The Three Photographers (Alive or Dead) I Would Choose To Critique My Portfolio

November 06, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

From my trip to Tecate, Mexico 2012

If you had to pick three photographers (alive or dead) to critique your portfolio, who would they be and why?

That was the fifth question posed to us on Twitter’s weekly photochat hosted by Prime Social Marketing. I try to participate when I can and last week’s topic was on the critique. When I tweeted my response I felt that 140 characters weren’t sufficient to describe my choices.

I remember how eager I was when I resurrected my photography dream five years ago. Feedback from seasoned photographers fueled me and I listened with an attentive ear. Although, one photographer who took the time to critique my work invoked negative emotions.

Instead of feeling challenged, encouraged, and inspired, I felt belittled and denigrated. Yet, I accepted it as the norm for a while until I realized constructive criticism wasn’t what this photographer offered. He was arrogant and obnoxious. I made a mental note to myself: be grateful for his example of how NOT to be when newbies ask for my advice in the future.

Since then I’ve been blessed to have a close circle of fellow photographers (and friends) to give me straight-up, honest, and candid feedback on my work. I hold them close to my heart because without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. (You guys know who you are!)

The three photographers (alive or dead) I chose to critique my portfolio are: Steve McCurry (portraiture), Vivian Maier (street photography), and Lynsey Addario (photojournalism).

1. Steve McCurry: This choice is a no-brainer. When I first started my photography business, my sole intent was becoming a wedding photographer. But I’ve learned the heart will reveal the truth you were too blind to see. Portrait photography made my heart race.

I want to excel in portrait photography and Steve McCurry’s portraiture embodies the kind of work I strive for. Steeped in culture, his photos allow a deep connection between his subjects and viewer. Gazing at his images while I sit in my cubicle is like viewing the world through McCurry’s windows.

2. Vivian Maier: If there was one female photographer I’d troll the streets with it would be Miss Vivian! I first learned about her when I attended Eric Kim’s street photography workshop a few years ago and admired her work since. The posthumous discovery of her street photos lent a unique aspect to her story that captivated me.

Her street photos depict the rawness and unpredictability that is unattainable in portrait work where posing people is necessary to set up the shot. The unpredictable aspect of street photography was so intriguing it helped hone my instincts in quickly recognizing a good shot and acting upon it. Maier’s images imbues her personality and it's not hard to detect her quirky sense of humor.

Her subjects’ expressions display a trust in her, which is in stark contrast to some of the startled visages I see in street photos today. I've been cussed at (and given the finger) a few times when I've taken a photo of people on the streets. In my opinion, Maier was the master at being a visual raconteur, something I practice diligently in my own work. 

For more of Vivian Maier's work head over to the Artsy page devoted to her

3. Lynsey Addario: I believe if I chose the red pill instead of the blue one I’d be living a life similar to this extraordinary photojournalist. My life would look different if I didn’t allow fear and my parents’ views deter me from pursuing my dream of becoming a photojournalist. If you haven't read about her 2011 kidnapping in Libya, click here. It's precisely one of the reasons my parents squashed my dream career in photojournalism.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many female photojournalists whose work I admire but Addario’s images never fail to rock the visceral emotions. Some of her images haunt me for days, like this one. There is no posing people in her photos or setting up to get the right shot. It's about expertise and instinct to tell a complete story in one image. In this National Geographic video I've often watched she says, "The goal for me is to pull in the reader and to have them ask questions."

They say to excel in what you do, you must learn from the masters. I believe these three photographers are masters in their genre, their craft, and their passion.

So, tell me, who would you pick?

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