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How do you curate your work?

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
I would like to share with you an extract from an excellent piece by Ibarionex Perello of Candid Frame. Ibarionex and I led a creative photography workshop together and it was a blast to work together. I am sure you will enjoy his perspective on the subject.
Looks like a great discipline. AND I learned that there is a Survey Mode in Lightroom. Somehow missed that over the years. Thank you!
 

rdeloe

Active member
Lightroom has a range of really powerful tools that can help to simplify and automate the "curation" process (on the database side). For example, I use automatic smart collections a lot to organize my catalogue and to stay on top of projects and tasks. Smart collections can be built based on every kind of metadata that is available through the Metadata filter.

These tools are one of the reasons I won't easily leave Lightroom behind in favour of some other photo editing software that has limited database tools.
 

jsf

Active member
Here are my thoughts. I have to admit this is a very difficult subject and it is not easy to conceptualise it, yet alone write about it.

I developed a process during which I would review my work right after shooting it. In this process, any doubt about an image equated with the delete action; no second guessing or finding excuses to keep it. The more I practiced this procedure, the more I liked it. After each session I was left with less and less imagery – this by itself was a huge step forward in my curation process.

In time, reviewing my work has become as important as shooting. Interestingly, each function complemented the other and fed on the other in unexpected ways. I noticed that my curation process directly affected the way I shot. I started curating scenes and frames BEFORE I took them. At one point I would spend three or four hours daily going through my imagery and deleting most of it.

Here are some of the criteria I applied:

Is this a cliché? Have I seen this idea many times before? If so, is this image technically or artistically one of the best I have seen or it is just like most of them? When in doubt – delete!

Is it possible to shoot this particular visual idea better? What would I change? Would better light help? Should I think more about composition?

One question which I always ask when looking at an image is: Was there a way to minimize the number of elements in the frame? And in 99% of cases my honest answer was YES. THERE IS ALWAYS A WAY TO MAKE AN IMAGE SIMPLER!

How does this image represent my visual brand? Am I excelling or staying at the same level?

Is the image elegant? Why did I include the subject in its entirety? What if I could show just part of it?

Does this image stand on its own? What if I share it in a sequence? If so, what would the order be in order to maintain visual balance and scrolling continuity?

Then I play the devil’s advocate. I started finding weaknesses in my image. Why didn’t you place your subject more to the left? How about this pocket of light in the corner? Is it distracting? Does it add anything to the image? Why colour? Why black and white? I questioned even my best images. Only images which I could defend from my own attacks had the chance of remaining in my catalogue.

The entire process, once done honestly and regularly, develops a certain sense of design and taste. The best comparison with the idea of visual taste is with wine. I rarely drink wine but on occasion I do have a sip. Of course, I could tell you which wine I liked or I disliked BUT that doesn’t mean it is a good or bad wine. I have no reference, experience or expertise. Only someone who had studied the wine industry and tasted a huge variety of wines around the world could develop proficiency and expertise. That person would be able to distinguish good from bad wine and, most importantly, articulate why. The same with photography.

I would love to hear from others.

View attachment 176083
This is a successful image. You have depicted a mystery and that provokes others into telling their story. One can do no more than that. This is a good job.
 

