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Author Topic: The difficulty of an honest critique  (Read 14691 times)
Ray
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« on: September 15, 2006, 11:07:15 PM »
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This issue is something that has worried me for some time. We live in a society where 'white lies' are the norm. Without them, we might be in serious trouble, but I can't say for sure because, in the photogrphic context, we don't see much of it.

Anyone who tries to be ruthlessly honest in all her/his opinions would, I suspect, become totally friendless. Most of us have an instinctual feeling to be kind, to look on the positive side, to downplay the negative aspect, to actually lie about our true response to whatever we're considering. It's a sort of in-built political savvy. Encouragement of the strong points is better than damnation of the weak points.

The fear of hurting, in our critiques, is powerful because of the dictum, 'do unto others as you would have done unto you'. Would I rather have someone make no comment on one of my photos, or really blast it? I think the latter.

For the record (I'm editing this), we also live in a world of blatant lies, but I think most photographic critiques fall into the category of 'whte lies'.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2006, 11:20:39 PM by Ray » Logged
opgr
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« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2006, 03:22:38 AM »
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Anyone who tries to be ruthlessly honest in all her/his opinions would, I suspect, become totally friendless.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=76549\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Well, given the amount of time we spend on these forums, what's the change? :-)

But more seriously, what you're saying seems to imply that "honesty" equals "negativity", which I presume is not what you meant. I think the bigger problem is that people all too easily mistake "opinion" for "universal truth". There is a big difference between:

1. That picture is a complete dud and has no artistic merit.

vs

2. I fail to see the pictorial interest, could you explain your goal?

The second sentence obviously can read anything, as long as it hints at what process leads to the opinion: I fail to see the pictorial interest, there seem no obvious lines leading the viewer into the frame, there is no obvious point of interest to rest and focus the viewer. The picture seems to lack a story. How is your sunset image different from a collection of saturated colors? What happened that day? I'm not personally triggered to muze a story. Could you explain your goal?
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Oscar Rysdyk
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Lisa Nikodym
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« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2006, 11:18:37 AM »
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When I post something for critique, it's because I'm not quite happy with some aspect of it and am either looking for constructive suggestions on how to make it better or looking for people to tell me that I'm imagining the problem, as the case may be.  I do want an honest answer.  That's how one learns.

When I critique people's images here and have something constructively negative to say, I also try to comment on what's positive about the photo, so they don't just throw it out in disgust, but try to improve it and learn from it, and that includes learning what they did right.  That's how I make clear I'm not a hostile critic, without needing to resort to ""little white lies".  If I don't have anything constructive or positive to say, I say nothing.

(There was one occasion I posted some images and specifically asked for a *technical* critique, since I had gotten a new camera and wanted feedback on whether there were any technical aspects I still needed to work on, and someone wrote to say simply, "They do nothing for me."  Fortunately, that sort of nonconstructive and dismissive comment rarely happens around here...)

Lisa
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dobson
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« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2006, 01:55:58 PM »
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2. I fail to see the pictorial interest, could you explain your goal?

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=76563\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


This wording is great. I immediately looked up at one of my prints and answered this question for myself. It showed me, in a way I hadn't thought of, why I like that print.
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mikeseb
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« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2006, 02:49:31 PM »
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Interesting topic, not discussed often enough. I tell you, I am about to abandon certain other nameless photo sites because the critiques there are as useless as some of the work posted. Rule there seems to be if the [nude] models are comely enough, it must be a good photograph.

I agree that part of the problem is people wanting to "be nice"; but also the problem is ignorance about what constitutes a decent photograph--the historical standards by which photography has long been judged. [Heaven help me, but do I sound like an old CODGER here or what?]  If you don't know that, how can you offer anything much of meaning? On the nameless sites I haven't mentioned, it's either one big mutual-admiration society, or it's the anonymous tantrum-throwing low-rater seeking revenge for childhood traumas!

Too many people misunderstand the word "criticism", taking it to mean derogation; its actual meaning is revealed in its ancient predecessors: L criticus, G kritikos, "able to discern". People lack the knowledge or confidence to make the judgments required in discerning, in "criticizing", so they offer esteem-building platitudes which in the long run harm the critique-seeker truly hoping to improve his/her work.

