BOOK: Beauty In Photography by Robert Adams
Essay three Civilizing Criticism
03 March 2018
Beauty in photography is a book of short essays by photographer and author Robert Adams, written as claimed in the inside cover by the quiet voice of a working photographer, artist and craftsman who has long thought about his endeavour.
Essay three “Civilizing Criticism” deals with the practice of criticism and looks at the negative and positive aspects of the practice, Adams starts by highlighting the fervour that practitioners of the impressionist movement went through at the hands of its critics, he states that “the only thing to be learned from the critics was how to suffer the sting of their attacks and carry on just the same” He comentson the state of newspaper critics and how reviews of photographic shows seem to be written with “a bitter need for vengance” though he admits he knownot for what crime.
Adams speculates that the problems lie with the overwhelming number of photographers that exist today and that he could earn a living teaching photography but not earn a living using the skills he was teaching which he remarks is something of an irony. He speculates that the overwhelming body of negative criticisumis in part due to the young age of many of the critics and the fact that “they have not yet often enough made fools of themselves to be cautious or suffered enough to be charitable” He also aknowlagest hat “it is harder in photography than in painting to establish a recognizable style” and that this leads to “desperate efforts to establish a style at any cost and in turn o the creation odftechnically aqccomplished but otherwise empty pictures that anger those who must write about them” He does reflect that “reasons for bad behaviour do not, however, excuse it.”
He reflects on the Sculptor DaviddSmiths journal comment, “Does the onlooker realize the amount of affection which goes into a work of art – the intense affection and total conviction?” “This effort requires considerable risk and sacrifice, and is open to the question whether some critics understand this when they attack.”
Adams speculates that the real purpose of a critic should be to nourish successful art, he reminds us that the worst kind of critique is no critique at all and that there are some bases of criticism that should be completely abandoned the first of which is sincerity, he speculates that it is impossible to judge whether an artist is sincere or not and that it is, in fact, one of the worst elements to judge a photograph on as some of the most sincere artists have been the worst.
The next improper standard of criticism is biography, it has been suggested that we must understand the complete background and political landscape of a photographers background in order to judge their work. Adams claims that the only thing by which a photographer can be judged are his pictures and in fact, if his pictures cannot be understood without knowing details of the artists private life then that in itself is a reason for faulting them. “Major art, by definition can stand independant of its maker.”
In conclustion Adams quotes Matisse “A painter has no real enemy but his own bad paintings” he says that “A good picture powerfully vindicates itself in time; it is far stronger than a mistaken critic” his final statemnt sums up the essay ” In the highest sense, surely a photography critic’s most important job is to help photographers of promise defeat their only real enemies, their own bad pictures”