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Portfolio Reviews

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Leave-Behinds: The Good, the Better, the Exceptional

Last week I was fortunate enough to be in Chicago to participate in one of the best photography festivals and portfolio reviews around - Filter. This festival keeps getting better and better, and with a new location, an awe-inspiring keynote by Carrie Mae Weems, a roster of rockstar reviewers, and tons of talented photographers, Filter is knocking it out of the park.

Coming home, I was sorting through all of the leave behinds I received from photographers during the portfolio reviews. Leave behinds are marketing materials to leave with each reviewer at the end of your session. I was blown away by some and underwhelmed by others, and I thought it would be helpful to share the good, the better and the exceptional.

A great leave behind has an image that will jog the reviewer’s memory and your contact information and website. It should look professional and preferably be memorable or distinctive in some way, but should not be large, bulky, or otherwise difficult to bring home. Reviewers may see dozens of photographers and will most likely not want to bring back CDs, printed packets of information, or other cumbersome items. Your website should have the images you have shown, and if the reviewer wants more information, he or she can contact you after the event. You can always make discs of your images and print detailed information about your work in case someone asks for it, but a simple postcard or small work sample with your contact information should more than suffice for a solid leave behind.

Robin Apple gave out a deck of cards with her image on the front, which was whimsical and fun, just like her work. The sticker on the outside of the card case gave you her name, but I would recommend putting a name and website on the image on the card (small, unobtrusive) in case the case or sticker get removed along the way.

Robin Apple gave out a deck of cards with her image on the front, which was whimsical and fun, just like her work. The sticker on the outside of the card case gave you her name, but I would recommend putting a name and website on the image on the card (small, unobtrusive) in case the case or sticker get removed along the way.

Joanne Barsanti gave a small sample print, which is a really nice and thoughtful leave behind - something the reviewer will definitely want to keep.

Joanne Barsanti gave a small sample print, which is a really nice and thoughtful leave behind - something the reviewer will definitely want to keep.

She was smart to not only include the image information but her contact info and website as well, making this a print and business card in one.

She was smart to not only include the image information but her contact info and website as well, making this a print and business card in one.

Really nice, clean card from Victor Yanez-Lazcano with a signature, memorable image from his series.

Really nice, clean card from Victor Yanez-Lazcano with a signature, memorable image from his series.

Really well-done packet from Becky Jane Davis. There was a signature image on the front, and a lot of info, including a small print (right-hand side) on the inside. This was more than I needed, but I was very impressed with the thoughtfulness and presentation.

Really well-done packet from Becky Jane Davis. There was a signature image on the front, and a lot of info, including a small print (right-hand side) on the inside. This was more than I needed, but I was very impressed with the thoughtfulness and presentation.

This pocket gallery from Mel Keiser was by far the most creative leave-behind I have ever seen. Ever. And all of the reviewers were talking about it and hoping they would get to have one. The circles are images from her project, attached with velcro so you can move them around to different places in the "gallery".

This pocket gallery from Mel Keiser was by far the most creative leave-behind I have ever seen. Ever. And all of the reviewers were talking about it and hoping they would get to have one. The circles are images from her project, attached with velcro so you can move them around to different places in the "gallery".

These were images from other projects that became the gallery attendees.

These were images from other projects that became the gallery attendees.

Knock-out image by Andrew Miller on the front of his 5x7ish card with his contact info on the back. #nailedit

Knock-out image by Andrew Miller on the front of his 5x7ish card with his contact info on the back. #nailedit

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Medium Photo Festival Packs a Punch

For just it's second year, Medium Photography Festival in San Diego is pretty spectacular. Being located in a city with arguably the best weather on the planet and the home of Museum of Photographic Arts definitely gives it a leg up to start, but the programming is spot-on.

Medium Photography Festival
Medium Photography Festival

The two days of portfolio reviews were pretty laid back and a great way for photographers new to the portfolio review circuit to ease in. The reviewers came from all over the country and were a very well-rounded group of curators, gallerists, and publishers. I enjoyed seeing a wide range of talent and experience, as well as having many opportunities to speak with photographers outside the official twenty minute review slot.

What definitely sets this festival apart is the stellar line-up of guest lecturers. From the kickoff keynote lecture by Abelardo Morell to two full days of talks by leading contemporary photographers, there was no shortage of inspiration. And in my opinion, the best-kept secret of the festival is the Second Sight program where a participant at the festival is chosen to guest lecture the following year. This is a great opportunity for photographers participating in the portfolio review and such a perfect tie-in for the festival, which has a huge focus on photographers sharing their work and process with each other. Since last year was the first festival, this year was the first Second Sight lecture. David Emitt Adams was chosen out of all of the reviewees last year to present at the 2013 festival, and it was obvious why. His work is truly unique and exceptionally smart.

Congrats to Scott B. Davis and all of the other wonderful people behind the Medium Photography Festival. I was honored to be included and hope to come back next year!

