by Andrew Mason
The enemy of photography is the convention, the fixed rules of ‘how to do.’ (Laszlo Moholy-Nagy)
Last year I submitted images to the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) to see whether I could get one of their ‘distinctions’. RPS distinctions rely on a panel of people assessing a photographers’ work and deciding whether they think it meets their criteria.
I submitted a series of images in the applied category. My daily work is to photograph people; my application of photography is to create pictures that people are happy with so they can use them to get the results they want. I’ve photographed hundreds of people, only once has someone been unhappy.
The images I submitted displayed a breadth of work, a variety of people, natural light, studio, different locations etc etc.
They failed my submission.
I won’t share the images as they are of photos of my clients and I don’t want to open discussion on them, but I’ll share some of the feedback. Remember that I entered in the applied category, so my images are for the purpose of being liked and used used by my clients.
One image ‘failed’ because the assessor said the lady had an ‘unappealing’ expression on her face. The photo in questions was on of over 100 photos of that lady and this particular image was one that she chose as her favourite. That’s how she looks.
Another image failed because the background was ‘over-lit’. Sometime in a studio the photographer lights the background to make it bright. It is intentional. But in their opinion this is ‘over-lit’. If the background was black I presume they say it was ‘under-lit’. Again it was an image that the client chose and liked.
And a third image failed because of the way a certain piece of clothing was arranged. That’s how the client had dressed and how she wanted to appear. I suppose the members of the RPS panel know more about how a 20 something year old should dress than she does.
Then a fourth image failed because there was lens flair. Hello! The portrait was shot on location using lovely directional light with the subject’s back to the sun and the lens flare was intentional and added to the look of the photo.
I haven’t resubmitted. I have no interest in following their rules and conventions on how a photo should look.
Quite regularly I hear photographers says a photo was criticised and told it was a failure because a small detail, when in fact the image is a complete success because it captures a moment and is lit perfectly. The people dishing out these judgements need to understand that photography, particularly photos involving real subjects, is about capturing real life and not about creating a manufactured scene of a model.
Photography can become too much of an obsession with small details, rules and conventions, but photography is essentially a creative discipline that is too often dominated by people more interested in equipment and what you should and shouldn’t do. Passing on knowledge is fine, but criticising people for not following someone else’s rulebook is wrong because it kills creativity and the enjoyment of photography.