My approach is to take the critique-seeker at his/her word when I'm told "critiques welcomed", or "tell me what you really think". I praise the praise-worthy aspects, and explain myself when I point out shortcomings, figuring if I can't do that then I'm not critiquing, merely spouting nonsense. I don't worry much about hurt feelings, because I assume the poster is a big boy/big girl, wanting to get better; because I don't attack ad hominem; and because the poster can read and decide for him/herself whether or not I'm FOS.
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michael sebastian
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Mark Graf
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« Reply #5 on: September 18, 2006, 11:32:35 AM »
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I tend to follow the same line of thought as Lisa expressed here.   If you are offering a critique in the first place, I assume your intentions are noble and you are actually trying to help someone.  That said, if you want them to actually listen, you have to put a bit more effort into simply stating 'that's crap' or 'that's a terrific image.'       I consider good critiques the ones that recognize the positive aspects of an image, and perhaps offer suggestions for improvement 'in a perfect world.'
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Tim Gray
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« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2006, 04:06:48 PM »
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I've basically concluded that the "forum" type of critiques are, for the most part useless.  They basically boil down to quid pro quo arrangements where if I say nice things about the 1,000 shots you post, you'll say nice things about the 1,000 I post.

The one site that, IMHO adds real value is Radiant Vista - the critique methodology (even if you disagree with it's formulistic approach) is consistent and I can see in other folks shots elements of mine and as such get good value from seeing their  shots analyzed.  It's actually interesting to see the shot, formulate your own comments then listen to the actual critique.
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #7 on: September 19, 2006, 03:50:10 AM »
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Anyone who tries to be ruthlessly honest in all her/his opinions would, I suspect, become totally friendless.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=76549\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Well, if that is true, we are friendless already.

For me, a friend is precisely someone who doesn't get offended when I tell him/her what I think.

The wording matters, but the content should not be self censored for the sake of not hurting someone.

One of my favourite saying in French reads "qui aime bien chatie bien". It translates in English as "who likes well punishes well".

It is sometimes misunderstood for a promotion of SM behaviours (joke), but all it means is that it is precisely because a person is dear to us that it is our duty to be frank, and sometimes a bit harsh, to them. For their own good.

Cheers,
Bernard
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A few images online here!
russell a
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« Reply #8 on: September 19, 2006, 08:07:28 AM »
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Anyone truly interested in the subject of critiques should read Criticizing Photographs, An Introduction to Understanding Images Fourth Edition, Terry Barrett, McGraw Hill, 2006.  One issue he deals with is the "intentional fallacy" - which takes the position of questioning that the artist actually knows his/her intent.
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JRandallNichols
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« Reply #9 on: September 25, 2006, 08:30:05 PM »
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I certainly second Tim Gray's high opinion of The Radiant Vista.  But when this forum was begun some months ago I was one of the "suggesters" and the foundational idea was that someone would post an image with a clear question about something they wanted to learn about it.   The forum seems to have lost that discipline, and so you get things like an earlier post here to which no one replies because the poster simply put up an image and said "See?" rather than wanting to learn something specific.

I do believe some of the earlier critiques were far more useful for both presenter and critic precisely because they were driven by the specificity of the presenter's want-to-know query.  Couldn't we return to it?
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Randy
Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #10 on: October 16, 2006, 09:57:27 PM »
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Anyone who tries to be ruthlessly honest in all her/his opinions would, I suspect, become totally friendless. Most of us have an instinctual feeling to be kind, to look on the positive side, to downplay the negative aspect, to actually lie about our true response to whatever we're considering. It's a sort of in-built political savvy. Encouragement of the strong points is better than damnation of the weak points.

A well thought-out post, but I'd say that I'm living proof that your concerns are not completely justified.  
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #11 on: October 16, 2006, 10:20:32 PM »
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A well thought-out post, but I'd say that I'm living proof that your concerns are not completely justified. 
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=80790\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
Well said, Jonathan!
It's nice to hear from you. I, for one, have been missing your "ruthlessly honest" posts.
I hope you're taking good care of yourself over there.

Eric
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-Eric Myrvaagnes

http://myrvaagnes.com  Visit my website. New images each season.
OnyimBob
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« Reply #12 on: October 16, 2006, 10:43:33 PM »
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Well said, Jonathan!
It's nice to hear from you. I, for one, have been missing your "ruthlessly honest" posts.
I hope you're taking good care of yourself over there.

Eric
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=80793\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
Was just thinking last night - havent seen a post from Jonathon lately, hope he's all right!
There you go!
Be careful.
Bob
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howiesmith
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« Reply #13 on: October 17, 2006, 01:39:50 PM »
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I don't agree that we are all hypocrits.  The problem I see with an honest opinion of a print is an honest opinion may not be what the photographer wants.  Then he may complain, or offer excuses.

