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The Judge

Discussion in 'Talking Pictures' started by Dion 47, Jul 7, 2017.

  1. dan marchant

    dan marchant Well-Known Member

    Art is subjective. Ten different judges will give you eleven different opinions. It doesn't mean that they don't understand it, it just means they understand it differently to you. After all what makes you or me better qualified to be a judge than the judge is? Just because you see an image one way it doesn't make that the "right" interpretation.... it's just your interpretation.

    I go out in the street and shoot images of miserable people holding signs. To most people they are just images of miserable people holding signs. To me they are a damning critique of our zero hours, minimum wage, consumerist society.

    Our camera club has a different professional photographer in each month to judge our competitions. They all like different styles and genres. We make it clear that what is important is not if they like/dislike the image but their comments on why and what they would do differently.
    Andrew Flannigan likes this.
  2. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Taken well enough, I guess they would say that to everyone. If they don't, you need to ask yourself why.
    PhotoEcosse likes this.
  3. Geren

    Geren Well-Known Member

    But actually I don't think that's true. As RM says above, if the images have been taken 'well enough', they will convey the right meaning to all who see them. That doesn't necessarily mean 'correct' exposure, or in manual, or any other technical aspect of makign a photograph - but it does require an understanding of visual language. How do you use visual elements to draw the viewer's attention to your intention. And for that, there are actually rules. So while 'art is subjective', if you start talking about an image's 'meaning' you are beginning to look at the way it has been designed...or not. Is it successful? Has it achieved its aim? Much of that will depend on context. If the aim is only to please the person who made it, well that's one thing. If it is to get it accepted on a photostock site, that's a whole new ball of milk. If the aim is to please a judge...then you need to have some idea of what the judge is looking for. If it's to get M&S to hire you as a food photographer... and so on.
  4. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    I could hardly disagree more. What on earth is "the right meaning"? The same picture will mean different things to different people, because different viewers will bring different prejudices and preconceptions to the pictures, and notice different things: signs, symbols, meanings.

    "There are actually rules" is simply untrue. There are a few tricks -- rule of thirds, for example -- to fall back on if you can't see how to compose a picture otherwise, but that's all they are: tricks, not rules.


    Andrew Flannigan and Trannifan like this.
  5. Geren

    Geren Well-Known Member

    'The right meaning' is the one intended by the image maker. And by rules, I admit I was using a bit of shorthand to refer to semiotics; use of signs and symbols, whether they be elements in the picture or elements alluded to by using 'tricks' of the trade (rule of thirds, relative size in an image, area of focus etc). Of course, context is king. Red all over an image in the west will be read differently than red all over an image in China. But take a picture of a crowd where nearly everyone in it is blurred except for the one miserable person holding a sign and I think we all accept that s/he has just become the prime subject. We understand a 'rule' that has been spotlit by use of a 'trick'.
  6. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    It may be what the creator intended but the viewer will decide what meaning they wish to take from the picture.
    Roger Hicks likes this.
  7. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    First highlight: Again, I just don't agree. Sometimes the photographer simply superimposes a meaning on a meaningless picture: when I shoot for The Secret Life of Chairs I sometimes change my mind over the meaning. And many (I'd suggest most) "fine art" images are made to make people think, not to hit them over the head with a meaning. That's before you start on deliberate ambiguity.

    Second highlight: Semiotics is an extremely vexed subject. It's often a question of stating the bleeding obvious, followed by the considerably more difficult task of saying why it's bleeding obvious. I'd strongly dispute that the "rule of thirds" is a matter of semiotics, except to those for whom the "rule" is a fetish. In any case, it's easy to apply any "rule" post hoc, especially if (as is so often the case) it is less than rigorously applied, e.g. "almost on the thirds" or "taken together, these constitute a leading line."

    Also, our perception can be altered by our expectations. At Arles I saw some fascinating symbolist nudes -- but because symbolist photography (or at least, subtle symbolist photography) is somewhat in abeyance at the moment, I did not realize at first that the photographer had deliberately constructed a symbolist series.

    In Eco's Travels in Hyperreality there's a particularly brilliant essay on the way in which the same object (a candle in a window) can be a sign, symbol or message, depending on the person seeing it.


    SqueamishOssifrage likes this.
  8. Geren

    Geren Well-Known Member

    Well I agree, the rule of thirds is not a 'matter of semiotics', but it is a trick one can use to direct the viewer, or to make an image 'feel balanced' which *can* then contribute to the way in which the viewer 'reads' the image. In just the same way that deliberately ignoring the rule of thirds can have 'an affect' on the viewer and even if they aren't immediately aware of it, they'll take something slightly different away from the image because of it.

    We could argue this all night, and especially if we bring in the difference between fine art and design to the equation. But in general, I would argue that we have semiotics and people like or are drawn to certain images because there are 'rules' (or if you prefer, rules of thumb) which apply to visual language. You can direct a viewer if you are already starting out with an intention. That's not to say that pleasing, visually aesthetic images aren't made by accident. It's not to say that there is only ever one way to read an image. It's not to suggest that the meaning of an image can't change over time given changing sensibilities. But I think there probably ARE images out there that ARE just pictures of miserable people holding signs and equally, there are images of miserable people holding signs that make us reflect on the state of modern society. I think there will more likely than not be some deliberate decision making on the part of the photographer that distinguishes the two sets. In general.
  9. Geren

    Geren Well-Known Member

    I agree wholeheartedly. But I still think the photographer/artist/writer has the means at their disposal to direct the viewer to their intended meaning (if indeed there is one). If one submits an image for judgement and the judge (whoever they may be, and with whatever motivations you might have for the submittal) utterly fails to connect to the image in the way that you intended... is that really always the judge's fault? Is it not more likely that you have failed to apply the 'rules of thumb' that allow others to 'read' an image?

