View Full Version : The pilgrimage...

Mark Sawyer
16-Mar-2005, 11:37
This question grows from another thread currently running, but sparked a question in my mind...

I remember accounts of photographers in the 1920's and 30's journeying to New York to have Alfred Stieglitz review their work; most had their hopes dashed, a few received positive reviews, a select very few were even offered shows at 291 or An American Place.

Later, photographers took their work to Ansel Adams, who was usually more gracious and encouraging. He was the "Grand Old Man" of American straight photography, and his opinion held much weight. Minor White held a similar position for those who sought some level of transendence in their work, and many went to have him review their work or to study under him

If today you had produced a defined portfolio which you felt achieved your vision and you wanted to show it to one person, not for marketing purposes or publication, but to ask, simply, "is this of value," who would you take it to?

Edward (Halifax,NS)
16-Mar-2005, 11:43
David Muench

Jorge Gasteazoro
16-Mar-2005, 11:48
Paul Caponigro

Michael Kadillak
16-Mar-2005, 11:49
The quick answer would be to find someone whose work you personally find stimulating and sign up for their workshop. Bring your prints with you and you will have the opportunity to actually spend more than a cursory view of them which is usually the case for conventional "print reviews".
If you are not interested in marketing or publication I would assume that you are singularly just interested in improving your vision. That is how I would proceed.

Michael Smith and Paula Chamlee workshops are about as good as they get and very reasonable in price.

I firmy believe that there is never a bad investment in real education.


Jorge Gasteazoro
16-Mar-2005, 11:49
Uh forgot to ad, the father, not the son.. :)

Guy Tal
16-Mar-2005, 12:10
Myself, my wife, my family, and close friends. So far all of them have granted me shows, and in their own private homes nontheless.

Scenic Wild Photography (http://www.scenicwild.com)

Ellis Vener
16-Mar-2005, 12:23

You'd probably get to talk to both. Paul lives in a house in John Paul's backyard. Paul just had one or both knees replaced. But yeah, Paul would be worth talking to.

I'd also try to go visit Nicholas Nixon, Richard Misrach, Irving Penn, Dan Winters, & Stephen Shore becasue I like their work but don't always understand it.

But I don't think I'd ever ask if my work has value. Fotofest 2006 in Houston might be the place for that.

Eric Rose
16-Mar-2005, 12:25
That's a tough question as I have very evolving tastes. I seem to go thru different phases where maybe one photographer might be considered to be the guru and then I later switch to another way of looking.

The only photographer I really truly would made a pilgramige to would have been Edward Weston. Unfortunately he is gone and in my mind there has not been anyone to take his place.

Daniel Grenier
16-Mar-2005, 12:32
The mirror to start.

Failing that; my wife, Michael Smith, Paula Chamlee, George Tice, David Plowden, Shelbey Lee Adams. Stieglitz, even, if you don't want your hopes dashed.

16-Mar-2005, 12:52
I'll never forget the day when Maggi Weston looked at my work and offered to feature it in her Carmel gallery. It justified all the photographic trials and expense that I'd been through for the previous 25 years. I walked on air for days (weeks?) afterwards. (Never mind that we never sold anything - there was no market anywhere for color in those days.) It's amazing how much it helps to know that "you've got IT!" I recently submitted a dozen prints to B&W Magazine in response to their open portfolio invitation; when they were returned without being chosen for publication, it felt good to know that it was their loss, not mine.

I'll second the suggestion that Michael A. Smith and Paula Chamlee would be the best possible arbiters of LF work.

Eric Woodbury
16-Mar-2005, 12:53
Al Weber.

Ben Calwell
16-Mar-2005, 13:02
I once sent a contact print to a well-known photographer for review, and it was returned with a few terse comments about bad print color, etc. There was not a bone thrown my way. I felt like Chuck Connors at the beginning of the old tv show "Branded," where his epilets are ripped off his shoulders and thrown to the ground. But I'm not bitter. I strive now to please only myself.

Gem Singer
16-Mar-2005, 13:03
Hi Mark,

If I had enough self confidence in my portfolio to accept an honest and realistic critique, I would ask either John Sexton, or Alan Ross to take a look at it and tell me if he thought it had value. I would need a much improved portfolio and a lot more self-confidence than I now have in order to pull that one off.

However, a good place to test the water is to take your portfolio to the View Camera Conference this May and allow their experts to evaluate it.

