How Many Eyes Have I Ruined?
Almost every month I enter two images in my local camera club's competition. I also participate in a digital critique group whose 8 members are from all over the globe. Now, I am taking a course on black and white photography. I love getting critiques of my work because I learn new techniques and also get to understand more about the perspective of a third-party viewer. I get too close to my work to truly evaluate how others might see it.
Photo judges are trained and typically they are highly respected photographers. Although their personal reaction to a photo, particularly how an image responds to them on an emotional level, is unique, critiques about other aspects of an image often use a standard language. One approach is for a judge to talk about how their eye (and eye is usually singular) is pulled one way or another. It's positive when a judge remarks how their eye traveled a path through the image and caused them to delight in its various details. It's not positive when a judge remarks how their eye is drawn (or sometimes dragged) to the edge of an image or to a bright spot, thus causing them to miss the point of the image.
I was fairly happy with the image shown here. It has leading lines, it's off center with the end of the bridge at about the one-third line. The sky has some clouds, and I took great care to remove the telephone pole and wires that detracted from the image. When I got my critique, my teacher's first comment was that the gray part at the top right was pulling their eye there, thus diminishing their enjoyment. It really bothered them. "Ah," I thought, "Border control. How did I miss that?" Prior to submitting a photo, I find that it is best to inspect the edges to make sure there aren't any distracting elements. I was so happy to remove the telephone pole that I forgot about dealing with that light spot. The poor eye!
The other suggestion offered for this image was that "the eye" was drawn down a path, but there was nothing there. The eye prefers to land on something. It's true that I wanted a person to be there, but as I snapped the photo, the woman with the baby carriage had just turned the corner. I know now that I should have staked out this spot until an unknowing subject sauntered by. However, I wasn't that concerned because a path often leads to an unknown. As uncomfortable as we might be with unknowns, this bridge is going there. I think it is a symbol of our times. Perhaps I should have titled it "Where Does This Bridge Lead?"
When I listen to critiques of my and my colleagues' work at competitions, I often chuckle at these eye remarks. Yes, the remarks are helpful, but I think about all those judge eyes that are getting pulled here and there by students of photography.