jsf

Active member
I am a firm proponent of asking a very difficult question to myself before I pick up the camera. The question can be asked in a variety of ways. "What is the point of this?" "What am I doing?" "What is the story that I am telling?" In truth, I ask the question about everything in my life. Also in truth, I ask the question in pictures, not words. After 60+ years of asking this question, and again in truth as a young man just starting my career in commercial work my employer was stringent in making me ask the question before I exposed a piece of film, "What is the point of this image?" In commercial work, keeping the expenses down is important, as is knowing what the client is looking for, what the client actually needs, and delivering the appropriate images with enough variety as quickly as is possible. The old guys that I worked with's attitude was if you needed one image you used one piece of film. I learned these lessons well. Later in my career, I decided that I would like to do weddings, I did about 100 of them. I found them to be quite relaxing. More interesting in some ways than the usual commercial work that I did. Architectural images, product illustrations, and PR work just gets tiring after a while.
As a consequence. in a wedding as an example, other than duplicates and a few images, invariably of my feet, (don't ask) all of the work was usable. When I am experimenting on a project at the outset, I shoot a lot of images and study each one. Since I had an intention each time, examining it later has value. After enough examination, I would not shoot so many images, and I have never been a high volume shooter. The idea one has to make 100 images in order to get one good one disturbs me. Generally, when I am in the groove unless the project involves a lot of chaotic motion, my usable printable images are generally 2 out of 3. I will cull out of that particular shoot the stand-alone but hangs well together in a group to 1-15 images. Some days are just lucky and some days are not so lucky. That means out of 100 captures, excluding duplicates, I have 60+ showable images. I will then do as I have described and end up with a small chunk of an overall effort in order to have a show. I will keep adding chunks until I have 20-30 stand-alone but hang together images for an exhibition. I think in terms of portfolios for exhibition.
I only delete an occasional blown exposure or camera was searching for focus and did not get there shot or if someone walks in front of me as I release the exposure or the occasional but inevitable "what was I thinking shot." I have found repeatedly that the images that I do not immediately print are not only good but often I will have a need for something like that down the line. After all, I did think it was a good idea when I did it. I have found some real gems a year or three later when I would mine my files again. I am doing so now while we are in sequestration, and I am finding a number of perfectly good images that I did not need or did not have the room to use, or I had one similar enough so that one got culled. There was nothing wrong with the image, in fact, it was often good enough, just one has to make a choice for whatever purpose one is looking at the work.
Curation is an interesting process. One has to have a reason for making the choices that we do. Starting from the very beginning before we pick up the camera. The choice of when we release the shutter is a very powerful curatorial moment. If we are clear about the story, then there should be very few images that are not usable. Inevitably if one can capture a large percentage of good images, there will be a small pod of great images. Maybe not great in the sense of art history, but strong, stand-alone images that tell the story well. Refinement of the story is the prime mover in curating.
I started a gallery and ran it for five years as a contemporary exhibition only art gallery. I showed mostly photography. I wanted to shape the overall message of the gallery to be what the power of story can do. I had one of the more regular viewers that would come to the show tell me something that I thought was quite interesting, "I don't always like the show, but each show is interesting." As a curator, I cannot think of a comment that I would rather hear.
Unlike most people, I shoot a low volume of work on any given day. But I do make a lot of pictures since I photograph quite a lot. I store them on a huge RAID array. I rarely delete. I choose an image to print or lately to either project on a screen or post, specifically for the purpose at hand. I often will print an image that I really screwed up in either planning, or thought, or something that is really a big boo-boo. I will print it fairly large and hang it in my viewing room and just stare at it a lot. I learn so much from that as I do from critique. This sequestration is wearing and the lack of feedback is also wearing.
 

rdeloe

Active member
I really enjoyed your thoughtful response. In the spirit of conversation, I'll share a few thoughts in response.

I am a firm proponent of asking a very difficult question to myself before I pick up the camera. The question can be asked in a variety of ways. "What is the point of this?" "What am I doing?" "What is the story that I am telling?"
This resonated. What you're describing is a version of the first stage in the curation approach I described earlier in the thread.

I used to carry a small camera all the time "just in case". That ended years ago. Now I'm just as happy to simply enjoy what caught my eye through looking directly, rather than through a viewfinder. If I do happen to have my camera, I might make a photo if what I'm seeing fits within another project I'm working on; sometimes I'll make an unplanned photo as the "seed corn" for another project.

It's not that I'm always working from a shooting script. I will often have a clear idea that I need a certain picture to complete part of a project. However, I'm almost never out with my camera these days unless I know -- even roughly or in broad strokes -- what I am doing and why. To do my best work, I need the focus a project brings.

The idea one has to make 100 images in order to get one good one disturbs me. Generally, when I am in the groove unless the project involves a lot of chaotic motion, my usable printable images are generally 2 out of 3. I will cull out of that particular shoot the stand-alone but hangs well together in a group to 1-15 images. Some days are just lucky and some days are not so lucky. That means out of 100 captures, excluding duplicates, I have 60+ showable images. I will then do as I have described and end up with a small chunk of an overall effort in order to have a show. I will keep adding chunks until I have 20-30 stand-alone but hang together images for an exhibition. I think in terms of portfolios for exhibition.
It's clear to me that you still believe in what I call the "iconic single photo that can tell a story". The exhibitions you're describing sound like 20-30 individual stories, each in its own photograph. In this respect, we are at opposite ends of a spectrum!

