How valuable are photo critiques?


I recently picked up a magazine titled LensWork at the library. It was a thin black-and-white book sitting inconspicuously on the shelf. 

'No.69 Mar - Apr 2007' was printed at the top right corner. It was an issue that was more than 10 years old. I wasn't confident that the content would still be relevant today, but I flipped through it anyway and I saw an article titled "Some comments on print commentaries", written by Brooks Jensen, editor of LensWork.

In the article, Jensen wrote about how photo critiques have little value. Most critics always start with whether they like the image or not, or how they would improve the image if it were theirs. However, such comments (in Jensen's words), "doesn't tell us anything about the work as it is." 

There is a great deal we can bring to the discussion - our reactions to it, our interpretation of it, the context, the background - all of this is fair game. But how we would change it to improve it seems to me to be fundamentally unimportant, at best, and a silly distraction, at worst.

...anyone can have an opinion about what is good or bad in their view based on their criteria. The bald truth is that everyone will have a judgment based on their opinion, but these can vary wildly...Show your work to a hundred different people and you will get a hundred different opinions, none of them correct and all of them valid.
— Brooks Jensen

What a great point!

Sometimes we get so caught up with ourselves and our own work that we forget to be mindful when commenting about someone else's work. This struck me hard because I teach photography on the side and this made me more aware of how I should approach feedback sessions in future. 

It's also definitely true that everyone has their own judgement based on their opinions and experience - I have photos on Instagram that connected well with many of my fans and got more engagement that I'd imagine, but these photos weren't necessary my favourites. Two things to take away from this:

1) Be kind to others, not only when giving feedback, but in all aspects of life. Who are we to judge others based on our opinions and experience?

2) Don't be too hung up on your Instagram stats, hah!



LensWork isn't a magazine on the technicalities of photography - if you're into such content, you won't find it there - it delves deeper than that and talks about photography as a creative process, something "more than mere craft" and that "photography is, or can be, a way of life."

If photography is your way of life, I'd recommend picking up this magazine. :)