NE Portfolio Reviews! – from the front lines
This past Saturday I again participated as a reviewer in the Griffin Museum/Digital Silver Imaging‘s co-sponsored New England Portfolio Reviews at Northeastern University in Boston. The organizers line up two days of scheduled reviewer appointments of 20 minutes in length. I reviewed 6 artists’ work on Saturday morning.
Fort Warren Powder Magazine©Russ Bolt. All Rights Reserved
Three photographers affiliated with VoxPhotographs invested in the opportunity to have their work reviewed there by professionals in the field of fine art photography (gallery directors, gallery directors, museum curators), and I asked them to share their experiences with me and you. Here is the common ground:
1. Well worth the time and investment ($40 per 20 minute review). “Overall impression: very favorable.” “It is a great way to get your work in front of the people who you need to see it.” “Anytime an artist has the opportunity to meet professionals in the field to talk about their work, it is worth the networking opportunity and the experience. Even making one good connection is worth the effort.”
2. While there were conflicting opinions about their work from one reviewer to another, (one photographer had appointments with 9 reviewers in one day) there was some very worthwhile common ground that could be sifted through and put to very good use.
3. What they would do differently next time: “I’ll be much more focused and offer a tighter presentation.” “I would have a tighter ‘main’ portfolio and have even more smaller back-up portfolios.”
Telethon©Robert Moran. All Rights Reserved
From photographer Robert Moran comes this: “I had one rude reviewer who consulted his cellphone several times during my review time! The event was well run and the casual atmosphere added to the enjoyment. I got comments and suggestions I found very helpful about what did and did not work as far as the bodies of work were concerned.”
Big Dipper©Jim Nickelson. All Rights Reserved
Jim Nickelson said, “Similarities/combinations of the photographs in my portfolio I hadn’t thought of before” was the most helpful advice he received. “All five of my reviewers seemed to care and were focused on my work. It was my impression that two weren’t that interested in my style of work but those reviews were still valuable – with one I focused on portfolio development and where to go next with my work, and with the other I still received helpful advice.”
Fiddlehead©Lynn Karlin. All Rights Reserved
Lynn Karlin says it’s important to dress professionally, listen, listen, listen and have prints out of their sleeves and ready to go. Before she requested certain reviewers, she researched their websites and details to make sure she got hooked up with the most appropriate reviewers for her work and goals. She was also glad she arrived early – it gave her time to meet other photographers, network and get some great tips!
Railroad Car©Eric Myrvaagnes. All Rights Reserved
And how did it all look from the other side of the desk? The six photographers I talked with were deeply passionate about their work, obviously, if they were willing to make the trip to Boston and invest funds in this review process. They really listened to what I had to say and were delightfully courteous and enjoyable to spend time with. They came from Bangor, Boston/MA and NYC.
I always start out by asking to review the work silently (photographers can NOT show their work without giving you chapter and verse about every image, I’ve found!) and then I ask questions and give feedback. That gives me a chance to see the work they are presenting as a whole, even if it includes a number of different sub-portfolios. This approach is vital to my understanding of how mature the artist is in organizing their work, how focused they are, how unique their vision is, and what level of talent is in place. It allows me to set aside the images I feel are tops, and I make piles of work depending on how I want to approach the rest of our time together.
Caution©John Roy. All Rights Reserved
One thing I look for, as well, is print quality and that is a big deal with me in this digital age. Too many artists feel pressing the PRINT button is all there is to it and they could not be farther from the truth. Poor print quality brings us all down and I’m very direct about that issue.
As my gallery photographers found, one of the best things a reviewer brings to the process is a fresh eye, and I helped the six artists I met with organize their work and re-categorize it sometimes. Scenic? Fine art? Documentary? Architectural?
“Do you have a website?” is one of my most important questions and then, “Is it up-to-date?” Fortunately for them, each of my six has a website and most keep it updated, but this is a job that needs to be done at least once a month – fresh images and categories – let the world see! and I have found most artists could pay a lot more attention to this path to a global audience. Posting images on Facebook is vital as well.
Intersection©Sarah Sorg. All Rights Reserved
And last but not least, I get impatient with how many artists know next to nothing about photo history and as a result, a fair amount of the work I see at the reviews and in private consultations here in Portland is derivative. Go ahead, take those pictures, but please: at least be clear as to whether others have been making the same pictures for 80 years. Get your head out of the sand and learn about the masters who have gone before you since the 1830′s. It will blow your aesthetic senses out of the water and give you a much more realistic perspective about your work.
As one of the VoxPhotographs artists put it, 20 minutes can be excruciatingly short and there is a need for both artist and reviewer to be organized get right to it, stay focused and make the most of those minutes. My sincere goal is to move each artist I spend time with forward in their vision and goals and understanding of their work – and I can only hope I met they left me feeling a little more wind beneath their feet.