    I'm not meaning to sound like I'm picking on 'miserable people with signs', but if I take such a shot and I see greater depth to it than anyone else does...have I really done enough to convey my intention? Of course, you can argue that it doesn't matter. If pleases me, then good enough. And in terms of 'amateur photography' or 'personal photography' that's probably true. But if I want a newspaper editor to use it... Or I want a stock photography site to take it...
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2017
  10. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    I don't disagree entirely, but I still suggest that despite your having rowed back some way from "'The right meaning' is the one intended by the image maker", you are still overstating the case somewhat. Sure, there are tricks for directing the attention. I'd argue, though, that consciously using these tricks indicates a lack of real creativity, or at the very least, an inability to compose the picture in a more creative way.

    One might use them unconsciously, or, in desperation, consciously: I certainly do, when I want a good record shot and can't see how else to compose it. But I'll repeat: the "rules" are often applied post hoc, and often a bit sloppily at that.

    A good analogy might be poetry. Again, there are countless tricks such as blank verse, sonnets, rhyme, alliteration. Look hard enough and you can find something to apply to almost any poem after it's been written. But that doesn't mean that the poem is good because that particular trick has been applied. Rather, it means that the trick in question popped up in the poem under consideration.


  11. Geren

    Geren Well-Known Member

    My gut reaction is to screech 'No!' at this. But I'm going to have to go away and think about it a bit more. I remember when I was helping out at Clydebank College, one student came in and offered up an image they'd taken over the weekend. It was fantastic. She was a 19 year old student with some degree of learning difficulites who nonetheless had an over inflated sense of her own abilities. She had been given the task of producing a set of three 'environmental' images and had elected to go to a nearby harbour. Two of the images were boring. Bog standard records of what she'd seen in front of her. All perfectly exposed, everything straight that should have been, sharp focus from front to back, white balance accounted for. Dull as ditchwater, any one of us could have taken the same shot on any day of the week. The last shot however was something else. Taken through an abandoned life ring, much of the shot was out of focus. She'd obviously had to crouch down on the floor to get the shot and as a result it wasn't properly straight. In focus, through the ring, were feet of a nearby boat owner, resting on the railing of his boat further into the back of hte image. It worked brilliantly to draw to viewer's attention to the 'weekend sailor' enjoying the sun in harbour, going nowhere. She apologised for that image, recognising all its faults, but completely missing that it was the most atmospheric and most interesting one of the set. As the lecturer said to me...sometimes they produce stuff that just works but they don't understand why it works.

    Creativity is not a passive activity. You have to work at it, develop it and experiment with it. I feel it's important to know the 'rules' and understand why they are there so that you can use them to your advantage or, choose to deliberately turn them around, ignore them. But you should understand what affect certain things have on the viewer if you want to be able to use them effectively. Consciously using the rule of thirds is not the same as rigidly using the rule of thirds.
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  12. PhotoEcosse

    PhotoEcosse Well-Known Member

    Eleven from ten might be an exaggeration. Three or four from ten could be closer to the mark. But that applies to the interpretation of art which, as you say, is subjective. However, judging should also take account of some more objective factors and, if the judges are knowledgeable and competent, there should be less variation there - but there will, inevitably, be some.

    Wouldn't it be terrible if you entered the same print into ten different competitions with ten different judges - and it came second every time!
  13. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    I sort of agree with that but I suspect we are coming at it from different directions. For me, it's a lot more a question of osmosis: of seeing good images and not necessarily asking myself why I like them. Sheer exposure to as many images as possible permits a non-verbal appreciation to seep in.

    Now, given that I write 450-460 words every week on the back page of AP about why I like a particular picture, this emphasis on non-verbal appreciation may seem odd, but I'm not normally using "rules" of any kind. Writing that column really makes me realize how many different things can make a picture "good" -- and I normally choose only pictures I find "good".


  14. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    So the communication has failed, which is to the point being made.
    "To most people they are just images of miserable people holding signs. To me they are a damning critique of our zero hours, minimum wage, consumerist society."
    If most people misinterpret the intentions, the author needs to ask themselves why and I doubt that human vagaries are the answer. It will be in how they are shot.
  15. PhotoEcosse

    PhotoEcosse Well-Known Member

    Just taking that throw-away comment a stage farther:

    If I think of my "top three" prints, competition-wise, from the last four or five years, their success in different competitions and salons has varied very significantly.

    Yes - they all came top in the normal camera club competition into which they were entered but, then, the variation begins. When my club selected them for entry into inter-club competitons, they didn't always come top.

    All three got into the top-30 of APOY rounds - but their positions within the top-30 varied considerably and none made the top three.

    In salons, all three won a gold medal in at least one salon but, equally all three failed to even be selected for exhibition in other salons.

    Which all supports the view that different judges/selectors do see photographs differently. But I don't complain about that. Indeed, it would be immensely boring if it were otherwise. (Also bear in mind that, in different competitions, a photograph will be up against a different set of competitors, so that may also affect placing.)

    Incidentally, framed prints of only two of the three are on my walls. I don't, personally, like the third enough as a wall decoration to stick it up.
  16. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Useful facts. Yep, that's how it goes.
  17. PhotoEcosse

    PhotoEcosse Well-Known Member

    So why, Mike, do so many of our colleagues whinge about it?
  18. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    I really don't know. To me it is so bl**din obvious as to hardly need discussion. But overall, the "better" workers do do better (far better) than the inferior ones, which I guess is where "better" comes from.

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