Thoughts on editing (part 2)

I picked up Robert Adams’ Summer Nights, Walking recently, and going through it for the first time felt like a smack on the back of the head. You know my penchance for nightwalking? Well, this book contains a collection of images from a pioneering night walker.

This is a strange book, in that there aren’t any standout images in it, in my possibly unworthy opinion. I’ve never looked at a photography book without one “wow” image in it, so it’s a first. However, when I closed the book, what did stand out was the strong essence of the tale, that lingered. You could say I am biased because of my own fondness for wandering streets at night, but I think it’s more than that.

It’s the power of a good edit.

Each image flows to the next to tell you a story of the streets that Adams travelled. The book as a whole, left me with the flavour of neighbourhoods by night, and the man who walked them.

It’s an edit that plants a distinct story in a certain style, yet leaves the mind free to  hypothesize on the associations, environs, and subtext.

This is what I am trying to learn – to tell a story in succinct, certain terms, while giving the viewer/reader room to breathe.

I am trying to absorb as much as I can from books and publications, but I’m not getting very far without applying it to my own work and getting some real feedback for it.

I began the last post from a Dan Milnor quote and I’ll continue with it:

Editing is a real art form. I suggest showing your work to another photographer or editor. Typically we get too attached to our imagery and have difficulty making good decisions. Back in the day photographers worked with pictures editors all the time. Today, people are just moving too fast. [+]

The truth of that makes my heart sink. Even if I had access to another photographer or photo editor who is engaged in a similar vein of image making, and in a position to critique my work, i heartily doubt they’d give me the time of day.

I need the help. Continuous observation and attempts to take away findings from each publication, gallery set, article and whatever other sources I can find is getting me closer to understanding why contemporary photography is ordered the way it is. I would put a set of photos together very differently today than I would have a year or three ago. I can follow my heart as far as my pictures go, but that is not enough. As mentioned in the last post, I’m too close to my own work, and experiences attached to those pictures, to do it well.

I’ve come to the point where I need honest, considered feedback from people who know what they are doing.

I hunger for more of the experience I had with Trent Parke at the Magnum Workshops. Aside from planting in my head, the initial seeds of what it means to create a visual narrative, work with your work in print etc., he also gave me the first honest-to-goodness feedback I’ve ever had about my work. And the content of the feedback was substantial. What he was seeing in my pictures, where I could go with one narrative thread, what the others were. Why the set of photos worked, why they didn’t. What else I could do. Where I’d gone wrong, what I’d done right. And it went on.

The experience was a most enriching one, and rather than forget all about it once the workshops were over, it has changed the way I think about photography completely.

I don’t know how to articulate the power of a good face to face conversation, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have to. The body language, the nuances of tone and all that other good stuff that communicates so much more than just the words. That which allows topics to evolve and continue, pregnant pauses, the excitement of a simultaneous discovery and enthused expression of ideas in the here and now. The simple action of shuffling a bunch of photos around while talking, instead of crafting a paragraph in text that tries to describe, how the second last photo on the lower left corner of page 5 could be better placed just off center on page 3 to create a better flow because of a myriad of elements that need paragraphs of their own.

The online channel has been a source of growth ever since I picked up my first camera with the intention of doing something with my pictures. And it continues to be in its own way.

In this case though, it’s face time I’m craving.

There’s no answer to this one.

I want something I don’t have. I admit it.

What I am aiming to do eventually, is approach a photographer I admire to spare me some time and go through my work. But before I go and waste someone else’s time, I need to brush up on said work. Put together a portfolio of sorts, online, to point said photographer to. Pull a printed portfolio together. Work through all the books etc that I own, do more reading, looking, piecing, unpicking, and practice to maximise my resources.

And then maybe, I’ll be ready to front up to someone without feeling like I’m wasting their time.

P.S. Thank you all for the rousing conversation on the last post, Twitter, and in my mailbox :)


  1. Well I’m heaps earlier on in my similar (I think) journey and I think I know a little bit of what you mean. So hard to get feedback (and hard to get up the courage to ask too). This is where the ‘new online connected world’ fails – in the past there might have been a collective of like-minded people who you could turn too. Now that seems to only exist online, and like you say, it is not the same, nor what is needed. And “camera clubs” are not the answer either. It needs to be more like an art club I guess…

    1. I don’t think it’s a failing of online world or camera clubs to be honest. For someone to be frank in a way that’s constructive and not misinterpreted is often a case of both parties having sufficient mutual interest to evolve the relationship over a period of time. Save people who do this for a living (and there’s enough strife in that space on this topic), I imagine it would take someone else a while to understand a photographer’s history and direction beyond what they say, and to contribute towards that growth.

