than that, criticism should be ignored. It will only divert you from the true nature of your artistic SELF expression.
(btw, the above mentioned professional photographer who criticized me; we exchanged emails for awhile, me always arguing how one will be better off not to follow the rules, and him defending the existence and necessity of these guidelines for “good photography”. After awhile I created the non-photography site, sent him a last farewell email and was then surprised to learn that he only wrote to me to start with because he thought I showed “a remarkable potential” to grow and become a great photographer. )
Now, criticize this.