Why my best critic knows nothing about photography
The first time you enter a photographic competition you start to subjectively assess your own work. You stop taking haphazard images and start meeting personal and commercial briefs. This change may not be a cognitive one, but a new way in which you analyse and capture your subject. Personally I no longer simply take pictures of animals I like; I am now looking at numerous aspects such as artistic merit, aesthetic positioning and framing, depth of field, lighting and so on... So now there is a high level of complexity to each shot, it is no longer just a canvas, but a plethora of techniques coming together to create a piece of art.
So why would I want someone with no understanding of photography to analyse it? It is actually pretty simple, if all these aspects do not come together to create an image that can speak to, and engage an audience, regardless of photographic knowledge, it has failed. As a result the best person to analyse each image is one who can express to me what that image makes them feel, no distraction, purely emotive.
This also brings about a question; am I photographing therefore to please other photographers who understand the complexity, or am I trying to photograph images that appeal to people who are simply interested in the wildlife? That is the question one has to ask themselves as a photographer. They are two significantly different audiences; and so you have to know your target market.
If we view photography from a commercial standpoint, which unfortunately is the reality that separates a passion from a career (artists hate the commercialized aspect of art), then I have to start aiming to please as many people as possible in a way that is engaging. Whereas if we look at photography from a ground breaking, competition winning, game changing ideal, then it is a lot more complex. You have to change the way people see images, and in doing so you have to convince others that something is beautiful even though they may not initially see it. It is breaking from the norm and as a result it will be met with scepticism.
How does the world view my art, and what opinions actually matter to me? That is the internal discourse I constantly have. What do people actually see in my images? Do they see a work of art, hours of dedication, and clever use of technique? Do they feel the passion and connect emotively with the subject? Or is it simply another photograph of an subject they have seen hundreds of times before?
I personally believe the greatest ability of a wildlife photographer is to inspire people to love and protect our natural world. Therefore I think there is a fine line between breaking the artistic barriers of photography, and actually reaching an audience to make a difference. That is why my best critic is someone who neither likes nor appreciates wildlife, and has little if any understanding of photographic techniques. Those are the opinions I want to change. The older I get the more I realise that it is not about convincing someone that I am right, but rather to convince them that they are wrong.
There is also another area as to why I prefer my critics to not understand the technical side of getting the shot. They are unbiased, they don’t see the time taken to achieve it, and they don’t have the emotional connection that taints their opinion of it. Great photography is a story in a single frame. While techniques change the way the result is achieved, the result itself stands alone in the eyes of a novice. The goal is therefore to tell the story without explaining the journey of the shot.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Who do you photograph for and why?