Rules of Criticism










My gallery show came down at the beginning of this month and I just got around to picking up the framed photographs and associated paraphernalia including a 9 foot banner advertising the show created by Duggal Labs. I also picked up the signature book. The book was full (okay only about 5 pages) of positive comments and just one negative comment. Of course as the crotchety old man (okay middle aged) I have to rant and rave about this single black mark. The criticism was that I need to clarify ( misspelled in the book!) my vision and that the show was a mess. Now he may well be right, but what I take exception to is that the comment was not constructive.

I was a photo editor for 9 years and reviewed hundred of portfolios and have sat down with some of the current big hitters to talk about their work and the assignment they did for the magazine. Among the photographers were Eugene Richards, Antonin Kratochvil, Ernesto Bazan and many more. So for those few people who read this I will present my rules for proper photo criticism.

1. First you must demonstrate your knowledge of photography, it’s practice and it’s history.

2. You must demonstrate an understanding of the work you are criticizing. What is the message? How is the photographer attempting to communicate their message? How is color, tone, composition, point of view used to convey the message/feeling?  

3. Is the work technically competent?

4. How does this work fit in with the history of the medium in general and also with the various sub-genres of photography (landscape, documentary, fine art, commercial, portraiture, etc). Does it say something new? Is it treading over territory already explored?

5. How do the images make you, the reviewer, feel? How does that compare with what the photographer was attempting to convey?

I know this is a lot to put into a tiny signature book. My main argument with the commentator is that he was not specific enough! That’s enough kvetching for now.


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