Self Curation – The Unsurmountable Challenge

Self curation is one of the greatest challenge and probably one of the most difficult task for an artist. To select and evaluate your own work you require careful consideration. It is something that I think about, especially when others ask me “how do you select your best?”. It is a good question. How do you know which ones are the best? And if you have determined the best, how do you further select the best of the best, discarding some others, which were also the best?

I am trying to find out a way. I still don’t have a clear one, yet. In my previous article, my conclusion was leading to this matter of curation, especially the self curation. If you quickly google it, you won’t really find relevant information on this subject. So, I guess I’ll cut the thick jungle branches, weeds and tall grass of awareness-less and make my way into the light, the best I can.

For the next year I want to prepare 2 photography exhibitions; one with landscapes (in color) and one with some urban / street / people photography (in black and white) from a photographic project I started while being in Japan, 2 years ago. For the detailed story, you could visit my special journey diary website I’ve prepared for my Japanese experience as a travel photographer (still a work in progress).

The landscape photographs are already selected and it wasn’t really difficult. I did it in two shots. But for the other exhibition I had to collect about 200 hundred photos of the people from Japan that could have built-in the concepts of street, candid and faces of Japanese people. And here comes “the task”. From those 200 photos, I needed to select the best 40 that go with my theme, have a clearer message, carry emotional load and have the “right” composition (plus the technical details, like good exposure, the subject being in focus, no shaking / movements effects on my final result and some other stuff like that).

On top of that, from those 40 photographs, I need to select around 20. This is the most difficult process and I am doing this myself and in coordination with some other friends of mine, (photographers, painters, poets, architects, musicians), artists, creators, emotion sculptors, that received my preliminary selection. I count on their eye, perceptiveness and judgement, to help me determine the strongest photographs.

It is quite challenging. Like the poet that finished the poem and has hard times composing the ideal title. But if I have chosen to write about this aspect, let me assemble what could be a list of some 5 essential principles for engaging in a process of self curating your work:

Let the time pass. Detach yourself, emotionally, from the moment when you made the pictures. Right after you have finished your work, you have the highest level of subjectivity. If you choose the best right away, you will choose according to the connection between the photographs and your strongest, immediate emotions. Let the time pass, to settle the general flavor of your impressions. Like wine, it needs time to settle and mature. After 6 months, one year or more, you will see your work in a different light, hopefully a more constructive one.

Send your work to someone else for evaluation. I know, this is not self curation, is curation by somebody else, but this will give you a helping hand. Never rely on social media comments and “Likes”, as I’ve told you before in my previous article. The whole process (feelings, composition, pressing the shutter button, post-processing and finally, selecting the best) is for yourself, not for the hordes from social media networks, to give “Likes” and comments. Who are they to judge your emotions and compositions? Find artist friends that care about art, that themselves create art. They will gladly make their own selection of the very best of your work. Later, you can compare, coordinate their outcomes with yours and you’ll get closer to the truth.

Message, Emotion, Composition. You might like some photographs that are technically perfect, have the ideal exposure properties and even more, remind you of some very significant and positive moments that you care a lot about. But if the trio, mentioned above, has a weak presence in your photos, you might be willing to reconsider your selection process. What is the message in your photograph? Does it have any? Does it generate emotion into the eyes of the spectator? How is the composition? Those are strong principles that build powerful photographs.

Post-processing revision. See once more, if necessary, if the way you post-processed your photos is still the one you really want on the final prints for your galley. Maybe that filter, that you used and you were so crazy about, isn’t anymore what you need to preserve, or enhance the message of your work. Shadows, highlights, a different crop, could change the final effect. Give your final selection a final confirmation from the “developing” point of view.

Listen to your instinct and pray it’s a reliable one. This will sound as a joke and it could really be a joke. So treat it as it is. 🙂 I am sorry, but there are no rules. This is not science; we are dealing with art and different ways of interpreting art. We are so deep into the vast territories of Subjectivity, that we may endlessly wander in the desert of uncertainties. How one can define solid rules that will accurately apply to several (if not all) situations when handling art curation, especially the self curation?

I am not sure if the self curation concept is even partially exposed and resolved, but I hope my list of 5 rules (better said “guiding lines”) would shed at least a dim light over this. It is a sensible endeavour which requires attention, a bit of soul and by all means, restraint from going to either of both extremes. The “middle path”, as a discrete and gentle way of acting might be the best way. But more about this concept, in a future article. Until then, may the Light be with you!

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2017 / www.sebastianboatca.com

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