This post is purely opinion based much like everything I write on here so take it with a grain of salt. Though I feel as though it’s something that really needs to be addressed in the vast world of photography groups. Over the last couple of years I’ve been apart of many photography groups. I’ve left most of them. I’ve been kicked out of a couple. Then there are a few rare ones I keep around to post in. I’ve found that there is a general pattern in these groups that seems to apply universally unless specifically addressed in the group rules (I also have a thing about people who enforce rules like task master bent on world group domination, but I won’t touch on that today). This pattern is so persistent that it happens in even the most innocent of groups. People always think their vision is the best vision when it comes to someone else’s work, and that’s just not the case. Allow me to elaborate.
When you create an image you could be much like Geppetto who’s been whittling away at a block of wood to create a wonderful embodiment of what you envision. Thereby, your creation has become an extension of yourself. You have breathed life into nothing but a moment in time. You are, in essence, a new parent. Now, I ask you, what does every parent want to do when their new bundle of joy blesses the world? They want to share it with everyone, typically in the form of a picture. Luckily for you, this work is indeed, a picture. Enter the world of social media. I’ve been comparing my experiences with social media with a subway for years. Back in the days before the internet everyone was aware of those moments when you sit next to a stranger and either one of you starts to banter a bit back and forth. Then, sooner or later, one of you whips out your wallet. Inside the wallet is select photos of things they love the most. Typically photos of their family. In today’s world we are far too consumed with our phones to be bothered by strangers on the subway. Instead, we do the same exact activity on Instagram or Facebook. That is where photography groups steps in. For some people, they really just want a place to share their work with. To see if it holds any interest. These individuals I’m referring to don’t ask for any kind of guidance (there are those who do and I’ll come to you in a moment). However, without doubt, there is always someone, let’s name him, Bob, who loves to stammer into the conversation with the phrase, “Nice image. But if it were mine…” Let’s stop Bob in his tracks right there. You see, Bob usually tries to offer some sort of lite compliment but then try to explain why your work is less than stellar. Now granted, none of us are perfect and Bob could very well be correct. However, that is not the point.
The point is this, you did not ask for anyone’s two cents. Bob’s vision may very likely not match up with your own personal aesthetic goals. Why is this important? Because even if you didn’t request it, even if you didn’t care for their opinion, his vision has now leaked into your own. You may start to question whether or not you made the right choices when you took the shot or even during post processing. Bob could have the worst taste in imagery but it happens never-the-less. Bob has asserted that their opinion matters; even if it doesn’t. I recently witnessed this exact thing happen on another group and I literally shook my head (as I am now while I write this) out of amazement that the pattern persists. So if you are reading this, don’t be like Bob. Keep your opinions to yourself unless you were specifically requested to give your two cents.
Now I know a few Bobs, and do you know what their usual response would be? “Grow a thicker skin, it’s the internet!” Usually with a touch of unapologetic hostility behind it. The issue with this thinking is that though Bob might be giving his opinion behind a faceless screen, though he's still having an impact on someone. Perhaps he should add a dash of humanity to the digital world of the internet and treat his fellow social networker like a person.
That is my rant on unofficial critics; though, I don’t want you to walk away from this article thinking that you should wander around the world of photography without a sense of guidance (unless you want to). There is always room for growth and that can usually come from another set of eyes. Do you think I have gone without having my own images critiqued? Ha! We all think we have an awesome set of eyes that will lead us to successful imagery. However, the term “rose colored glasses” exists for a reason; especially in regards to our own work. It is extremely important that we gain perspective on our own artistic direction. Though, we should also be able to choose which direction that is. That is why I’m also quite against shotgunning the critiquing of your work.By this I mean that you post to one of those groups where “CC” is always welcomed and you just sit there and let random people tear apart your work. If you really want to grow then you should figure our which direction you’d like to go by selecting a few individuals who’s aesthetic matches up with your own. This doesn’t need to even be another photographer. It could be a roommate, a sibling, a parent or anyone close in our lives. Mine is my wife. I trust her opinion and know that she will be honest with me. We also match very closely in what we find beautiful in this world. That is why I value her opinion so much.
So go! Go find your trusted critics and allow yourself to grow. Just don’t let Bob get in the way of your art.