Written review by
Editor-at-large for GUP Magazine
What makes a photograph qualified as ‘good’? There is no general rule to that. But when showing a series of images to a variety of people, most likely they will, independently from each other, recognize some images as ‘stronger’ than others; the ones with more ‘impact’. In the case of Sara Vlamings’ Eye in Progress portfolio, I think the chicken on the swing will qualify as an example of ‘outstanding’ photography. In general, awkward/deviating/surreal situations are a welcome element in photography. Why? I think that an important quality of photography is in framing those short lived segments of the real that then are given a hyperreal status; something is taken out of the stream of everyday occurrences, out of context and because of that gets to be seen as it could not have been seen in the motion of ‘normal’ life.
This is somewhat different for staged portrait photography. In that case, the photographer is more in control of the situation. But again, there is something in a person that can become highlighted when photographed. This is about discovering a personality. I belief a good portrait photographer can recognize this instantly and then, in collaboration with the model, manages to create a focus on that singularity.
There is one image by Sara Vlamings that stands out in that sense: the Asian girl with her hand behind her head. Not only do we get to see her characteristic tattoo (real or not), the pose itself also raises a certain tension. I am not schooled as a photographer, so I cannot say much about the technical performance here, but what matters to me is that, even when staged, the picture hints at the personality of the sitter. In some other portraits, I do not get that feeling. What is missing, or maybe it is better to say what is still there, is that I still see the instructions given by the photographer (please look that way, or look in that certain direction). In that way, these images become too intentional.
A good photographer is also a magician, leaving an audience in the dark about the actual trick. We, the viewers, should not see how a photograph has been made, or it will loose its magic. This means that a good photographer leaves the viewer the idea that it still is a registration of a spontaneous action that happens outside his or her control. In regards to Sara Vlaming, I think that this is the case in the color picture with the girls in red.
Overall, the series is somewhat inconsistent of quality and style. But maybe this has to do with the time given for the workshop. I hope that this review helps the photographer to get a clearer idea of setting her standard.