16-Mar-2005, 13:15
Assuming I ever feel worthy of such a pilgramage I would either go to Freeman paterson for my color work, or Tillman Crane for my BW

At this point, though, I can only dream of making such a pilgramage.

Scott Rosenberg
16-Mar-2005, 13:22
i find it interesting that no one has mentioned any of the folks that use this forum regularly...

Mark Sawyer
16-Mar-2005, 15:15

I'd like to suppose we all see some value (I use this term in the intrinsic, not monetary, sense) in our work; why else put so much of ourselves into it? And I think one reason our egos can be so delicate when our work is critiqued is because it speaks for a core part of our brain or heart or soul or whatever part we try to put into it. I don't think many really want to work in a vacuum, (otherwise, why not perfect Weston's sense of previsualization and never bother with actually making the photograph?), and we want some feedback on whether someone we really respect feels we've succeeded in saying something or indeed anything.

I suppose I'd like to take my work to Paul Caponigro, as his work seems to intigrate the artist's eye with the metaphysical insight of the zen master (though "master" and "zen"seem not to belong in the same phrase.) But I've never met him, and don't know how open or articulate he is to those who approach him.

(I do remember in the late `70's meeting Frederick Sommers, who's work I respected, in a university photography seminar. I was disappointed in his nonsensical, would-be-intellectual "art-speak," and his devaluation of every piece of work or other photographer mentioned. It became remarkably clear that day that exceptional photographic vision did not equate to teaching skills, insight into others' work, or even basic social skills.)

I don't plan my own pilgrimage any time soon, (teaching both high school and community college photography, plus a very full life totally outside of photography, has left me little time for my own work, though I've just resigned my college position to concentrate more on my own work.) But I do think about it, and wonder what today we all individually would see as our singular oracle or mecca.

Daniel Grenier
16-Mar-2005, 15:37
Mark; you wrote:

"(I do remember in the late `70's meeting Frederick Sommers, who's work I respected, in a university photography seminar. I was disappointed in his nonsensical, would-be-intellectual "art-speak," and his devaluation of every piece of work or other photographer mentioned. It became remarkably clear that day that exceptional photographic vision did not equate to teaching skills, insight into others' work, or even basic social skills.) "

Doesn't that have a way of completely killing any positive feelings you had about his work (and him, by the same token)?

I too met a photographer whose work I really liked only to find his pompous ass arrogance a complete and total turn off to the work and the person. What a shame! Maybe photographers whose work you admire should never be met?

Michael Rosenberg
16-Mar-2005, 15:40

I have attended some of Bruce Barnbaum's workshops that had Don Kirby, Jay Dusard, Hunter Witherrill, and Ray McSavenny as co-teachers. I have to say that I benefityed greatly from these critques because each had a very different vision and approach to photography. Each of them are superb photographers and great individuals. Each contributed something that helped me tremendously. And having the time during the workshop to view their work and further discuss mine and theirs was a great learning experience. Each of them encouraged any participant to come by and see them if they had a chance and bring work to review. Now that is not so easy for some like Jay who lives way down in the depths of Arizona.

I have met Michael Smith and Paula Chamlee. And they are very nice people, and invited me any time I was up in the Philly area to stop by with some prints. They are committed educators who give of themselves to others to advance photography.

I also met John Sexton in the parking lot of the Recapture Lodge, and I would say he is cut of the same cloth. Very generous and gracious person.

I think that the photographers I mentioned are dedicated to teaching, and more importantly to sharing, photography. So I would say write or call any of these people and take their workshop, or make an appointment to have the view your portfolio. I think you will find the result exhilerating.



Jim Galli
16-Mar-2005, 16:10
Al Weber. First name that came into my mind.

Mark Sawyer
16-Mar-2005, 16:49
"Doesn't that have a way of completely killing any positive feelings you had about his work (and him, by the same token)? "

Yes, Daniel, it did, and to some extent it's my loss, as there is still something to his work. But it's hard psychologiaclly to disconnect the artist and the work. I do see Sommers' images differently now, though whether through enlightened or jaundiced eyes one could argue. Perhaps a point to remember when we interact, and not just as photographers...

chris jordan
16-Mar-2005, 17:10
Mark, I would not suggest taking your work to another photographer for a judgment about its value; take it to someone who is respected in the curatorial world (as Steiglitz was at the time). Remember that the guys who made the pilgrimmage to Steiglitz were doing cutting-edge work and they wanted it seen by the most sophisticated eyes in the art world. If you are doing what you think is cutting edge work, then look around for that kind of person to show it to.

