Towards the end of November I find the pace of life quickens, anticipating the end of the year.  So maybe now is a good time to pause, step back, and look at what we’ve been doing, to assess, reflect upon and evaluate our work.  ‘The process of sustained evaluation is the key to developing your understanding both of the photographic process and of your relationship to your subject’, encourages John Blakemore in his excellent book Black and White Photography Workshop.  How easy it is to neglect this essential discipline.  I find all too often the major part of my photographic time and energy is spent moving on to the next image, rather than evaluating what I already have. I suspect this is a false economy:  time spent evaluating can significantly improve both the quality of print selection and printmaking as well as help train the eye to compose better photographs in the future.

The Hungarian André Kertész’s photograph Boy Sleeping, taken in 1912, was a very good, strong image, yet it did not become one of the true greats until Kertész returned to it over 50 years later in 1967.  ‘The cropping of the print has been so precisely calculated that the sleeping young man just fills the width of the frame’, writes the photographic historian Colin Ford. ‘The newspapers above his head and beneath his elbow show that he is in the kind of relaxed coffee house that allows its customers just to sit and read.  This apparently casual snapshot has a rigorous ‘X’ composition, although Kertész did not crop the original 1912 horizontal negative to its even stronger vertical shape until more than half a century later.’  Well…better late than never!

John Blakemore poses a number of helpful questions that could form the basis of an ongoing evaluation technique.  These include:  is the overall tonality and contrast of the prints appropriate?  Consider prints that don’t work, how could they be reworked?  Do they contain elements that indicate different possibilities for further printing or for the making of new images?  Blakemore also suggests looking for relationships between images, either in pairs or triptychs, or in a sequence to construct or amplify meaning.

I also like Kertész’s approach of rigorous cropping.  I hope we’ll be getting a pair of big Ls for the darkroom in the near future, probably a must have for this sort of evaluation.