Don't be a Jerk

Review Santa Fe was held almost a week and half ago now and I am finally getting around to commenting. I want to follow up this post with a list and a few images of photographers whose work I liked, but first I wanted to comment on the interaction that goes on at the table.

There is no other art medium that has this type or forum known as the portfolio reviews. It is an anomaly that only occurs in the photo world. At these venues, I am happy to offer as much advice as I possibly can to every one of the photographers who sits across from me. Sometimes I fail, but I feel an obligation to help. People on both sides of the table take risks and spend money to get to this place, but the reviewees spend more and also expose themselves and their artwork to the best accolades or much worse insults. I know of a few reviewees who have had horrible experiences sitting across the table from reviewers. I walked past one reviewee who was saying at the end of a review "you do not have to be so mean." Often it is like a person who waits tables waiting on the person who has not. Not saying that everyone has to have had waited tables or been on the other side of the table to have empathy, but it helps. There seems to be no venue for photographers who do not want to be blackballed to express their true feelings about certain experiences aside from anonymous evaluation forms. I tried to get a photographer to respond to some questions about a review I once worked, but she feared that she would never be shown again or could not be totally honest. I do not know what to say about this situation but to appeal to the reviewers to be gracious and tell photographers to do their research well and take the insults lightly.

Another friend who dated a critic would watch him write at the typewriter, as this was years ago, with a furrowed brow. In person, he is a very nice human being, but behind the keyboard he was vicious. On one occasion, this woman appealed to his kinder nature when she read a review he was writing on an artist's first public exhibition. She said "You know you could ruin what could be a wonderful artist" or something along those lines. He took another route of criticism and his usual butchery. This "reviewee" is now a much revered sculptor. I am not Aesop, but there is a moral.


Joe Holmes said...

I had a terrific experience at Santa Fe two years ago. Even the one or two reviewers who didn't feel a strong connection with my work found things to talk about, ways to be constructive or supportive.

But a year later I attended a Magnum review, and one of my three reviewers was a minidisaster. He started off by saying, "I have no idea why you were assigned to me!" Thank you very much.

Luckily I also got a review with the wonderful Alec Soth, which turned out to be the best review I've ever had. He made suggestions which I took to heart and use to this day.

Susana said...

Thanks for that Melanie, while I have never been a victim of a particularly vicious review (negative [or constructive shall we say!] but not mean) I have had the experience of having one of my fellow reviewees take up my time by talking well into my review time and not even attempting to lift his 20x30 prints off the table as I stood helplessly by.
This places one in the awful position of looming over the table, wondering if one should clear one's throat - making you look like an aggressive heel in front of the reviewer (who in this case did nothing to suggest that the interview be terminated). I noticed he was back at this years RSF and I hope by now he has become more considerate. This is an awful way to begin a review.

Michael Van der Tol said...

A great post Melanie.

A great reviewer, like great teachers, great mentors, great leaders must have skills to motivate others. Delivering a motivating review that helps point an artist in a new direction is a valued skill. Dismissing someone's work verbally or in writing is a horrible failure to communicate and requires no aptitude.

Anonymous said...

I heard three horror stories about the same reviewer. Hopefully these stories were conveyed to the powers that be and this so called reviewer will not be invited back. No one should leave a 20 minute review, pissed, shaken and feeling like selling their gear.

www.elizabethavedon.com said...

I was sad to hear from a couple of photographers I reviewed (with projects I considered good work in progress) tell me about a particular reviewer's unnecessarily harsh criticism, dismissing their work and the rest of their 20 minute Review.
They came away disheartened and feeling a little ripped off financially. There is nothing constructive in that type of feedback. Thank you Melanie for bringing this to others attention.