Who wants to be a critic?

Record the date 31-Jan-2013 as an important date in your records.

On that day Blackwood Photographic Club embarked on a new direction that encourages more participation and sharing of photographic ideas. We moved from the mainstream camera club ethos of competition and into (what for us in 2013 is a new idea) actively sharing, encouraging and improving our photographic art as a group, as well as learning from each other and not just receiving a  judges opinion.

Interestingly, the peer review/critique session is not a new phenomenon. Many educational institutions have done the same thing for decades (if not centuries) – the arts & literature need feedback to develop.  The early days of our club embraced this method of learning, but it got lost along the way. Well, I think we’ve found it!

The night began with another significant event – the raising of the new projector screen!

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Matt, Ashley & I spent a bit of time planning how best to mount the new screen – and after a bit of brainstorming, came up with the solution of clamping the screen to the ballet rail and raising the screen up. We did a test run on the Australia Day long weekend, and with a little paint, some more brainstorming, a ladder, some hand tools and a drill the new screen was ready. This method overcomes the problem of the mass of the screen, and therefore reduces the risk to the people raising it as well. We’ve employed the old widowmaker rods for raising it, but they’ll soon be replaced with something even better.

The big advantage of this screen is that we can now project our images at full 4:3 (just like your camera) on a larger, brighter screen. We must acknowledge the support of the SAPF in partially funding the new screen – which replaces our 30 year old screen.

The night was also significant for the debut of the new print stand. Eric built a new one just before the end of last year which is more robust, and allows prints to stand in a rail rather than be clipped into place. Even panoramas will now fit. Our sincere thanks to Eric for his efforts.

So on this already auspicious evening, we began our critique session. It was a pretty full house with many club members present & displaying their images, as well as 5 new members (welcome to Lesley, Ren, Grant, Gerry and Ron). We also had a few visitors – Peter & Richard from Edwardstown PC, Rosemary & Roger (2nd time – I remember 😉 ). Richard & I have corresponded about this new direction a few times as well – illustrating that our ideas find a resonance outside the club. We were also pleased to see life member Ruth Palmer attend and lend her support.

Critique using the new print stand too

Critique using the new print stand too

Our inaugural critique night (the modern edition) comprised Matt & Ashley as the review panel, with myself as chairperson, and images (print, slide & digital) from 18 club members. Not bad for a first draft. The initial concept was to have the images displayed in rounds of 1 image (or set) at a time. We thought that up to 3 rounds could be had in the normal meeting time. Each member was allowed up to 1 minute to describe their image, then the panel discussed the image, followed by comments from those present for a total of about 5 minutes. This worked reasonably well, except that the panel and audience ran overtime – repeatedly! That will have to be tightened up!

A few observations about the process I mulled over afterwards:

  • Some members put up images and basically said “What to do you think?”. In retrospect it should be “I was trying to achieve …… by doing …… – have I achieve it or how can I get there?”.
    The critique this type of opening remark received was at times a little soft, but then the introduction by the photographer led to that. So next time you come along please tell us what your trying to do
  • Matt & Ashley tried to be constructive and make helpful observations. They prefaced some remarks with “a judge might say…..”.
    Although this is valuable, particularly for competition, its not the only way to provide feedback, and they tried to avoid the cliches. Well done guys.
  • They also worked hard to give feedback on composition and technique – along with members of the audience such as Arthur (who I think commented on every image), Eric, Helen, Ray, James & Peter (apologies to those I missed).
    Many other members chipped in too – and this is the important part of the night – we all took part.
    I felt all those present were looking and trying to help the photographer improve the image – and not just superficially. This is something we miss after a competition night as the images get whipped down and stored.
  • Everyone stayed polite and constructive – brilliant!
  • Members such as Helen, Heather, Theo & Eric displayed images to help them refine their display and technique. Helen addressed her ongoing screen calibration issue, Heather looked at image resolution, Eric showed us how to photograph drops of water &  Theo addressed the issue of what is the best perspective – in close or out wide? All of this generated some excellent discussion in the process – and many of us – not just the authors – left with new insights.
  • There was a good selection of prints on the night as well – with some valuable discussion on breaking the standard judging rules – the rule of thirds needs to be taken out and buried and sharpness need not dominate our lives!
  • We ran out of time after the first round – hmmmm. Fortunately, we managed to have a 15 minute free for all with the remaining digital images.
    Next time we will have to be a lot stricter on time limits
  • We were all enjoying it so much I didn’t see anyone doze off. Amazing! Some competition nights you can almost here the snoring – none evident on this occasion! 😀

Next time we’ll have another pair of panelists – everyone will get a turn (don’t be shy!). In fact thats another way of improving your art – by being made to give feedback to someone else.

So there you have it – the first installment of BPC Peer review. We’ll refine things as we go along. If you’ve got any ideas or observations I haven’t addressed email me or leave a comment on this page. I promise our critique nights will only get better!

Chris 😉

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