It's not that I don't believe it's possible for an iconic single picture to tell a story. After all, this is the basis for much of photojournalism, and it still clearly works. Nonetheless, I've largely given up on that approach. My personal view now is that photography is most powerful when photographs work together in groups, where the idea for the group motivates the photographs. In simple terms, I think there's strengths in numbers. The photo essay (e.g., Life magazine) is a classic example of what I mean, but there are other kinds of groups of photos that don't involve a sequence and a narrative (e.g., the approach Brooks Jensen takes in Lenswork).

Thinking and working in groups of photographs is very different from sorting through a catalogue and pulling out pictures (perhaps made over many years) that happen to complement each other or fit together after the fact. I'm not suggesting it's better than the approach you take -- not at all. You're still creating a group of photos. What I'm describing simply a very different way of getting to the 20-30 photos in the exhibition. I've tried both approaches, and for me, thinking and working in groups leads to more productivity and creativity.

I choose an image to print or lately to either project on a screen or post, specifically for the purpose at hand. I often will print an image that I really screwed up in either planning, or thought, or something that is really a big boo-boo. I will print it fairly large and hang it in my viewing room and just stare at it a lot. I learn so much from that as I do from critique.
This is also why I print. I do print for shows and displays, but mostly I print as part of my work flow -- in other words, as a step in the process of getting the picture to where I want it to be. I don't print every picture I've made, or even every picture that I put up on my website. However, there are lots of pictures that I was only able to finish and be happy with because I printed them and studied them in different light, over long periods of time.
 

jsf

Active member
I really enjoyed your thoughtful response. In the spirit of conversation, I'll share a few thoughts in response.



This resonated. What you're describing is a version of the first stage in the curation approach I described earlier in the thread.

I used to carry a small camera all the time "just in case". That ended years ago. Now I'm just as happy to simply enjoy what caught my eye through looking directly, rather than through a viewfinder. If I do happen to have my camera, I might make a photo if what I'm seeing fits within another project I'm working on; sometimes I'll make an unplanned photo as the "seed corn" for another project.

It's not that I'm always working from a shooting script. I will often have a clear idea that I need a certain picture to complete part of a project. However, I'm almost never out with my camera these days unless I know -- even roughly or in broad strokes -- what I am doing and why. To do my best work, I need the focus a project brings.



It's clear to me that you still believe in what I call the "iconic single photo that can tell a story". The exhibitions you're describing sound like 20-30 individual stories, each in its own photograph. In this respect, we are at opposite ends of a spectrum!

It's not that I don't believe it's possible for an iconic single picture to tell a story. After all, this is the basis for much of photojournalism, and it still clearly works. Nonetheless, I've largely given up on that approach. My personal view now is that photography is most powerful when photographs work together in groups, where the idea for the group motivates the photographs. In simple terms, I think there's strengths in numbers. The photo essay (e.g., Life magazine) is a classic example of what I mean, but there are other kinds of groups of photos that don't involve a sequence and a narrative (e.g., the approach Brooks Jensen takes in Lenswork).

Thinking and working in groups of photographs is very different from sorting through a catalogue and pulling out pictures (perhaps made over many years) that happen to complement each other or fit together after the fact. I'm not suggesting it's better than the approach you take -- not at all. You're still creating a group of photos. What I'm describing simply a very different way of getting to the 20-30 photos in the exhibition. I've tried both approaches, and for me, thinking and working in groups leads to more productivity and creativity.
I wasn't as clear as I should have been. I also want to thank you for your thoughts. I feel that we are kindred spirits. When I work on a project I am always thinking of it as an exhibition. My 104th exhibition was delayed from April 2020 to April 2021. It is called the Photographer's Moment. I have been working on it for ten years. I think of the big story when I am working on one of my projects. I usually work on 6-10 at any given time. Never-the-less on any given project, I nibble away at it. How many threads can i pack into the central story? On the photographers' story there was what pros do to make their story. Advanced amateurs, everyday photographers who have more serious equipment, and then the point and shoot majority, all cell phones these days. But everyone was in the photographer's moment. Just before the shutter release, during and just after, there is a raft of stories to be told on an individual basis. But when told in aggregate, it makes for a more complex story. What I am looking for in the exhibition however are mostly stand-alone images that all fit into the exigencies of telling the larger more complete story. Sometimes I want an image that is best used in a series of images, not a stand-alone but more of a contextual image.


