Better Luck Next Time
The day before I flew to the USA, I received an email from a well-known photography magazine rejecting my submission to their call for ‘Art Photography’.
Before I learned the results of this contest, I got a professional review from the jury. It’s anonymous so I don’t know who reviewed me and cannot directly reply back to them. I did not read it until after the results because I didn’t want it to sway me into assuming the jury’s choice. When I learned that my submission was not chosen, I read the review.
This blog post is the review I received and my response to the reviewer’s questions. I wish that I could respond to the reviewer in a person but I don’t who they are. In case the reviewer ever stumbles onto my site, then they can find my response. I share the reviewer’s thoughtful letter so that you have the context of my responses. It’s a good example of how artists communicate about art and process.
The photographs included in this post are the ones I submitted to the contest. (Except for Our Lady, they are all for sale at my print shop. You can click on the image to be taken to its page.)
Before I begin, I want to thank the reviewer for taking the time and patience to look at my artwork and writing me a very intensive review. Thank you!
My Professional Review from Anonymous
Reviewer: Hi Catherine. To be straight, I find your images are beautiful and thought-provoking. And I agree with your statement; there is something that you are setting into motion through your process that allows for your intuition to reign supreme in the creative process. Which in turn yields beautiful surprises and a certain serendipity that is otherwise often dampened by photographers who get too caught up in technique and the creation of the image. While I get that your images are in fact labor intensive, it’s because you are creating a certain set of circumstances in which random chaos can become your co-author in the creative process.
I agree with you in reference to your request for feedback. I don’t think you have much work to do in the making of your images. That is great.
Juggling Analogue and Digital Technology
Reviewer: Instead, I feel the challenge of this work is figuring out why this type of project is significant NOW. In other words, do you see your process as a photographer as some sort of reaction to the tools of digital photography and how people are using the “digital darkroom”?
Catherine: My process is not a reaction because I have always taken analogue photographs. I began using the same camera that I still use today. I just never felt connected to a digital camera and the process. It’s an aesthetic thing. I love film and film cameras.
Perhaps, that could be interpreted as a reaction to the digital age but I actually embrace digitizing my film frames so that they can be shared and viewed by many people. If I did not digitize them, especially the color slide film, they would not be printed nor shared.
The technology for printing analogue color slide film is no longer available on a consistent and commercial scale. I hear that one can still buy positive color printing paper, but it is out of date and then I’d have to have the chemicals for it. To get really good at printing analogue color positive photographs, I need a consistent supply which isn’t possible right now. Fortunately, film scanning equipment and inkjet printing is quite good. I learned how to make good digital prints so that my artwork isn’t just for my own enjoyment. I want my art to be public and shared.
Instead of renouncing digital technology or adhering to only analogue technology, I use both to make my artwork. It makes more sense to synthesize the best of both technologies. I want to be creatively flexible so I am open to trying photographic technology that supports my art.
Engage the Senses
Reviewer: Is there something that you are connecting to in the analog process that says something about the digital world?
Or perhaps how people are becoming integrated with their medium in digital ways that you are uncomfortable with?
After all, whether a photographer or not (though it is arguable that almost anyone with a cellphone is a photographer), most people are becoming inextricably intertwined with digital technologies. We are learning to think in languages that are a part of how we interact with our computers, text messaging apps, cars, and so on. They are becoming less and less about physical touch and more about so-called interactive mediation. But your project distinctly avoids this sort of approach. So, maybe you can write about that.
Catherine: My work isn’t a critique of or reflection on digital technology. That’s why I didn’t write about it. When one views my art, I want it to be visceral, not intellectual. I’m glad you sense this.
We’re too much in our thoughts and less in our full body senses. My photographs connect to the viewer on a feeling level.
I should write more on that then.
Evolving My Voice
Reviewer: If you do, you will want to choose your voice. In other words, I don’t THINK your work is made with scorn or disdain for digital technology. Instead, it’s a celebration of something else. Perhaps a celebration of what you find to be uniquely human. Or something like that.
Catherine: You’re right – I do not make my artwork out of scorn for digital technology. Digital technology is a tool just as is analogue technology. As with any tool, in this instance for making art, learning when to use it and when not takes an appreciation of and a graceful application of the medium.
To be frank, I make art from an intense, almost obsessive, need to discover the magic of reality.
Writing about my photographs is certainly a lifelong discovery. My voice evolves as I create new artwork and my audiences expands.
I learn so much from my audience. As I continue to share my work with new people, I discover new associations and interpretations of my photographs. Their feedback often inspires my creative process.
Deciding to Swim, Instead of Sink
Reviewer: However, the one place I get a little stuck is with the fact that your images are printed digitally. I suppose that is a matter of fact these days; in other words, the means to make analog prints are more and more scarce. But you might want to think about how you will respond to this aspect of your work. Though I don’t necessarily feel you need to mention it in your statement.
Catherine: I print digitally because the quality of digital printing is very good. It is possible to print black and white negatives, but not color slides.
Color positive paper and chemicals are basically extinct. I either had to stop shooting color slide film or adapt and master printing my color slides digitally. Deciding to swim instead of sink, I learned how to make the best inkjet prints from a 35mm film frame. The technology to do this is really amazing.
A Hasselblad Imacon 848 film scanner scans a 35mm film frame at 7250 resolution. When I inkjet print a photograph at 300 dpi, the native size is 24″x36″. The scans provide incredible detail and true colors. An Epson stylus printer using pigment inks makes beautiful prints.
The first time I saw one of my prints from an Epson printer and an Imacon scan I cried because it was so good.
How Did the Jury Make Their Selection?
Reviewer: Again Catherine, your images really excite me. I feel connected to them on a visceral level. They feel right. They feel real. And they also happen to be quite beautiful too.
Thanks for sharing your work and wishing you the best of luck.
Catherine: Thank you anonymous reviewer for your insights and questions. I have a question for you: How did the jury make their selection? What is their criteria? If you happen to read this and wish to answer me, you can do so here.