I have long been a fan of Critical Mass as a fantastic way for photographers to get important eyes on their work. Photographers submit a portfolio of ten images along with an artist statement, and these submissions get culled down to 200 finalists. If you make the finalist list, your work will be viewed, rated and critiqued by over 200 industry heavy-weights, from curators to gallerists to publishers. Whether or not you make the next cut (the Top 50) or win one of the prizes (book award, exhibition award), the exposure a photographer receives from being a finalist is invaluable. Many photographers have been approached for book deals, exhibitions and representation from being viewed on Critical Mass. Honestly, I cannot brag on it enough. Before I highlight some of my favorite entries from this year, I want to share something that I think is really helpful when thinking about a body of work and its impact on the viewer. I once had a friend and fellow juror tell me the judging strategy he/she uses when going through the submissions. Of course, this is a crude break-down and this person is extremely thoughtful when looking at each portfolio, but this is the criteria this photo-person uses as a general guide.

As a juror, we can give a portfolio a score of “0”, “1”, “3” or “7”. This photo-friend (who, by the way, is my go-to person for an honest assessment of my own work) looks at a portfolio of images and uses this system as a starting point to think about the work: - a “0” if the images do not seem compelling enough to want to look farther (again, this is the baseline starting point – I do not want to imply in any way that photographers’ work is not given a fair look and assessment) - a “1” if the images are interesting, but the artist statement does not seem to match the work - a “3” if the work is good and the statement seems to match what the images convey - a “7” if everything comes together and the work is really phenomenal

If you are a photographer, I strongly encourage you to think about this when looking objectively at your own work. Why are you making the work? Why should the viewer care about the work? Do the images reflect what you are trying to say?

OK, so – I was lucky enough to jury Critical Mass again this year, and I was blown away by some of the work. Some of my very favorites made the top 50 and others did not, but here are just a few highlights for me (note: I am purposefully not posting about photographers represented by Jennifer Schwartz Gallery, since it would be hard to appear objective):

Katie Koti I literally cannot stop thinking about this work. It is raw and honest, and I have shown it to everyone who will look since I first saw it. Go to her website. Go now.

Tamas Deszo I actually bought an image of his at AIPAD last year. So yes, I am a fan.

Thomas Jackson Last year there was a floating Cheetos image that made me more hungry than inspired. This year, Thomas Jackson presented a floating Cheese Ball image that kind of blew me away. Just goes to show, it’s all in the approach.

Nate Larson, Marni Shindelman This is a really smart collaborative project using geolocation information to track the locations where users posted updates to Twitter. They photograph the places people stood when sending a particular tweet and pair the image with the originating text.

Tom Griggs I first saw Tom’s work at FotoFest this year (a different series), and I was impressed then and have been since with the thoughtfulness of his imagery.