Passing Judgment

May 19th, 2014

I was invited today to the Spring Show of the Art Academy of San Francisco Photo Department, to participate as one of the photography judges.

ArtAcademyAlthough I am used to running my own gallery, which presumes a certain experience with judging another artist’s work-I don’t hang it on the walls unless I like it-that’s not quite the same as viewing an exhibit of work by about two dozen others and giving each piece a grade. It’s an interesting responsibility.

As a life-long photographer with 40 years of experience in the printing field and eight years of running a gallery, I have certainly been exposed to a wide variety of work that extends far beyond my own field of personal photography-not really any landscape or iPhoneography in this show-and with that and the usual exposure any citizen of modern society gets these days to photographs almost every waking moment of our lives, I can form an opinion of what I like or don’t like. And I can even expound on my reasons. In photography, more than any other visual art, I think there is an over-emphasis on technical issues, like what camera was used, was the picture “Photoshopped” what kind of printer, etc. So let me just say this about that: technical excellence was an almost uniform trait to these pictures. With only the fewest of exceptions, I saw almost nothing to carp about. That was such a relief. I could look at pictures and judge them just by their emotional and aesthetic appeal.

In a show like this, where students are working within boundaries, fine art, commercial, portraiture, I looked at the work and tried to see it without any overriding ideas. I looked first at the picture, then at the label that identified the particular style or field the photographer was representing. Did the picture grab me before I knew anything about it? If I saw it in a book, on a billboard, a poster, would I take a second look? If it did, I looked to see what field the photographer was working in and thought about the level of success she showed with a particular piece. Someone working in a class on lighting had to have  a picture that not only was worth looking at on its own, but showed an understanding of the uses of light to reveal and conceal. Natural light or artificial? Could I even tell and if I could, was that on purpose or did it reveal something about the photographer’s skills? I saw portraits that were mesmerizing, that were hard to pull away from, and I saw others that had all the appeal of a 19th century painting of some captain of industry with his hand in his vest; technically perfect, but…

I found favorites in all the categories exhibited, and some of my favorites were in advertising, portraiture and photo essays. Not the kind of work I do personally, but work of which I’ve always respected those who can master it. Being exposed to good photography and art of any kind always inspires me in my own pursuits. That such inspiration can come from student work attests to the seriousness of schools like the Art Academy and the skills it nurtures in talented students such as those whose work I enjoyed today. There was much more on display in the hall than just photography and I enjoyed strolling around the rest of the displays. I enjoyed it as much or more than I usually do in a formal gallery setting. Perhaps it was the breadth of the work or the energetic expression people new to any discipline can bring.   A lot of good art out there…

Cloudy Day........Ceramic sculpture by Josef Peters

Cloudy Day……..Ceramic sculpture by Josef Peters

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