However, nowadays there really isn't any one curator-type who is considered the end-all decider of what is good and what isn't. You will get just as many opinions as the number of people that you show it to. So I urge you not to make the mistake of putting all of your faith in the opinion of one person, because if they trash your work then it can be devastating (I know-- I have made that mistake a few times over). You can only judge whether your work has value in the art world after having it reviewed by a large number of people and seeing the patterns that emerge.

I would recommend attending the portfolio review events in Houston, Santa Fe, Portland Oregon and possibly elsewhere. If you do that you will hear many widely varied opinions about your work; some will make sense and others won't, and after a while you will get an overall sense of how your work is viewed and where in the art world it might have value. In the end it really comes down to how much you value your own work; I think successful artists value their own work, and in doing so they teach others to value their work.

Good luck,



Bruce Watson
16-Mar-2005, 17:55
Tell you the truth, I wouldn't bother. I've played that game. The results, while interesting, didn't much change anything.

For example, Michael Smith has seen my prints at a workshop. He absolutely hated them. He didn't have much to say about the images, but he frothed at the mouth over the fact that they were inkjet prints. He gave the impression that if it wasn't a contact print, or at least a silver gelatin print, then it wasn't worth his time to look at it. The public humiliation was interesting (but not new, sigh...) but the lack of constructive criticism made it an exercise in futility.

Everyone, be they artists, collectors, gallery owners, friends, or family, brings their own preconceived notion of what is good and bad along for the ride when they look at your prints. Artists in particular do things the way they do things because they've decided that this is what works best (for them). If you don't agree, then...

What I'm saying is, objectivity is interesting to talk about, but it doesn't exist. And whether or not someone else approves of disapproves might be interesting, but it's not relevant. In the end, you have to please yourself, regardless. My feeling is, Michael just doesn't know what he's missing ;-)

Jim Rice
16-Mar-2005, 18:38
The one 'famous' photographer I ever met was former Life staffer Ed Clark. http://artscenecal.com/ArtistsFiles/ClarkE/ClarkEPics/EClark1.html I was a kid, he was open and generous. Alas, I hadn't even thought of bringing some of my work. I did get to ask him what his favorite photograph was, and it was a photo of the arc d'triumph.

When I scrape together enough gas and dive motel money, I'm heading to Cali to annoy our own Ralph Barker.

David Richhart
16-Mar-2005, 18:49
I had the great privilege and pleasure of having Emmett Gowin as a teacher at the Dayton Art Institute, before he went to Princeton. He is without a doubt the most interesting, generous, and passionate person I have ever heard speak. If you were to ask him a question or show him the latest "work prints, he was always upbeat, and encouraging, and free with suggestions.

The real treat was showing him a few finished prints. It was as if the rest of the world had clocked out and for a time and nothing was more important than you and your work. That time could stretch into hours while discussung both his and your feelings about 1 or 2 of your prints. He would share memories and experiences from his past and his life as a family man and how they related to him as a photographer. Emmett would encourage you to consider your own life and emotions, and how they related to and influenced your photographs. Whether he thought your prints were good or bad was certainly talked about, but the meetings were always about much more than that.

That was a lot for him to give to an undistinguished 19 year old college student fresh off the farm, and to this day I am grateful for it. I'm sure the rest of his students (including Sally Mann) would agree. If I had the chance to visit 1 photographer or see a lecture by 1 photographer, I would choose Emmett Gowin.

Mark Sawyer
16-Mar-2005, 18:59
Chris- you're absolutely right, of course, and there's a significant part of my psyche that enjoys working in a vacuum. And while we all (I suspect) have another part that seeks critical approval from those whose work has influenced and inspired us, there's a third aspect which holds the most curiousity for me: When an articulate, sensitive, informed and accomplished person, someone who has some true stature to evaluate, mediate, and discuss the success (or failure) of a body of work, views our work with a critical eye, what will be his response?

Will he even recognize what I try so hard and so specifically to do? Will he see some aspect I've never considered? Will he miss the point entirely, catch me as the fraud I truly am? What will I take away from the experience? (No, I don't mean sales-wise.) And while I would of course value the response, I'd not be looking (I hope) so much for approval as response and insight.

