A Critical Eye

By Jim McCloskey

I spend a lot of time looking at watershapes:  Big and small, elaborate and simple, recreational and decorative, calm and eruptive, distant and interactive.  In too many ways to count, they’re so much nicer now than when WaterShapes started paying attention to them 16 years ago.

I think back to a time when I was an occasional judge in what was then the National Spa & Pool Institute’s Design Awards Program:  As recently as the early 1990s, more than a few of the entered projects were drab blue boxes wrapped up with thin ribbons of concrete decking – maybe quality work in nicely appointed settings, but not very exciting compared to what I come across so often nowadays.

Despite hard times, come hell and high water, watershaping has continued its steady rise above the ordinary, and it’s a gratifying thing to see.

***

When images of watershaping projects pass my way, I generally classify them, give them some sort of “grade” and file them away in memory, on lists or in computer folders.  I suspect that most designers and builders go through similar exercises – cataloging sources of inspiration by filing away luxe details or interesting materials or nice treatments they’ve seen in other professionals’ work that they might want to adapt or express further in their own.

What I come across, of course, are mostly images of completed work:  beauty shots of projects by designers and/or builders who want to share their very best work.  What I also like to see, however, are construction shots:  Knowing how things physically come together is, for me, often much more interesting than seeing the completed package.

When WaterShapes started in 1999, relatively few of you shot pictures of your work as it progressed.  Happily, it’s reached a point in 2015 where it seems rare to find someone who hasn’t shot photos of his or her projects as they unfold – another gratifying thing to see.

***

As I look at watershape images, complete or in process, I look at them with workmanship or design in mind, but that’s not all:  I use lots pf these photographs to illustrate articles we publish, so I’m also sizing up the photography – deciding whether it’s good enough to publish – and, more important, evaluating how well the images arrayed before me will help tell a story.

I can generally work with what’s going on within the frame and am forgiving with obvious issues in the photography – with one exception:  It always bothers me when photographers (including some who should know better) can’t find a baseline or a vertical edge that places objects in fair perspective.  This shortcoming can be addressed in Photoshop, of course, but it bothers me nonetheless because it indicates that the photographer isn’t thinking with any clarity about what he or she is trying to communicate.

This is, of course, a subjective outlook, but in decades of sorting through and selecting images submitted by watershapers, I appreciate it when you’re careful, thoughtful and visually attuned enough to know the difference between framing an image with a good camera and knocking down snapshots with a cell phone.

Again, you’ve come a long way in all respects since we started pushing for more and better images from a project’s first day to its last, and it’s gratifying that so many of you have come to understand what we’re after and have come through so beautifully.

As I start what is now the seventeenth year of the WaterShapes era, I have to say it’s been a wonderful ride – and I look forward to many gratifying years to come!

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