“Advice from friends is like the weather. Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad.” -Anonymous
I get emails from folks saying things like “my friends say I’m really good – what do you think?” and I’m really not sure what they’re asking or how much criticism they’re able to take. Seems to me that if they’re quoting their friends, they’ve bought into the delusion already. The good delusion is that any one person can look at a photograph and categorically say whether it is either good or bad. Sometimes, I have consults with photographers who are second guessing their business/pricing/abilities because they don’t think they’re very good and I’m like “what?! You’re amazing!”
I remember seeing something once about how a photography forum user posted an image from the great street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. He asked for criticism and people jumped down his throat about how the composition, the light, the focus was all wrong and he was an idiot. Little did they know, it was a piece of work that sold for more money than some people make in a year and was a part of a collection of one of the most highly regarded photographers of all time. So what were they even talking about? Where were they in their understanding of good photography vs bad photography?
What does ‘good’ even mean? It’s all relative anyway. We live our lives on this grid of understanding. Everyone is in a different square on the grid. And depending on where you are, you will see things differently. So just like I can’t look at anyone’s photo and say “that’s bad”, no one can really look at it and say “that’s good”. We make these judgements based on our understanding of good and bad and a year or two down the line, that understanding will have changed as you bounce around on the grid.
In that same vein, don’t just take my word for it either. My judgement of what’s good and bad has come from my influences, my experience, my own preference and bias. I can look at an image and say “the highlights are blown”. That’s a fact. But I can’t say “…and because of that, this image is bad.” Just because something is technically bad doesn’t mean that it’s artistically bad.
I think its so important that we qualify the statements that we make about other people’s work and make it more clear that we’re speaking from our own opinions and understanding of what is good and what is bad. What do YOU think? Do you have a problem with the good delusion?
She blogs about photography and business with her unique plain English approach. Elizabeth has been-there-done-that with running a photography business that doesn’t profit a penny and loves teaching photographers how to get away from the starving artist model of running a creative business.
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