We're each our own best and worst critic, certainly each our own most influential. But there is an old tradition, admittedly somewhat lost today, in much of the art world of "going up the mountain" to present yourself to the oracle.

Whether one is "cutting-edge" is a whole `nother can of worms. I personally feel that since maybe 1910, certainly since 1960, the art world has been so conscious of the "cutting edge," and so many are trying so hard to be there, that it's lost its value. When I see the work of those trying so hard to be there, the strongest message of the work seems to be "Look at me! I'm avante-garde!"

Mark Sawyer
16-Mar-2005, 19:08
"For example, Michael Smith has seen my prints at a workshop. He absolutely hated them. He didn't have much to say about the images, but he frothed at the mouth over the fact that they were inkjet prints."

Yup, and Jimi Hendrix played lousy guitar because it wasn't accoustic...

Mark Sawyer
16-Mar-2005, 19:18
"i find it interesting that no one has mentioned any of the folks that use this forum regularly...
--Scott, "

Actually, there are quite a few people here I'd love to get together with in a small group for and evening or two, everyone bringing 6-12 prints, open a couple good bottles of red wine, and see where the conversation goes. Kirk, Chris, David, Jim, Bruce, Jorge... most everyone on this thread. I think it would be a wonderful, memorable time.

There is a small local group here in Tucson that meets very occassionally, and though we're all using large format, our approaches aesthetically are so different that we discuss technique and equipment far more than anything else.

Scott Rosenberg
16-Mar-2005, 19:23
When I scrape together enough gas and dive motel money, I'm heading to Cali to annoy our own Ralph Barker.

that's precisely what i menat... we've got some amazing talent right here in our little community. seems like a little utilized resource, as i seldom see a request for a critique on this forum.

ralph, kerry, chris, eugene, tuan, kirk, paul, danny, jerry, todd, scott, graeme, guy, and scores of others whose names i am too tired to recall right now (if i didn't mention you, please don't feel slighted by the omission - i'm exhausted) are all expert in the field and right here under our noses.

Scott Rosenberg
16-Mar-2005, 19:25
mark... it looks like we are of the same thought and were typing at the same time. i whole-heartedly agree!

Jim Rice
16-Mar-2005, 19:51
Of course, I haven't actullaly asked Ralph about this, and given his admiration of firearms, I suppose I should. ;=)

Brian Ellis
16-Mar-2005, 20:45
I've had critiques from many well known photographers, some of whom were mentioned here.. I got something out of all of them. However John Sexton gave hands-down the best of them. His critiques alone are worth the price of his workshops, not just the critique of your own work but listening to his critiques of others. Unlike many photographers giving critiques, it didn't matter to John whether you photographed what he photographed or whether you printed like he printed, he would take 35mm color portraits as seriously as black and white landscapes, i.e. he accepted the work on its own terms and took the critique from there. His critques weren't based on how well he liked it or disliked the work, they were based on how well you accomplished what you said, or he thought, you were trying to accomplish. His criticisms or suggestions were never harsh or demeaning, they were always constructive, and he encouraged without fawning or giving false praise. So that's where I'd go for my one critique.

Frank Bagbey
16-Mar-2005, 21:27
David made a wise decision: Emmett Gowin. I ran across one of his old books in a flea market. It smelled like it had been in someone's moldy basement, but went right to the top of my favorites list. I was amazed how little I could learn about him on the internet. Now, perhaps, his son is coming on fast as a great photographer. And Sally Mann and Jacque Sturges win hands down in what they have accomplished. Who among us would even want to tackle the battles they have endured. Actually, though, who cares what anyone else thinks about your photography? Are you not your worst critic and the only one you have to please? When it gets right down to it, I don't really care what anyone thinks about my photography. I take photos for myself. I make prints for myself. If someone else likes them, fine, but not the end goal. Even if Ansel Adams had seen one of my prints and liked it, that would be all there is to it. Ansel liked it. If I did not like it it would not change anything. This is not to be egotisical. One still has to know what is a good print, a good image, an accomplishment.

16-Mar-2005, 21:49
I'd go to Paul Caponigro. I'd ask what's wrong with my work.

Jorge Gasteazoro
16-Mar-2005, 21:54
I'd ask what's wrong with my work.

Huh?........why would you ask this? do you think there is something wrong with your work? Why would you predispose anybody seeing your work to think there is womething wrong with it right out of the gate?

