When the Art Demands Your Attention

The February 23, 2006 LensWork Podcast/Commentary by Brooks Jensen, “When the Art Demands Your Attention”, reminds me of a perspective changing lesson that I learned in a first year photography class at Ryerson in Toronto.

As part of an assignment I presented a photograph of a barn on a lakeshore. To my mind it was the best work I had done to date. I was pleased with my composition, film exposure, print exposure, paper choice – everything.

I received a D+ and I was not happy about it. I scheduled a private consultation with my instructor. With the assuredness of youth I demanded he explain why I was graded so low – surely he must have made a mistake. His response was that the composition was nice; the tones were good, the exposure was adequate, that it was an okay print and that he could possibly raise my mark to a C. I asked him to explain how I could have satisfied all of the aforementioned requirements and only receive a D+ or a C? Why not an A? His response was that it just wasn’t an A print.

As I left in frustration I walked down the photography lined halls of the Photo Arts building and something dawned on me. In front of me were hundreds of technically proficient, sometimes meaningful, sometimes beautiful, photographs yet only a few grabbed hold of me, forcing me to stop and study them. It was revelation.

Since this epiphany I’ve tried to evaluate my work with the following in mind; if I were walking by one of my prints, and I somehow forgot that it was my own, would it grab me enough to stop and study it.

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