Photography – the craft of curation

Over the course of the last few years I have met many amazing photographers on my Visual Poet Experience Workshops. Interestingly, some of them realized very little of their hidden talent for seeing and crafting great imagery. As I have studied this phenomenon, I stayed in touch with some students, following their struggles and their progress over the years. It became clear that the idea of curation is one of the most difficult concepts in photography.

Most of us who care deeply about photography usually shoot a lot of imagery throughout the year. Most people put very little time and effort into reviewing their own work or assessing it but just publish it right away on social media with the assumption that “something will stick.” It may satisfy the occasional snapper, but this is not a serious approach. Even those who attempt to curate their work find it extremely difficult. When I work with students, I quickly discover that one of the biggest obstacles they face at any stage of their development is the process of curation.

In simple terms, given the huge body of work we produce, it has become a nightmare to spend enough time on each image and appreciate its visual, conceptual and original qualities. Despite that, time is not the most important issue. Lack of visual proficiency and confidence in our own abilities come at the top.  

Over and over again I see photographers who show me a series of images containing some true visual gems. The problem is that this fine work is cluttered with so-so images – some of them quite appealing and tempting but highly repetitive and commonly shot. With our social media antennae working overtime to scan the social media world for winning visuals, we quickly develop similar visual patterns which consciously or unconsciously push us in the same direction. Following the trend, we tend to curate our work using these visual pointers.

This is especially troubling for students who display a unique ability to see and craft imagery their own way. Unfortunately, this leads to the dismissal of their best work with “this one probably won’t work” citing the lack of such imagery on social media. Naturally they gravitate toward the common and familiar. It is only when we sit down together and I point out certain visuals they crafted do they start scrutinizing and appreciating their work. 

Then comes another pre-requisite in the process of curation – visual proficiency. Here is the key problem. Visual proficiency is not only a misunderstood concept but is usually reduced to two dull and meaningless statements: “I like it, or not” and “I don’t care what others think” – usually promoted by those who use them to defend their own mediocre work.  

The problem is that visual proficiency cannot be acquired just by having expensive equipment. It requires years of study, shooting and evaluating your work on a constant basis. For example, I am well aware that my wine-testing proficiency is quite poor, if it exists at all. The fact that I like wine doesn’t mean it is a great wine. Only those who acquire enough knowledge and bind it with years of experience in tasting a variety of wines are they able to separate the wheat from the chaff. 

But in today’s world of “likes” such a long and extensive visual education combined with hard work may not be the most appealing approach. Go figure!  

Here are a few images from Amsterdam, where I co-led the Visual Poet Experience Workshop with Tomasz of Fujilove. Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement about the 2020 Visual Poet Experience locations around the world. And yes, we are coming to Berlin and London too! 

All images shot with the Fujifilm GFX50R paired with the GF 50mm F3.5 lens.  

Next time…

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