Mark Sawyer
16-Mar-2005, 22:17
I think a lot of us like to be a little self-depricating about our work, Jorge. Personally, I save my old prints just in case my vacuum cleaner breaks, because I know some of my images *really* suck...

16-Mar-2005, 22:23
do you think there is something wrong with your work?

Yes, I'd prefer to know what's wrong rather than what's right. What's right, I probably already know myself. Sometimes I can't see my own flaws.

John Kasaian
16-Mar-2005, 22:42
Merg Ross comes to mind. If I were making portraits then Peter Gowland. Both very gracious gentlemen whose opinions on my photography I'd take to heart. If I lived in the midwest US, then I'd look up Lyle White.

David R Munson
17-Mar-2005, 07:14
For me I guess it would sort of depend on the day, but the list would include Sam Abell, Nobuyoshi Araki, Daido Moriyama, Toshio Shibata, and Jock Sturges. All photographers who I'd like to meet and probably show some of my work to. If I could include non-photographers, I'd have to also say Chris Cunningham, Chris Doyle, Spike Jonze, Yoshitomo Nara, Michel Gondry, SABU, and a half dozen or so of the DP's for some of my favorite films. I just wish Allen Ginsberg was still around...

Bob Douglas
17-Mar-2005, 10:38
I wanted to second Brian assessment of John Sexton's critiques. He is honest and truely criticizes the photograph and not neccesarily the content or the production method. One student brought digital prints another RC prints! Actually that bozo was me and he did deservingly embarass me a bit. John laughingly explained what RC stood for, "Real Crap"! Not only did John critique but also so did his wife Anne Larsen and all of the students. The insight and different perspectives really opened my eyes. The bonus was exposure to John's, Anne's, Ansel's (yes he brought some of his working and finished prints) and all of the other students work, it was sensory overload.

Consider signing up for a class, get a critique and two weeks of immersion with like minds.

Ellis Vener
17-Mar-2005, 11:25
Yes, I'd prefer to know what's wrong rather than what's right. What's right, I probably already know myself. Sometimes I can't see my own flaws.

I have found with my own work and in my students work that quite often the reverse is true.

17-Mar-2005, 22:57
Agreed. But aren't these weaknesses we don't see in ourselves? I think we both have the same idea.

18-Mar-2005, 05:09
First, I wouldn't take my prints to someone who claims they have never seen a good platinum print. Some people are so closed minded that if you're not printing on azo you're not reaching your full potential of your print. This mind set has stopped me from taking a few workshops. But that's just personal opinion. Anytime someone makes claims that their medium is the best and only way to work just speaks to me in terms in which i consider that artist's vision is so narrow that they can't possibly contribute anything to me in a workshop. Bottom line is do your own thing, regardless of what others think.

Edward (Halifax,NS)
18-Mar-2005, 05:29
I would be willing and eager to show my prints to anyone who posts here. I listed Meunch in my earlier post because I shoot colour landscapes and he is the most prolific and one of the most well thought of in that field. What is most likely is that when I have a suitable portfolio, right now I have two pictures, I will attend the large Format Photography Conference and have one of the panel of reviewers take a look. It would also be benefical to attend a workshop given by a colour photographer. These seem rare. Most workshops that I have seen advertised are by photographers known for B&W work.

18-Mar-2005, 05:51
Edward, check out William Corey's web site...Amazing color photographs of Japanese Gardens.

Edward (Halifax,NS)
18-Mar-2005, 06:19
Thanks Robert. I don't care for the panoramas but the 4X5/8X10? stuff is pretty awesome. This is my favorite.


Philip Hutson
18-Mar-2005, 11:26

Both Marc Muench and David Muench do workshops. David does most of his through arizona highways and Marc does his through arizona highways and on his own in carmel, CA.

You can call over to Muench Photography at (805-685-2825) for details on upcoming workshops


Marc just left on a photo shoot in florida but any one that answers the phone would be able to give you Marc's workshop schedule.

Dig through arizona highways website for details on David's schedule.


Scott Davis
19-Mar-2005, 06:03
Another very obscure but equally incredible photographer whose input I would seek out is Tom Baird. He's an instructor at Maryland Institute College of Art. I was taking classes there in the continuing studies program for a while, and although he would never teach a CE course (it would have ended up costing him money to teach, as the extra salary would have changed his tax bracket, and since he's a wiry old goat of a Scotsman, the financial won out over the altruistic), he would hang out in the school darkroom and talk with anyone about their work, very honestly and fairly. He was ALWAYS open to discussing student work, even if you weren't in one of his classes, and regardless of the type of work you were producing.