This is also why I print. I do print for shows and displays, but mostly I print as part of my workflow -- in other words, as a step in the process of getting the picture to where I want it to be. I don't print every picture I've made, or even every picture that I put up on my website. However, there are lots of pictures that I was only able to finish and be happy with because I printed them and studied them in different light, over long periods of time.
I usually after a shoot run a series of quick and dirty 8 x 10s, Sometimes a hundred of them. Quick and dirty means I run them in Lightroom with a 2 minute or less work flow. Once I finally get to the exhibition stage I will run them in Photoshop and I usually will spend about 20 minutes on each image. That would be what most of them will need. If I am doing a portrait series it is more like an hour per image. But I do a lot of smaller prints first and study them. My viewing area has a big matte black board with a strip of ferrous metal and I can hang with magnets a fair number of prints. On either wall at highly oblique angles are two 5600 K LED lamps washing the board with a 1000Watts. I think evaluation time is always well spent. I have friends that might spend 20 hours on a print. My subject matter never needs that, and in fact, I do not think that my friends' subject matter needs that either. They shoot with a 100 Mp camera and I with a 36 Mp camera. They make 60 x 80-inch prints and I make 20 x 30-inch prints. Still, I cannot see enough difference between their's and mine to be worth the extra 19 hours of work, I am usually happy with my prints, I know that they are in that 90+ percentile of quality. That does not mean everyone would print the same and I have had people, not like my tonal value choices. A lot of my aesthetic choices for my prints are made before I pick up the camera. I know what I am going to do before I make my exposure. That way it is easy to know what value I am exposing for. Once that decision is made the rest is pretty easy. Anyway, thank you, I have been glad to hear from you.
 

rdeloe

Active member
What I am looking for in the exhibition however are mostly stand-alone images that all fit into the exigencies of telling the larger more complete story. Sometimes I want an image that is best used in a series of images, not a stand-alone but more of a contextual image.
The world would be a boring place if we all did it the same way. Our approaches are quite different -- or perhaps I should say my current approach, which may or may not be how I'm working a decade. However, the common thread is the search for a whole that is larger than the sum of the parts. In that respect we're on the same path.

Earlier in this thread I argued, in the context of approaches to curation, that while different approaches to curation are interesting from a practitioner's point of view, we need to keep the focus on what matters: is the art successful, does it work, is it good? If the picture, or group of pictures, succeeds as art, then it's neither here nor there what camera was used, how images were curated, whether or not someone used Photoshop, LIghtroom, Capture 1, or Microsoft Paint. It's really only photographers who obsess about that stuff.

My 104th exhibition was delayed from April 2020 to April 2021. It is called the Photographer's Moment. I have been working on it for ten years.
Is it in Sacramento? Alas, I'm a long way from there. Hope it goes well.

Rob
 
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olafphoto

Administrator
Staff member
Here is a fascinating article about curation by my friend Ibarionex Perello.

 

jsf

Active member
The world would be a boring place if we all did it the same way. Our approaches are quite different -- or perhaps I should say my current approach, which may or may not be how I'm working a decade. However, the common thread is the search for a whole that is larger than the sum of the parts. In that respect we're on the same path.

Earlier in this thread I argued, in the context of approaches to curation, that while different approaches to curation are interesting from a practitioner's point of view, we need to keep the focus on what matters: is the art successful, does it work, is it good? If the picture, or group of pictures, succeeds as art, then it's neither here nor there what camera was used, how images were curated, whether or not someone used Photoshop, LIghtroom, Capture 1, or Microsoft Paint. It's really only photographers who obsess about that stuff.



Is it in Sacramento? Alas, I'm a long way from there. Hope it goes well.

Rob
One of the last shows that I was in, it was a group show that was in Victoria, where we were living at the time. The next two shows that I am in (one a solo show and the other a two-person show are just outside of Sacramento. I studied in Victoria for a year with a rather famous Canadian artist. I certainly fell in love with Canada. I agree all of the technical stuff aside, the image/story, etc is the big deal. To a certain extent, I think the tech matters. A JPG SOC is just not going to be as interesting to me than a raw properly processed, unless the story is really hot.
 

jsf

Active member
One of the last shows that I was in, it was a group show that was in Victoria, where we were living at the time. The next two shows that I am in (one a solo show and the other a two-person show are just outside of Sacramento. I studied in Victoria for a year with a rather famous Canadian artist. I certainly fell in love with Canada. I agree all of the technical stuff aside, the image/story, etc is the big deal. To a certain extent, I think the tech matters. A JPG SOC is just not going to be as interesting to me than a raw properly processed, unless the story is really hot.
I write for a Canadian camera club magazine called Close-Up out of Victoria. It wins awards and is well done. I am doing a regular column.
 
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