The idea behind instant editing

When I was younger, I envisioned the end of the business as a nightmarish world where editors would seem to be working inside my head, through some futuristic technology, telling me where to stand and when to push the button. My great fear was having the imaginary editor see what I was looking at through my camera, telling me (through a seemingly permanent earpiece) what to include or exclude and when to click. When that day arrived, I said that I was sure I would quit the business. The onslaught of live television broadcasting, as it overwhelmed the still image, only exacerbated my worst fear. At first I thought digital imaging would be the technology to drive the last nails into the coffin. A recent informal experiment proved that, at least for me, the future is not so grim and I actually have digital imaging to thank for a bit of new optimism.

I was just photographing for my project, “Foreclosed Dreams” in California, Florida and Louisiana. Because I work alone when I am photographing (and this project is not being done for any specific client) I often worry about whether I am making the best images possible. With that in mind I tried an experiment during this last trip to get input on my work, which I am tentatively calling “instant editing.”

Each night, after the day’s shoot, I would download the hundreds of images that I made that day onto my laptop. I would organize them as always and rename them to match my naming convention, as well as back them up on three hard drives (yes, I am paranoid.) Then I would pick out my top twenty or thirty images from that day. I would make a PDF contact sheet with four images per page with the image names underneath the images. Then I would send that proof sheet off to a circle of about ten friends for some instant feedback.

Some folks answered me immediately (literally) and some would answer me by the end of the evening or the next morning. Others would answer me within a day or two. In ALL cases the feedback they were giving me did TWO important things. Obviously, it helped me hone in on which were the best few images from each day to add the collective body of work, Foreclosed Dreams. Equally importantly, the feedback usually gave me insights that I could apply the very next day when I was out photographing the next foreclosures.

Some comments were clearly framed by the “reviewers” own thoughts about home, family and foreclosures. Others photographers reacted to specific objects shown in the various images or to particular photographic techniques I was using. Some people gave me elaborate feedback. Others wrote me back with a simple list of their favorites by image name/number. What I did was aggregate the lists of images that my “reviewers” selected. That meant that after say, six of the ten “reviewers” picked the same image, it clearly meant that the image in question was working.

While it was not like I had an editor in my ear, I had the collective insights of photographers I know and trust rolling around in my head as I was working the next day. While their comments were obviously about the previous day’s images, their input shaped my thinking in the images I was about to make.

Some of my “reviewers” are photographers with a fine-art inclination. Others have more commercial/ photojournalistic interests. I mixed them up on purpose, to see what worked in the mind and eyes of a number of different types of photographers. It is not that I do not trust any one reviewer, but in this case “ten editing heads are better than one.”

I am quite sure I never want to live to see the day when one photo editor is barking commands at me via some radio control system. On the other hand, the idea of having eight or ten people give m their input, almost but not quite instantly, that actually interests me a lot. As for what that actual feedback looked like and what it taught me, that is next week’s blog entry.

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