advice about the gap

A couple of weeks ago, a friend who's taking a photography class with me asked if I thought his photos were okay — which is asking for free art direction. While I don't mind doing that in small doses occasionally, I get hit up for my opinion on creative work a lot. A LOT. Sometimes, giving some direction's the right thing to do — but usually, it isn't. 

It's not usually the wrong thing to do because it's being asked to work for free (although, it IS and I am). It's because the more someone else leans on my opinion and direction, the less they trust in their own. 

Here's what I told my friend (and now I'm telling you): 

You asked if any of these were "okay," and that question needs a longer answer than I can fit in a text message. 


Okay for what? Okay for whom? For the class assignment? For an experiment? For a shoot where you learned something? 

Having looked at your work for a few years, now, one theme you keep coming back to is women-as-sexual-objects. If you continue that in a personal project for class, then these shots belong there. Even though it's going to be more work for you, it would probably be a good thing for you to do a personal project and really focus on trying to improve how you shoot women-as-objects. 

It's good that you figured out you needed more light to make that shoot work, on your own. It's important that you self-correct as much as possible, so that you start to learn to trust your own judgment and your own eye, rather than relying so heavily on mine. It seems like your self-confidence has taken a hit somewhere along the way, and now you don't trust yourself to make good decisions. I'm not sure there's been one incident that got you into this state, but I can tell that right now, you're at a point that every artist/creative person hits on the path of developing their skills — a point where you can see where you want your work to go, but you look at your work, and recognize it's not there yet. Ira Glass calls it The Taste Gap: 

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

There's more, which someone set to a video, here:

No amount of my telling you which photos of yours I like or don't like, is going to get you over the hurdle of the gap. Only doing work — doing a LOT of work — gets you over it. (And trust me, he will assign you a lot of work.)

When you do your work, as you're doing it, ask yourself if it's good. Look in the frame; check your corners, look at the entire image. Is there too much stuff in there? Not enough? Where does your eye go? Look. Then look again. Then look a third time. Check your composition, your lighting; make sure you've managed to connect with your subject and engage them. Then hit the shutter. Then check all over again and hit the shutter all over again. Get to the point where you can do this in the same way that you write without having to constantly worry about whether or not you've used correct grammar and punctuation — which is going to take a bit. Try to remember that everyone goes through this, and yes, it does suck. 

Now — do these shots work for the class assignment? These are shots of People Doing Things, rather than the assignment — which was a portrait of someone, with a table or chair being used in the shot. I suppose you could argue that the 'rocket' is a kind of chair, and you might get somewhere with that argument — except that there's very little sense of who the subjects are as people. For the most part, they're simply attractive women's bodies contorted, sometimes in interesting ways. I looked through all 18 shots, twice, and I'd have a difficult time picking any of those women out if I saw them on the street. What do I know about their personalities? Their emotions? Their mood? But, are they okay as shots for a personal project about women-as-sexual-objects? Now these have some possibilities as a starting point for that project. 

Here's the thing — I could spend the entire seminar art-directing your work before you bring it into class, and then critiquing it a second time in class — but that's going to directly impact how quickly you close the gap. Relying on me to do it will actively stunt your artistic growth. If you have to sit down with your work and make decisions about what you're bringing to class, about what you could have done differently, then you're building up your confidence in your own work, and building your own sense of discernment. You're developing your eye. It's better in the long run for you and your work, if I wait to give you a detailed critique until we get into class. Also, then you can hear it in context with the other students' and instructor's critiques. 

I know you want help presenting only your best work in the class, especially if you're comparing your work to the other students' work; and I know it probably seems like I'm being an asshole for not helping you in the way that you want. I know! I'm more than willing to go out shooting with you; to include you in shoots I set up of other people; to help you with holding lights when you're the one shooting; I'm open to brainstorming ideas for the assignments, for doing post-mortems on how class went — all that stuff, I'm totally game for, and happy to help with. 



Which is probably the longest 'no' I've ever written, but it's useful advice, nonetheless.

look for the light

A great bear of a man sidled up to me, introduced himself as Gar, and gently asked how my shooting was going. I allowed that my grand total of fifteen minutes' experience using a camera was perhaps not my best beginning ever, and handed him my camera to show him what I'd done so far. That Gar did not collapse into peals of laughter upon seeing my first attempts is a testament to how gracious and kind he was.

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