The Importance of seeking out Critiques - An evening of learning with Jose Jeuland

While penning down my next project, Culture X, I could not help but ask myself if I really was good enough to take it up a notch with a project like that. The fact that this question was lingering around in my mind, distracting me from my research, made me feel that I needed to speak to someone about it.

Poster taken from www.josejeuland.com

Poster taken from www.josejeuland.com

I reached out to renowned documentary and travel photographer, Jose Jeuland, whom I have been following on social media to know if I could get some words of advice from him. Jose, whose work has been featured on far too many platforms for me to mention given my word limit for this article, is a FUJIFILM ambassador, and is supported by BenQ, Manfrotto, Epson and Gravity Backdrops. He was, at that time, running an exhibition in Singapore titled, “Longevity Okinawa”, which had on display portraits of Okinawans aged between 89 to 106 taken by him.     

Why would someone like myself, who has spent nearly a decade taking photographs through various assignments and personal projects, need the opinion of another photographer? Consider the following:

  1. It could be an opportunity to experience something new.

    Of course, it is always satisfying to hear compliments but learning comes from knowing what is lacking in our work. The varying opinions of another keen-eyed photographer can help with giving different perspectives and with singling out mistakes made that can be avoided in other assignments or projects.

    Jose used a large-screened BenQ display to review a collection of my edited photographs. I was blown away at how much detail (and mistakes) in those photographs I had not noticed before. Through using the large display, Jose was able to make it obvious to me how I have a tendency of over-processing some of my photographs. While he maintained that different people tend to have different styles and preferences, the white halo-like lines that appear on the edges of the subject in the photograph (a sign of an over-processing) can be very distracting on print which is why he uses such a large screen to identify such issues in photographs before they are printed out.

    While I have heard countless times about the sheer joy of editing on a large screen I have never gotten to experience it on my own. Thus, in this case, right at the very beginning of the workshop, I already had the pleasure of experiencing something new.

  2. Critique sessions and workshops are not just about criticizing your work.

    To Critique” and “to Criticize” mean two different things altogether.

    An often forgotten fact is that professional photographers are not going to dedicate their time to critique your work just so that they can bash it. They could be spending that same amount of time working on a project or resting up before their next assignment.

    It is important to bear in mind that if a professional photographer puts in the effort to give you his or her time, it only means that they are passionate about imparting their knowledge. Throughout the workshop, Jose repeatedly mentioned that there is no right or wrong and that his critiques are based on his personal point of view which can vary from person to person. He also asked me for some background story or context and then proceeded to give his critique for each photograph. He emphasized on, not just the things that did not work in the photographs, but also on what worked. In addition to that, never once did he see the need to say something negative and, instead, shared how he would have taken the photographs which offered me a different perspective to consider.

    It is never about someone else trying to impose their opinions, especially in the case of professionals who would know how to conduct themselves respectfully. Therefore, if you approach the right people and attend the session/ workshop with an open-mind, chances are that you will definitely enjoy the process!

  3. It is a great opportunity to get some Pro-tips on the business of photography as well.

    While there are many ways to acquire ideas and tips from professional photographers, I am of the opinion that the best way would be to speak to them personally. It is a sincere and direct way of communication that does not risk you looking like you have an agenda.

    At the end of the workshop, Jose and I spent a while more discussing assignments, business and sponsorships that would assist in running projects smoothly. The grand take-away of it all was that nothing can replace good work as that is what industry-giants are going to take note of first but there are many things in between that can be done to put ourselves out there in a more professional light that could help the process.


I, personally, regard myself as a photographer who has only just started the professional stage of his career and while I do believe in hard work, that alone, is not going to help me sustain a successful professional career. Everything I have covered boils down to one simple thing: Learning. There is no point in doing something the same way over and over again if it does not get you the desired results. I am glad that right before the beginning of my dream project, Culture X, I was able to regain my confidence and that is my biggest gain from seeking out Jose Jeuland’s critiques.

We’re all Artists; learning never ever stops for us!

On Self-Development - An Artist at 30, Critiques on his 25 years old Self

5 years is a long time to fit into one article’s read, but a growing itch since the last 2 weeks of February has succeeded in influencing me to at least attempt this article. You can expect a lot of drama that is infused with great stories of dangerous adventures, soul-stirring romance, and spirited heroism in this entry…

Just kidding.

The past 5 years has seen me live through a great deal of achievements and disappointments in the crazy world of art and photography. Of course, in reality, I have not been a photographer for just 5 years only. I bought my first camera, the Canon EOS 50D, many years before that. I am taking into consideration only the past 5 years, starting from the time I had started HyperFrontal Productions (a photography and video services company), because, according to me, that was the point when I had really turned into a “true-blue professional”. In other words, that was when “**** got real”. So, for those of you who have grown disinterested in my article already thinking that it is going to be a long rant or nothing of value, don’t cut me out just yet. What I am going to be sharing about is how 5 years worth of experience has, today, made me more aware about my abilities as an artist and photographer, and, has helped me learn how to make better decisions for my work.

