Critical Review Final – My Reasoning for Making Changes Based on Tutor Feedback

I have gained feedback from my tutor regarding my original Critical Review and have now decided to go back over my tutor’s comments. While it was for the most part well received, there were of course some improvements that could be made. My tutor helpfully highlighted these for me and I would suggest the improvements I have been asked to consider making are pretty much all things I agree about in retrospect. I have decided to make this post to go along with the revised version of my critical review with the changes marked in red so it is possible to see exactly my thought processes while making the amendments.

 

  1. I started the original critical review with a question which I had changed as the critical review developed in the first place several times. The question ranged from: ‘Because it is our natural inclination to make aesthetically-pleasing photographs, when this is achieved does this then render the photograph’s meaning disparate from its aesthetics?’ To: ‘Because it is our natural inclination to make aesthetically-pleasing photographs, when this is carried out does this then detract from a photograph’s meaning?’ As well as: ‘It is our natural inclination to make aesthetically-pleasing photographs. When this is carried out does this then render a photograph’s meaning artificial?’ Finally I settled on: ‘Does the type of aesthetic approach employed by the photographer affect the accessibility of the work to an audience?’ I felt at the time this was a more concise question. However, my tutor has picked out a part to the question which I too fell could be construed in different ways. Namely: ‘affect the accessibility of the work’ which could potentially mean the logistics of getting the work to an audience. This wasn’t the intended meaning of the term accessibility which in my mind had meant ‘readability’. Therefore, similar to my tutor’s suggestion I changed the question to: ‘Does the type of aesthetic approach employed by the photographer affect the way a photograph is read by an audience?’.

 

  1. I started the answer to my question in the original critical review with a statement that aesthetics affect the reader of a photograph’s gaze and so the photographer is faced with whether to make the work ‘aesthetically-pleasing or gritty’ Just by using the term ‘gritty’ I was making an uninformed opinion that ‘gritty’ was the opposite of ‘aesthetically-pleasing’! My tutor duly pointed this out by remarking that ‘Gritty can be a kind of pleasing aesthetic though’. Although I agreed with my tutor, I did scratch my head wondering how best to implement my uninformed opinion about gritty and my tutor’s remark about gritty having the potential to be a kind of pleasing aesthetic too. The next line of my essay did introduce the subjectivity of aesthetics and my tutor’s report for my learning log signalled he liked the personal element of my review. Therefore I decided to use these facts to restructure the essay. I admitted my personal preferences for what was aesthetically-pleasing and not aesthetically-pleasing and then showed that this was a subjective opinion and that it varies among people what their aesthetic tastes are.

 

  1. A quick update from ‘aestheticising’ to ‘aestheticisation’ here.

 

  1. My next point of debate was that of photographic truth. I wrote in my original critical review that: ‘I would agree on a base level that the viewer of such photographs (Salgado’s beautiful documents) is more likely to be distracted from the message because of the aesthetics than had the photographs simply aimed to portray ‘the truth’.’ My tutor didn’t necessarily find anything wrong with this quote but wrote: ‘mmmm. Truth is a tricky concept isn’t it.’ I decided to expand on my notion of photographic portrayal of truth by saying that: ‘although the photographer’s intentions might be honest, it is easy with photography to let aesthetics get in the way of truth.’

 

  1. Moving on to the part of the critical review where I considered the impression Thomas Ruff’s Portraits 1986-1991 series made on me, my tutor and I’s opinions differed significantly. He found the superficial aesthetics of Ruff’s Portraits 1986-1991 pleasing, while I had said in my essay: ‘the superficial aesthetics were not particularly pleasing to the eye. I didn’t say the aesthetics were displeasing; however I also didn’t say why I didn’t find them particularly pleasing. My prompted reasoning for why I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the aesthetics was just that the lighting was quite flat and at first glance it seemed quite bland. Interestingly, this could be exactly the kind of reason Ruff succeeded in getting across the meaning of passport photo to me as a reader of the portraits. Looking at Ruff’s Portraits 1986-1991 again, they did grow on me as the lighting is quite soft in fact so I can see where my tutor is coming from.
Fig. 2. © Thomas Ruff (1988) Porträt (P. Stadtbäumer)
Fig. 2. © Thomas Ruff (1988) Porträt (P. Stadtbäumer)
  1. My tutor referenced an article when he observed I had written initially ‘blank expressions of people’ while describing Ruff’s Portraits 1986-1991. In my eyes he referenced this article for me in order to get me to think more deeply about why the expressions of the sitters were ‘blank’ and I would say I am satisfied with my final answer having read through the referenced article. The subsequent changes I made to the essay took into account the lighting (which showed everything of the sitter’s features) and in turn how showing this paradoxically helped to reveal nothing about the sitter’s feeling (as described by Ruff in the article), helped by their blank expressions. I then went on to suggest how this would affect the viewer’s experience of the portraits in relation to the size they were printed in the gallery I viewed them in (the Whitechapel gallery).

 

  1. I replaced ‘emotions’ with ‘opinions’ because I felt that while Moriyama may have had ‘emotions’ present concerning the ‘dark streets of Tokyo’ and its politics, he remained detached while photographing and therefore ‘opinions’ was a better description. Also I added the book Bye Bye Photography (1972) as a reference to how a consistent project aesthetically could influence a work and how it was linked to readability rather than emotion.

 

  1. I decided (with the help of my tutor’s comments) that the reasoning ‘this is because it does not conform to (a Western at least) standard taste for the beautiful which has been more popular’ was largely unfounded as Moriyama had been influenced by William Klein and also Robert Frank who were both Western photographers. I changed instead my reasoning to: ‘I would argue this is because it is necessary with Moriyama’s work (like Ruff’s Portraits 1986-1991) to look further beyond the superficial, which acts as just an (aesthetically-consistent) gateway to the meaning found within’ which was much more reasonable and tied in with the rest of my essay.

 

  1. A continuation of 7. with the removal of ‘emotion’ – this time being linked with beauty in my critical review. I used instead the term reflexive where Moriyama’s work was subjective but in a way that he looked at the medium he was working with.

 

  1. I added the new references for the relevant quotes as well as the page numbers for one of the references my tutor had picked up on me missing out in the original essay.

References:

Moriyama, D. (1972). Bye Bye Photography. 1st ed. Tokyo: Shashin hyoron-sha.

Ruff, T. (1988). Porträt (P. Stadtbäumer). [Photograph] Retrieved from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2010/12/theory-gil-blank-with-thomas-ruff-2004.html [Accessed 12 Dec. 2017].
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