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Creativity at ACP Portfolio Review

Atlanta Celebrates Photography's annual portfolio review was October 12, and although I am biased, ACP runs a kick-ass event. The vibe among participants and reviewers was so positive, and I felt like I was able to have really quality interactions with the photographers. (It also helps that ACP gives a few minutes' break between reviews. Review events that make reviewers sit through six reviews in a row without time for a bathroom break. . . well, let's just say it's difficult to concentrate.)

I saw some really interesting work both at the portfolio review and at the portfolio walk, and I was also excited to meet some really talented reviewers.

But since I'm all about innovation and empowering photographers to create opportunities for themselves, two meetings really stood out for me. In the first, I met with local photographer Shannon Davis. Shannon attended a workshop David Bram and I led last year at ACP, and she said it really inspired her to think about different ways to present and promote her work (yeah!). She is currently working on a project about how people present themselves to the world - by what they wear, the expressions they make, the way they want to be viewed - and she wants to present the images on t-shirts. I love this idea. She says she is not interested in taking this work to the wall and thought putting the photographs on t-shirts added an extra layer of meaning to the project.

The second super creative idea to build an audience was a book put together by photographer Forrest Aguar. Forrest participated in my workshop the day after the reviews - Create Demand for Your Art. At the end he showed me this beautiful publication called Ikigai, where he collaborated with ten different writers to put text to his images. According to Forrest, "Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means 'a reason for being'. Everyone is considered to have one, but it is only through a deep and lengthy search of self that it can be found."

Collaboration with other artists, especially ones who work in other mediums, is a great way to grow your audience. By inviting ten writers to participate, the book will automatically be of interest to each of those artists' fans, thereby exposing his photography to new people he would not automatically have access to. It also helps that the book is lovely, well-executed, and limited to 60 copies. This project has a lot of potential to go in many different directions, and I hope Forrest keeps moving forward with it.

Thanks ACP!

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Are Portfolio Reviews "Pay to Play"?

Last week I wrote a piece called "How to Nail a Portfolio Review" with tips on how to best present yourself and your work in a fine art photography portfolio review.  Among a lot of great feedback, one person commented that porfolio reviews were "pay to play" - in other words, they are a way for photographers to pay money in exchange for opportunities.  I understand how a person could have that perception, but I disagree. Photography professionals who are invited to review portfolios are not paid (in all but one case that I am aware of - Atlanta Celebrates Photography gives a small stipend for participation, which is so lovely).  Most portfolio review programs cover the travel and hotel for the reviewer. So reviewers come because they want to help photographers, and they want to find work they can use for their projects. (It's also fun to socialize with people who love what you love.)

Portfolio reviews at Medium Festival of Photography in San Diego

Portfolio reviews at Medium Festival of Photography in San Diego

Participants do pay to be reviewed. An average cost per 20-minute review comes out to be about $55. So yes, the photographer pays. But unlike "pay to play" situations, paying to participate in a portfolio review does not guarantee any opportunities for a photographer. You are paying for the opportunity to show your work to people you may not have access to otherwise (for geographic reasons primarily). You are paying for the chance to sit face to face with someone and explain your work to them, ask questions, and receive feedback, none of which happen when you send a blind submission.

However, portfolio reviews are the best or most economically efficient way for all photographers to move through the fine art world. There are all types of photography professionals at a portfolio review, and you are not guaranteed to see all of your top choices. Reviews are also expensive, especially after factoring in travel, food, and lodging. If your goals are very specific and you have created a targeted list of people you want to connect with, you may be better off using the same amount of funds (or less) to take a road trip and set up meetings with the exact people you want to see your work.

So while you do pay to get your work in front of people who are often looking for portfolios to exhibit and publish, your photography needs to be good and fit their needs. The money only guarantees the meetings. Your work has to do the rest.

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How to Nail a Portfolio Review

Wally Mason from the Haggerty Museum of Art reviews Jonathan Michael Johnson’s portfolio
Wally Mason from the Haggerty Museum of Art reviews Jonathan Michael Johnson’s portfolio

This past weekend I was honored to attend Filter Photo Festival in Chicago as a portfolio reviewer (I was also part of a panel about collecting, which was awesome).  Filter is a really solid festival, and definitely a great portfolio review to consider attending as a photographer.

Over the course of three days, I met with 35 photographers in 20 minute sessions each.  While I saw many photographers who were seasoned reviewees, a lot of the people who sat across from me were new to presenting their work in this format.  It's hard.  Really hard.  You have twenty minutes to show me your work, sell it to me, ask questions, absorb feedback, and smile.

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You want to nail it.  Of course you do.  Here's what I suggest:

  • Develop an elevator pitch and practice it.  Over and over.  "My project is about . . ."  Distill it down to one or two sentences that you can say as I start looking at your images.  Not a dissertation, just some context.
  • Listen more than you talk.  If you run a continuous monologue for twenty minutes, I don't have an opportunity to give you feedback or ask questions.
  • Pay attention to sequence and edit.  The images should have a flow.  Do not include images you don't feel good about.
  • Breathe.  Be open.  Be gracious.

