Standards: Keepsakes & Masterpieces

Cowgirl-in-training–My daughter doesn’t remember her 1st visit to a ranch. This is a picture which she’ll probably treasure as much as I do. Not an award winner but I wouldn’t enter this in any contest anyway.

Not every picture I make is meant to be a masterpiece.

And I’m not being defensive. Some of my pictures are meant to be nothing more than keepsakes.

They are meaningless to anyone else outside of perhaps my immediate family and friends.

Photography is my preferred form of self-expression.

My kids might tell you different. They were there when I dropped a drawer full of silverware on my big toe.

Considering my agony at the time, I exercised quite a bit of self-restraint. I only used the f-word and I didn’t even refer to anyone’s mum.

The big toe nail eventually grew back–both times.

I tell my students, my opinion of their work only matters in my class.

If it were up to me, I would prefer not to grade anyone’s work.

It’s tough to balance crushing the ego of the next (insert big name photographer of choice here….) and giving them some standard to aspire to.

That’s not my cop-out or excuse so that I can be a lazy instructor.

But some students need that “proverbial kick in the pants.”

I’m especially appalled when I learn they are majoring in photography.

Slackers are everywhere, but they seem to gravitate towards the arts more than in the other fields of study.

My College Days

I don’t have any background in teaching.

I teach very much the way I learned photography– by the seat-of-my-pants most times.

In college I had  a tough photography instructor who didn’t pull any punches during critiques.

American Idol judge Simon Cowell would look like  Mr. Rogers next to my photo instructor.

But not everyone appreciates that tough-as-nails approach.

To be fair Charlie was only hard on the ones who had declared photojournalism as their major.

Justifiable, because newspaper photography is one of the most competitive jobs out there.

Beachcomber–A picture like this will appeal only to my family and close friends who have known my son since birth.

Charlie probably thought his students’ work need to be of a certain calibre if they stood a realistic chance of getting a job at a newspaper.

He probably felt it was better he discouraged the ones who lacked the drive and tenacity so that they would switch their majors.

What’s the point of going through college  for a piece of paper and not be able to work in your field of study?

Most of my students are beginners but I never dumb down the material.

It’s insulting. I would sooner pull the interested student aside and give them the extra instruction than say, “what you’re asking is beyond the scope of this class.”

I’m constantly having to grapple with how tough to be and trying to figure out which students can handle a little kick in the rear.

Take Pictures for Yourself

Another keepsake–My late father-in-law dancing with my sister-in-law at her wedding.

So inevitably I remind them to take pictures for themselves since I’ve never given anyone a “F” especially if they did the work and turned it in on time.

Rather, I hope they learn because I’ve challenged them to do their best with the assignments.

As a photography student, I never aced all my photo classes.

Early on I realized

  • that grade didn’t matter. What will get me a job is my portfolio of work.
  • I couldn’t possibly be good at all types of photography
  • the instructor’s idea of what’s aesthetically pleasing isn’t going to be like mine

What matters most is I work on getting a good portfolio picture which I could be proud of in every class I took whether it was in Photo-Illustration, Fashion or Photojournalism.

Photography is self-expression. It matters not if no one likes your picture. It’s different once you are paid.

Then your priority is to give your client what they want.

Once that picture is in the bag, then you need to make a picture for yourself.

2 thoughts on “Standards: Keepsakes & Masterpieces”

  1. Liz,
    Some might saw we are conservatives these days with that view but it’s the truth.

    All those participation awards where no one keeps score rewards mediocrity.

    The end result is like you said, a soft generation unable to compete.

    I know not everyone of my students wants to be a professional photographer but I wouldn’t be giving them their money’s worth if I taught only to the level of my most unmotivated student.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more on everything you said, Peter. When I want to reminisce, I pull out my photo albums, not my portfolio. I not only see the progress I’ve made as a photographer in my keepsake photos, I see the progress I’ve made in life. I had to take a biology class in college they called a “weeder” class. It started out with almost 300 people and ended up with 40. If you couldn’t make it through the semester, you weren’t going to make it in med school. I think there are too many “participation” awards given out to our kids and they aren’t prepared for surviving the tough, competitive, and unjust world. You have a wonderful touch of humility that makes your teaching easier on the ego. I, for one, would prefer a good “kick in the pants” over a little self-indulgence.


Comments are closed.