With Filmmaker Sarah Howell - One of my first few Portrait shoots

With Filmmaker Sarah Howell - One of my first few Portrait shoots

STARTING UP - WAS IT THAT EASY?

Incorporating a business was the easy part, but knowing what to do next was the big question that I, admittedly, didn’t have the answer to. Many articles out there tell you to have a business plan that reflects your current financial state and projects where you want your business to be in 3, 5 and 10 years. I had nothing like that on paper. I swiftly started to work on my logo and website and, ‘Voila!’, HyperFrontal Productions was created!

A fancy website and a creative logo only got me so far. There were no new jobs coming in and something didn’t feel right about all this being so easy. I started reading up more articles and photography related YouTube channels to learn more and realized that I had barely scratched the surface.

According to Dane Sanders in his book Fast Track Photographer: In the 1st year, 60% of photographers give up their business. Of that remaining 40%, another 25% will fail within the 2nd year. The ones that make it are the remaining 15% who endure through the 3rd year.

https://www.colesclassroom.com/why-photographers-fail-how-to-succeed/

As creative folks, what some (or most) of us do not realize from the beginning is that being good at what you do is not enough. You still need a shrewd business acumen to take you to the next level. Despite all the resources available online to help me, I willingly chose to do things my way which sent me on a journey of questionable decisions and unnecessary expenditure that never got me closer to my goals - all of which could have been avoided.

Image from my First In-studio Portrait shoot

Image from my First In-studio Portrait shoot

LEARNING NEVER STOPS

Research and Development are two key factors that should never stop if you are in the pursuit of success. In one of my favorite reads, “Photographers and Research: The Role of Research in Contemporary Photographic Practice” authors Shirley Read and Mike Simmons suggested that doing research is one of the pillars of developing and furthering skills as a photographer. This would be something I would apply as a staple principle.

Being an avid reader meant that reading came naturally for me because it was something I enjoyed very much. So an effort was made to align my hobby of reading with researching on photography. I started purchasing many photography books and swallowed them whole! Some of my favorite books that I recommend you to check out are:

1) Gregory Heisler: 50 Portraits - An inspirational book on the creative processes of Gregory Heisler while taking readers through a plethora of important assignments.

2) Stunning Digital Photography by Tony Northrup - The #1 photography e-book on Amazon with over 100,000 readers authored by popular photography educators and YouTubers, Tony and Chelsea Northrup.

3) A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005 by Annie Leibovitz - Famed photographer, Annie Leibovitz, publishes a book that contrasts her glitzy and glamorous work-life with that of her personal life.

Through such books, I was able to understand the ropes even better. I, as a matter of a fact, began to realize that I had stepped into the industry with the wrong idea - chasing fame or money was not the way to do it. Excellence was the key and to achieve that I needed to step down from my high-horse and put all my readings into practice.

Image from Assignment with actor/ model Fei Chua

Image from Assignment with actor/ model Fei Chua

Practice versus Over-working - The Death of HyperFrontal Productions

It is an obvious fact that you need to put in the time to get to where you want to be. Steve McCurry did not just wake up one day with National Geographic flying him all over the world. He too had to put in his fair share of time and effort into practicing his craft.

My area of interest, from portraiture, started to lean towards more abstract, conceptual/ surrealist and story-telling work. By this time, I had already moved on to having better equipment, and, after years of investing on such equipment and building a contact base of like-minded creative folks, I took the plunge into the unforgiving world of fine art photography.

It was a rocky start at the beginning given that I had so many ideas and so much inspiration flowing out of me. The act of practicing should never be confused with over-working and over-spending (both of which I was famous for). I was spending way too much time conceptualizing my own projects and too much money on booking studios that I had forgotten that I was running a business too. This would be catalytic in the eventual, and inevitable, DEATH of HyperFrontal Productions.

Image from my first Fine Art project called, Intentions, in 2016.

Image from my first Fine Art project called, Intentions, in 2016.

Making my Comeback

Surely, running a business down to the ground indicated that I was not meant for business, right? Wrong. If Donald Trump could “fake” a comeback from major financial setbacks with a Television show (The Apprentice), why, then, could I not make a genuine return to the business of photography? Surely, stories of comebacks aren’t just reserved for “celebrities”?

In late-2017, I decided that no matter what the result may be, I should at least attempt a comeback. Unlike when starting up HyperFrontal Productions, never once did I feel that this was easy. My financial blunders had, also, cost me family and friends so it felt more lonelier than ever before (to their credit, some people did reconnect with me again). However, what I did find “easier” was answering the question; what I am supposed to do next. Perhaps, this was because I had experienced failure before and this time I knew what to do to avoid it.

Image from my best-selling photo-series called, The Ratirahasya.

Image from my best-selling photo-series called, The Ratirahasya.

SUMMARY

Whenever I look back at all the experiences I collected over the years, a sense of gratitude comforts my mind and eases away all the doubts and regrets. I have learned to continue to grow and develop to be a better version of myself. The real failure is not in experiencing failure, but, in negligently taking that downward spiral into the dark abyss of self-loathing. The 30 years old me congratulates the younger me for all my failures because, today, I am a better Artist and Photographer.