In April, David Bram and I worked with Matt Crowther over five days at the Flash Powder Retreat on. . . everything (you can read more about the retreats here).  Matt is a super talented photographer, and at Filter his portfolio won "best in show".  Now I'm not saying it was a direct result of dedicating time and energy to tighten his work, but he might. . .

I had been to a couple of review events before, but the recent Filter Photo Festival in Chicago was my first since attending the Flash Powder retreat in Astoria last April. While previous reviews have been decent experiences, this one was like a whole new world. I was showing my most tightly edited portfolio yet, having worked on the editing and sequencing at the retreat. Also, having worked so hard on my artist statement helped me talk about my work much more clearly and concisely, which helped the conversations flow better and meant I could get more out of the limited time with each reviewer. And perhaps most importantly for me, all that preparation plus having talked through goals and strategies with Jennifer, David, and my fellow Flashers meant I was more focused and confident than I've been in quite a while. In the end I came away with some great new connections, some concrete opportunities, and my portfolio was the voted best in show. --Matthew Crowther

Spending time and energy working out the kinks in your portfolio, getting comfortable talking about it, and being beyond prepared - that's how you nail a portfolio review.

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Photolucida Photographer Highlights

Last week the Crusade made a stop in Portland for a pop-up and to attend the Photolucida Portfolio Review event.  At a portfolio review, photographers at the mid-career level register for one-on-one meetings (20 minutes long) with gallery owners, curators, critics, collectors and publishers from around the world.  As a reviewer, I met with 48 photographers over 4 days and was fortunate enough to informally see work from dozens of others. People seem to ask me pretty regularly about current themes I see in photography, and although I don't like to categorize, I will say that I saw a lot of work dealing with contemporary landscape - human intervention, neglect, urbanization. . . And I learned a new word!  "Dross" - ok, now that I used the google, the definition isn't exactly as it was explained to me by one of the many photographers dealing with this topic, but as I learned it, dross is the in-between space in the landscape - places that have fallen away from use or that are coming into use.  Dross.  Photograph that.  (or don't, since lots of others are getting that covered. . .)

So dross aside, I'd like to highlight just a few images/photographers that peaked my interest.  Some of this work is finished and ready to launch, and other portfolios are still working out issues and growing, but these are just few that I keep thinking about.

This image by Amelia Morris made me cry:

I pretty much loved everything about Marico Fayre, including her meditative series, White. Kids With Guns: The Childhood Gravity Games by Kim Campell intruiged me - I think it's going somewhere.  K. K. Depaul's mixed-media collage and assemblage pieces about secrets was wonderfully haunting.

A lot of talent always shows up for this review, and Portland of course is my love, so the whole time there was wonderful, start to finish.

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Why Do I Need An Artist Statement Anyway?

The thought of writing an artist statement can turn the stomach of even the most accomplished photographer.  We are visual artists after all.  We express ourselves in images, not words.

There is often a lot of griping that occurs when the topic of artist statements comes up.   Many people (although in my experience, these people are the artists tasked with creating the statements) feel the work should speak for itself, and that statements are unnecessary and meaningless.  Although I’ll concede that not every gallery and collector is concerned about a well-formed artist statement, there are a lot of benefits to having a concise, compelling description of your work.

Nearly as difficult as writing about your work is speaking about your work.  The process of writing a statement allows an artist to get the swirl of elusive ideas and concepts that make sense in their own head out and organized in a concrete, meaningful way.  We all know what we are trying to say with our images, but many of us have a very difficult time communicating those thoughts to others.

As I discussed in the Portfolio Review PDF (available here), preparing your pitch is critical to presenting your work to a potential gallerist, curator or collector.  Writing your artist statement can both assist you with this and can act as your agent if you are unable to make a face-to-face connection with the person viewing your work.

From “Portfolio Reviews: The What, The Why, The How”

Being able to confidently and succinctly speak about your work is no easy feat, but it is as important as having strong images.  As a gallerist, if you cannot sell yourself and your work to me, how am I going to sell it to a collector?  I want to feel your passion and hear your thoughtfulness.  I want to be moved.

Practice as much as you possibly can, and then practice more.  Speak out loud about your work – to yourself, to your peers, to anyone who will listen.  This cannot be stressed enough.  You must be comfortable talking about your work, and you must be able to explain it in a compelling way. 

For most people, their photography is such a close part of their hearts and minds, it is incredibly difficult to step back and explain it to fresh eyes.  It is also deeply personal, and just showing the images can make a photographer feel vulnerable and exposed.  But you have to be able to sell it.  Practice.  It is the only way. 

 

Looking for help with your artist statement?  Read more here.

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Critical Mass - You Should, and If You Didn't. . .

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.

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