I'd also want to get to meet Ruth Bernhard before she dies (she's over 100 now). Brilliant photographer and printer, she had to quit doing her own darkroom work twenty or so years ago because she developed a sensitivity to the chemicals, so she took up education instead.

Kirk Gittings
19-Mar-2005, 07:34
I did a photo shoot in 1988 once for the art director of Architectural Record, Record Houses issue (a big deal). The shot I liked the most she hated and didn't use, We got in a big heated exchange about it and I never got another job from her. She went on to become the managing editor of my biggest client publication, Architecture Magazine, and I lost them as a client too.

I knew it was a great image. As stock it went on to be the cover of 6 magazines including Nikkie Architecture in Japan and Ambiente in Germany. 17 years later, this month, it is also the cover of New Mexico Magazine.

You have to know when your work is good. You have to be your own toughest critic. You have to have the confidence to promote your best work.

I showed Andrew Smith a mock-up of my Chaco Body portfolio. He didn't like it and wouldn't show it. It went on to be a critically accaimed book, and I sold complete portfolios to University of Arizona, University of New Mexico, the Albuquerque Museum and numerous private collectors (and didn't have to pay Andrew 50%).

You have to know when your work is good. You have to be your own toughest critic.

Ralph Barker
19-Mar-2005, 09:57
Has anyone mentioned that you need to know yourself when your work is good, and be your own toughest critic? ;-)

This is a very interesting thread, and I thank Mark for starting it. Lots of interesting ideas and opinions on the issue. While I'm personally honored that anyone would think my opinion would be worthy of being sought, I'm not sure I'd come to the same conclusion. (Oh, and don't worry about the firearms, Jim. They stay locked in safes. The only thing that's kept out and ready to fire is the 40mm pun cannon.) Furthermore, I'm not sure that I'd personally make a "pilgramage" on the scale Mark's original question suggests.

Certainly, getting a critique of a body of work from someone whose work you respect is potentially valuable. But, such a critique also needs to be placed in the proper context, I think. It would be, after all, just another opinion about the work, even if from a "Notable Photographer" (NP). Formal critiques from an NP might produce an epiphanal turning point in one's direction or vision, or maybe not. It depends, I believe, on the individual NP's frame of reference, mind-set, mood, and social skills. Many NP's have, in the process of becoming notable, tightly narrowed their focus. Many have also become highly opinionated as a result. Show them a photograph of a gear or a girl, instead of a landscape, and they might not know what or how to think. So, while Sexton may be right about RC being "real crap", saying so within a critique is not particularly constructive. It would have been better, I think, to say something like, "You'll likely find your work to be better received if printed on something other than RC stock." A good critic needs to step out of their own box (or, ivory tower, as the case may be), and give the person being critiqued the benefit of their broader experience. That's tough to do.

Often, an NP represents a significant opinion within a fairly narrow style of work or subject matter. Thus, the value of the NP's critique depends, in part, on your own objectives and the breadth of your target subject matter, as well as the target market for your work. A successful gallery owner, for example, will know what sells within the market to which they cater. Go down the street, or to another city, and market preferences may be substantially different. Neither gallery owner may have a clue about what will be attractive to magazine editors, or to the ADs at advertising houses.

So, (IMHO) critiques become somewhat of a crap shoot, where the dice may or may not have spots, and the table may or may not be marked.

Mark Sawyer
19-Mar-2005, 14:41
You're most welcome, Ralph; I'm appreciative of the thoughts everyone has posted here. I work mostly in a vacuum, as I suspect many of us do. I feel slightly sad that there is no one "trip to the guru on the mountain top" any more; perhaps not because I might miss some great epiphany, but because it defines a moment when you pull together your body of work and say to yourself, "This is what I've done. How will it be received?"

In those terms, maybe we're lucky that rather than one critic we have many, and part of the interest in this thread (for me) is who we would ask and what we think they would have to offer. It's a pretty diverse list of some of the best mids in photography today. (David's mention of Emmitt Gowin reminded me of his lecture here a year or two ago; Gowin is one of the more articulate and insightful photographers of our time.) It's encouraging that no one has mentioned wanting to see someone to learn about unsharp masking or inspection developing or some other little technical trick which might help you in the darkroom but do nothing for your vision.