      I don’t think there’s any easy answer to this sort of thing. It’s just a case of persisting, and maybe a teeny bit of luck :)

  2. Great post C, and very insightful. I actually consider you a great editor and very sharp and good in giving feedback to me – this in turns makes it even harder to get quality feedback yourself. I know exactly what you mean, it is almost impossible to edit one’s own work as we’re too close, we have the experience of having shot the image. But finding someone else to give any sort of useable feedback is equally hard. There are probably two people where I actually feel like I learn something from the feedback, and you’re one of them my friend.

    Oh and if Trent Parke is running another workshop at FotoFreo next year I will do anything to get in! I so want that, just like you, someone who can really push me.

    1. Thanks mate. Per my comment to Mike above, I am comfortable giving you feedback because we’ve known each other long enough that I have a decent feel for what you want out of it, and importantly, if I am stepping out of turn, and trust that you’ll let me know if I’ve crossed any lines. I try to give feedback in a way that explains where I am coming from, as i personally need plenty of context to learn from, so I work along the lines that other people appreciate it too. Good to know you’re getting something out of it.

      As for being one of two people you learn something from, i reckon it’s cause we’re not intimidated by you enough to tell you what we think ;)

      If Trent Parke does come back, it’ll be under the Magnum banner, along with a couple of other Magnum photographers, so it’ll be the standard application process. Fingers crossed!

      1. Intimidated or fear, I sometimes experience that but I don’t get it. Some days I go whole days and no friends can look me in the eye, I really wonder what is going on.

        I used to give feedback (and probably overdo playing art critic) on a lot of the big ole’ Perth crew of Landscape photogs but I stopped, as I don’t have the time to follow that many blogs and also I found most really just wanted a ‘nice shot’ comment. I agree that feedback is a personal thing, one must word it carefully and it’s easier with people you know…well sometimes it’s also harder as I am more worried about hurting their feelings. I get a lot out of your feedback.

        Are you looking for a ‘mentor’ ala Ray and Sabrina?

        Fingers crossed indeed for FotoFreo and Trent, must write the best application ever if Trent is there.

      2. I think it’s mostly intimidation. Unlike a lot of people who claim to be expert for it looking good on their resume/business cards/profit margin, you actually are one (dammit). In a lot of things. If I didn’t know you as well as I do, I’d be intimidated too.

        Yeah there’s definitely more involved in giving feedback than simply telling someone what you think. It’s a 2 way street, if both parties aren’t playing, it ain’t happening.

        At this point I’m looking for someone (in the flesh) who will critique my work. If they become a mentor, so much the better, but there’s no expectation there.

        Trent Parke or not, you might find me nagging you to apply for Magnum Workshops (if they happen) nonetheless ;)

      3. I’m quite certain I’ll apply for a workshop, no matter which Magnum photog shows up :) I have to, I mean, or you would nag me from here till the cows come home :)

        Finding a photographer in the flesh who can do that who lives near you is … yeah tough challenge!

      4. I won’t be satisfied with just the cows. The whole farm will have to get a move on ;)

        I’ll keep you posted on my search.

  3. The more I hear about the Magnum workshops, the more I’d love to go on one. They sound exactly what I’m looking for right now.

    I recently picked up a copy of Elliot Erwitt’s ‘Dogs’, and, while there are some amazing images in that series, there are also some that (IMHO, of course) wouldn’t really stand alone. And yet, that’s not the point – as part of the series, they work perfectly.

    This is something I’m struggling with more and more right now – I’m increasingly looking at things in terms of series or stories, while everyone else seems to want to see/judge single images, and there’s no where for feedback on the whole.

    1. JP! Welcome back! :) I appear to be finding more and more people with editing frustrations as I whinge about my own.

      It is exactly as you say… but feedback for the whole is a hard thing to do though, i think that’s part of the reason why it’s hard to come by. Also, it involves hurting people’s feelings and a lot of that other potentially messy emo stuff :D

      Magnum Workshops – I got a heap out of it, and a lot of of the other attendees I have spoken to, from greenhorns to veterans, did too. Keep an eye out on the Magnum events site: They might have one at a destination of yours that you might be able to plan for :)

  4. I like your post, Charlene. It sure does strike at the heart of the challenge of being a visual storyteller. I’m currently working on several stories-I’ve shot the work as best I could with the time I had and now I walk around with 4×6 prints in my bag, sorting, organizing, reorganizing, resorting, tossing them all in the air to have them land all jumbled, and start sorting again.

    1. Thanks Brian. Hey, that’s a great idea – pack a stack of 6x4s du jour and work with them wherever.

      Is it working for you in general?

      1. It is working a bit for me, though I’m so busy that I don’t have really enough time to pull them out and sort as much as I would like. It certainly is a different experience that scrolling through a series on the computer and I really like the tactile interface. ;-)

      2. Yes! It’s amazing how different shuffling actual prints around is! I should do this more intensively myself but i don’t think my other half would be too impressed if I decided to fill half the living room up with prints…. I can’t seem to do this sort of thing in moderation. It’s all or nothing.

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