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.


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.