I recently had a conversation/semi-argument with a friend about how people view their own photography and what they consider good. I think it's up to the artist to decide what is good and what is bad and, in doing so, they must define how they approach the subject and what they ultimately decide to show based on their own work and goals. If others are interested in the work, that's great, but personally, I don't feel that art should be made with dollar signs in mind, but as a need by the artist to create and express themselves. I, myself, tend to gravitate towards imperfections mainly to challenge the perfection many strive for with digital photography. Oftentimes I will have a photo that I absolutely love but the feeling is not mutual among my friends and gets a cold reception in general, and I'm ultimately ok with that. But, I do agree that the boundary between "good" and "bad" can be dangerous territory, particularly if the artist is not prepared to have their work torn open by a negative review.
During our conversation, three possible photo classifications were identified: Reactionary, Snapshots, and Planned. Reactionary photos would include photographs taken on the fly, such as at sporting events, protests, and documentary photojournalism and other instances where capturing the moment is important with little time to plan. However, a seasoned photographer will understand the dynamics of each situation and, based on
experience, be able to compose a photo with all of the essential elements. This skill takes practice to master well. Two of my favorite documentary photographers include Jon Vidar and Shawn Duffy. They travel to locations the rest of us don't see and photograph humanitarian stories the rest of us read about in newspapers and magazines.
The second category, Snapshots, is a little tricky to talk about and can rub people the wrong way, unintentionally. On my trip to Italy last month, I borrowed a digital point-and-shoot to use when I wanted to document where I had been when I wanted to have photos to help me remember my trip, but not necessarily ones I wanted to waste film on. Out of the 940 photos on the card, I only posted about 75 (about 8%). The rest are crooked, too blurry (and, you know how I feel about blur), and just not good enough to post next to the rest of my work, but I still go through them to help remember my trip and the places I saw. An example of one of these photos taken simply for posterity and no other reason is this photo as opposed to this image. Both photos are taken at the Spanish Steps in Rome, but only one of them would ever be considered for submission to a show of any type.
The last group are the planned photographs, almost the photographic equivalent to murder. These involve meticulous planning, lighting, forethought, and styling that is not possible in most situations. I personally don't have a lot of examples of this type of photograph, as I don't generally use a studio or external lighting. The photo at right is from an old shoot with friends. Other examples include this picture by Josh Yospyn and this by Scott Speck.
How do your own photos fall into these categories? Do you feel strongly about what is considered "good" or "bad"? I want to keep this dialogue open for the next few posts, so please let me know your thoughts in the comments! These are simply the opinions of me and my friends and are not intended to be taken personally or as an expert view.
All photos are copyrighted by the artists and may not be reproduced in any way.