on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Judging the Judges

Thoughts on Competition and Image Critique

Guy Tal

Professional photographic artist, author and speaker working primarily in the Western US. Website



It is a shame to see in the work of an artist the limitations of his critics. ~Robert Brault

One of the transformations I witnessed over the years in how and why people practice photography, is the rise in popularity of participating in competitions and in critique sessions. The trend seems to coincide with the rise of photography practised (to whatever degree) as a social—rather than as a personally expressive—endeavor.

Before sharing my thoughts on competition and critique, I’ll preempt my conclusion, which is this: take any judgment of your work by others with a grain of salt; and on most occasions, as no worthier than a grain of salt. And the reason for mentioning my conclusion at this point is this: I wish to also volunteer a couple of grains of salt for you to keep in mind as you read this essay.

I do not enter my own work into them and have severe reservations about what painter and educator Robert Henri described as, “the pernicious influence of the prize and medal giving in art.”
Although I occasionally judge photography contests, I do not enter my own work into them and have severe reservations about what painter and educator Robert Henri described as, “the pernicious influence of the prize and medal giving in art.” And, while I received very useful advice along my photographic journey in a variety of ways (most prominent among these are the writings of notable photographers, artists, and thinkers of many disciplines, rather than formal critique), I have never—not even once—received critique of my work that I considered particularly useful to the way I practice photography.

A good place to start may be to examine what motivates those who enter their work into such contests, and those who seek critique for their work, especially online. Off the bat, I’ll set aside reasons having to do with vanity and bragging rights. Not only do I find these unimportant and distracting to my own goal of creative self-expression, but the knowledge that another photographer is driven by such things is enough to diminish my interest in their work.



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