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Last month we were lucky enough to have Roger Ballen, the world renowned photographer from South Africa, visit us. He gave a lecture on Thursday night and then came by the Graduate Photography Thesis Seminar on Friday.
I didn’t know how I felt about his work before he came and spoke. I had read about it and had read interviews with him in preparation for his visit on Friday, but I didn’t really get the full scope of what his work was about until his lecture. It is interesting to me how he completely dodges questions regarding his subjects social status by only focusing on the formal, compositional aspects of the work. There were numerous arguments / discussions in our thesis class as to why he might do this and whether or not we thought it fit with the work. After hearing him speak and talking much more in depth about his work, I have a lot more respect for what he is doing.
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The real treat came on Friday when he came to critique the work of the Photo Thesis Seminar course. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I had a pretty good idea judging by how his talk went the night before what critique would be like on Friday. It was much as I suspected it would be.
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He said absolutely nothing about the content of the work, but instead only concentrated on the formal, compositional aspects of it. This was different then any critique I have ever had. Most of the time the person critiquing wants you to stand up and tell them all about what you are attempting to show in the work. But with Mr. Ballen, he wanted to tell you what he saw as flaws in the formal aspects of the work. To be honest, this was really refreshing. It was an outsider view of your images, purely as images. And no matter what you want to communicate to your viewer, if the images themselves are not strong, the message will likely not come across.
I found it most helpful for me in thinking about how I want to move forward, and realizing that even though I spend a lot of time composing and setting my image before I begin shooting, there is even more I can do to push the images even further.