Musings on Photography

Feedback on Unfinished Work

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul Butzi on November 16, 2006

Somewhere recently (can’t quite remember where) I read a comment that photographers, as a rule, rarely show work that is ‘in progress’.

I suspect that’s true, but I also suspect that it’s not a good thing. One of the things I most valued about the Monday Night Group (see also this) was that it offered a way to easily (and with relatively low emotional risk) get feedback on work that wasn’t finished, or didn’t seem to work, or was just vastly different from what I’d been doing.

And it turns out that while getting feedback on finished work is helpful in that it gives you information you can roll forward into the work you make next, it does nothing to improve the work you just ‘finished’. Feedback on work in progress has the advantage that it gets rolled into the current work. That’s important in the sense that a comment like “you know, if you lightened this face just a smidgen, it might help make that the visual focus of the print” can really move a print from ‘good’ to ‘incredible’. It takes a certain learned ability to suppress defensiveness but in the end, I’ve seen it make a real difference in my prints.

The really big payoff, though, comes in how it encourages taking risk. Your unfinished work, especially work that you feel weird about, or don’t understand, or which has you stymied or frustrating – that’s the work that’s at the edge of your art where the growth is happening. A really good group that’s been looking at your work for a long time will spot that stuff a mile off, and pick it up instantly and say “Hey, this is different. What’s going on with this? You should work more on this.” The experimental stuff, the stuff you tried that didn’t work – that’s often the stuff that is a failure as a finished piece but a success in how it points to a new direction to explore.

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  1. Colin [] said, on November 17, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    It was in Bob’s post.

    I was hoping you would pick up on the idea.

    In practice it seems to be extraordinarily difficult to get high quality feedback on work in progress. I would say it is the square of the level of difficulty on getting high quality feedback on finished work.

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