And while the thread wandered, it was only because it raised connected points worth saying. The most significant deviation I think was some blurring of the line between critic and teacher, and that line was quite blurry long before this thread began...

25-Mar-2005, 10:14
I'd encourage everyone to make as many pilgrimages to as many people as possible. It can be a terrible thing to hang the value of your work on the feedback of one person, no matter how great that person may seem to you. Mark's story is a sad cautionary tale. I love Fred Sommer's work, but have an easy time imagining he'd be a discouraging curmudgeon. And my heart goes out to everyone whose dreams were dashed, simply because Stieglitz's bowels were acting up that day. Stieglitz actually wrote that he ended up resenting the ridiculous amount of power that complete strangers gave to him ... he didn't want the responsibility of making or breaking lives.

If you show your work to a lot people (heroes along with people you don't know) you'll get a an idea of the wide range of possible responses to your work, and you'll have a chance to learn more. Fotofest in Houston is fantastic resource for this: www.fotofest.com. The next one is 06, i believe. You get to show work to curators, collectors, and publishers from around the world. It helps you get to the point of a more objective detachment from criticism. So what if the curator from MFA Houston doesn't like your work, if the curator from ICP loves it and and has a lot of insights for you, and if Aperture wants to publish it? Work is personal, after all .. it would be odd if everyone liked it. getting lots of feedback helps remind you of this, and helps you get your ego out of the picture.

Al Camp
13-Apr-2005, 12:39
I was googling when I located this forum and topic, finding THE one person to look at your portfolio. I read about two thirds of the way through replies. I've been to a few workshops with the expressed idea of getting feedback on my images.

John Sexton provided by far the most useful critique of my images from a process point of view. He put on a magnifying gizmo and studied my prints then said, "What temperature are you developing at?" I was around 65 degrees. He said up it, as at the low temperature I was not getting a true black. He could see that!!! I couldn't. He also pointed to minimal flaws in my prints caused by a misaligned enlarger head (very slight but he could see it) and my white walls, which reflected light back onto the paper and, again, interferred with contrast.

Bruce Barnbaum is fun to photograph with, helping you align your LF to better express what you want in your final image. He also was the first to get me started to think outside of how a print/picture was created (lens, film, paper, shutter speed, you know the drill) and to think about what you are doing with the image, what you are trying to put across. He's extremely full of energy and lots of jokes, none of which I can relate here due to censors, lol.

Don Kirby is a very, very sharing man. He worked 10 years on his wheatland book, all the time inviting other photographers to meet him at various out of the way places for just the heck of it. To enjoy the experience, and his campsite for discussion of images.

Jay Dusard has got to be the funnest guy in photography, never taking it real, real serious. You wouldn't think of him being a terrific camera inovator and image maker (Captain ferricyanide) to just look at him, but he is very, very sharing on his technique and some of the obstacles he's overcome to be where he's at.

Ray McSavaney may well be the best photographer many have not heard of, though all of the above are west coast image makers. He is very soft spoken, and sometimes a big idea can be said without a lot of force, so you need to listen carefully to Ray. But deep in side, this guy is an explorer, going to great physical lengths some times to get an image.

Huntington Witherill did not come across well with me. Some one mention that being the case with Somers. Well, not all personalties mesh, and what one person considers arrogance is a winning attitude with another person (take sport stars, that so-called arrogance is often needed to survive in competition). Hunt had a cold, appeared to be hurried and not well prepared. But again, I suspect it was a one-time thing.

Alan Ross surprised the heck out of me. Not only is he a great printer, but he can come out of no where with a unique way to compose an image. I have been working hard to find images he's printed, as I suspect they will go up in value a lot once people come to understand what he's up to.

Myself, I think I'd go to a magazine to get my work looked at, since I want to be published. I work in the publishing area, and hope my skin is thick enough to withstand a critique for publication.

Well, enough said.

Al Camp
www.seeinglight.com - hope it's ok to put in web links

Robert Skeoch
27-Oct-2010, 09:48
When I first graduated I took my work to Arnold Newman in New York City. He spent most of afternoon with me.
Then a couple years later I went to see Karsh in Ottawa. He also had time for me.

Both men were very encouraging.... and when I look back at the work I took to them, I don't know why they were so kind.

Maybe some people always encourage while others critique.