A funny crit I was at went something like:

"The print is out of focus.  I am giving you an F."

"I wanted the print to be out of focus."

"I wanted to give you an F."

The print was out of focus.  No doubt or denying that.  Why?  The critic didn't care.  The photogrpaher did and said so.  The photographer didn't care what others (the critic) thought.  He just wanted an A (a slap on the back).  You can mail those in.  (You don't need to see the print.  Just say you love it.)  The critic was honest but failed to meet the photographer's expectations.  Which, in my opinion, should be nothing more than getting an honest opinion.  You may have your reasons for doing something, but don't expect (or require) others to agree.  Maybe the photographer was the one out of step even if he thought he was marching perfectly to the unheard drum.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2006, 01:44:12 PM by howiesmith » Logged
Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #14 on: October 18, 2006, 12:01:44 AM »
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Well said, Jonathan!
It's nice to hear from you. I, for one, have been missing your "ruthlessly honest" posts.
I hope you're taking good care of yourself over there.

I'm doing well, and am visiting a post large enough to rate an internet connection, so I can indulge my LL addiction once again. Details of my adventures can be found here.

BTW, I agree that some people seeking "critiques" are really fishing for compliments, and aren't always sufficiently mature to handle it well when they get honest criticism instead of ego-scratching. And some people are afraid to say an ugly baby is ugly. But there are people who fail to follow these unfortunate trends, and there are others here besides me.
« Last Edit: October 18, 2006, 12:02:31 AM by Jonathan Wienke » Logged

mitchdob
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« Reply #15 on: October 18, 2006, 04:44:34 PM »
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Jonathan, Howie - all sounds great. And I mostly agree.  So I posted recently wanting feedback and some honest critiques of my work/website. Reason being I just started showing, I know I have a long way to go.... but wanted a barometer of where I was at from peers on LL. I got some good feedback, but I'd be interested in your feedback too (didn't see you post). I know it would be good constructive criticism. How about it?

Look for www.mitchdobrowner.com on the "User Critique" thread.  

Stay safe out there.  - Mitch
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howiesmith
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« Reply #16 on: October 18, 2006, 05:22:48 PM »
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Jonathan, Howie - all sounds great. And I mostly agree.  So I posted recently wanting feedback and some honest critiques of my work/website. Reason being I just started showing, I know I have a long way to go.... but wanted a barometer of where I was at from peers on LL. I got some good feedback, but I'd be interested in your feedback too (didn't see you post). I know it would be good constructive criticism. How about it?

Look for www.mitchdobrowner.com on the "User Critique" thread. 

Stay safe out there.  - Mitch
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=81077\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Actually, I went to your site to look at your photos.  I was told I needed an updated version of something to see them.  More effort than I wanted to spend.  (Now that is honest.)  I need things to be easy for me.
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mitchdob
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« Reply #17 on: October 18, 2006, 06:53:38 PM »
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Thanks for that feedback. And yes, good point. You raised an issue with building websites that are easy to view. The site is actually asking you to upgrade to Flash 7. I know this is an issue for some, so I tried to make the upgrade easy. To upgrade you click once on the "Flash 7", which brings you to the Adobe Flash 7 site. Once there, click on "upgrade". 2 clicks. Best I could do. If its harder then that let me know.

Note: Before it was decided to use Flash 7 for the site I did some research into how many systems would need this upgrade (as I really wanted dissolves on the site for aesthetic reasons, which you need (at least) Flash 7 for).  

Worldwide Ubiquity of Adobe Flash Player by Version
(Millward Brown - Worldwide Survey): June 2006

Flash Penetration into Mature Markets:*
Flash Player 5 = 97.3%          
Flash Player 6 = 97.2%              
Flash Player 7 = 95.8%            
Flash Player 8 = 86.0%
* Mature Markets include US, UK, France, Germany, Japan.

Anyway, sorry for diverting the topic of this discussion off of "The difficulty of an honest critique". But feel free to post some comments into my link for feedback if you do upgrade. And thanks again.

- Mitch
www.mitchdobrowner.com
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Anon E. Mouse
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« Reply #18 on: October 20, 2006, 12:02:36 AM »
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Ray, are you saying it is possible to give an objective opinion to a subjective problem?
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Hank
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« Reply #19 on: October 21, 2006, 01:11:07 PM »
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For me it boils down to the intent of the person hanging/posting for review.  If they have specific questions, I'll go to great effort to consider those points and answer frankly.  If they're simply displaying an image they think is great, I won't even take the time for back pats, much less the cnosiderable thought required for a review.
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