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Atlanta Celebrates Photography

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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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Ones2Watch with Atlanta Celebrates Photography

Atlanta Celebrates Photography is an organization that kills it year round for photography. Not only is the MONTH-LONG (which actually starts in September and goes into November, because there is so much programming) festival overwhelmingly stellar, ACP programs year-round and it a huge reason Atlanta's photography culture is so robust.  Ten years strong. . . hot damn. While ACP is celebrating it's 10th year, the annual gala auction benefit has been happening for five. There is an exciting live auction, led by Denise Bethel from Sotheby's, where inevitably you get swept up in the moment and wave a paddle you previously had no intention of raising.  There is also a silent auction with a variety of items (was so bummed to be outbid on the Martin Parr faces paperweight) and a selection of ten framed photographs from the Ones2Watch section.  For years I have poured over this part of the auction and bid mightily, and this year I was beyond honored to be invited to curate it.

I was asked to select ten photographs from ten photographers who are on the front lines of awesome.  Yes please!  The selection process was so much fun for me, but then seeing all of the pieces lined up on easels with each one framed to best showcase the image (thank you Myott!) was beyond, beyond.  And then to see all the bids flying!

Want an up-close peek at the images?  I thought so. Click on the image to visit the photographer's website.

Heather Evans Smith

Heather Evans Smith

Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

Brandon Thibodeaux

Brandon Thibodeaux

Clay Lipsky

Clay Lipsky

Bill Vaccaro

Bill Vaccaro

Kurt Simonson

Kurt Simonson

Aline Smithson

Aline Smithson

Kelly K. Jones

Kelly K. Jones

Elizabeth Fleming

Elizabeth Fleming

E. Brady Robinson

E. Brady Robinson

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Common Crusade Criticisms, Explained

If you've ever met me or read anything I've written, you would know that I am incredibly open and transparent.  I am open to ideas, criticisms, advice, knowledge - I take it all in, and it's hard to offend me.  I may not always agree or take the advice, but I would always rather know than not know.  All of the information I take in informs how I act, what I think, and I believe in always trying to do good and trying to do better. Over the past year and a half that I have been planning the Crusade for Collecting Tour, I have fielded a lot of criticism, both constructive and otherwise.  Some of the most challenging and harshest of which caused me no shortage of tears and despair, but ultimately it was the most helpful in making me take a fresh look at what I was doing and make some really important adjustments.

The Background

This whole project started like this:

I think a lot about who buys art and who does not buy art.  As the owner of a gallery that shows the work of emerging photographers (artists who are just starting to make a name for themselves but are not really collected yet), I was trying to identify who my target collector was.  If I had opened a blue chip gallery, in a lot of ways the collectors would find me - I had a piece they were looking for, and they understood the value and moved forward with a purchase (not to simplify, all gallerists work very hard).  But I was showing work that people were not yet seeking out.  It was (is still) my job to get these photographers more exposure and recognition and to start building their collector base.  But how?  Who are these would-be collectors?

I figure since photography is contemporary and accessible (both from a price perspective, relative to other fine art mediums, and in understanding how an image is made), it is well-suited for a younger, engaged, person.  This person may just be starting to think about buying art, or more likely, hasn't thought about it at all but would if the perceptual barriers to entry (thinking original art is not affordable, thinking they don't know enough about art to buy it, thinking art in galleries is out of reach, being intimidated) were lowered.  Generationally, this target collector is interested in the things in their world - where their food came from and how their coffee is roasted - and they seek out new and interesting experiences.

But there are also obstacles to reaching this person.  Places like Target and IKEA offer "wall art" - mass-produced pieces that sit on an aisle directly across from their matching throw pillows.  So this was my thought:  What if I could stand at the register of every IKEA, and when a person came up holding a gallery-wrap canvas of a tulip, I could say, "Hey, that is lovely and the colors match your couch perfectly.  But look at this piece.  It's original, and the colors are also great.  Here's the artist - let him tell you about his work.  Wouldn't you rather be one of a very few people to own this image - something you can have a deeper connection too, especially after meeting the artist - than one of thousands to own the IKEA image?".  I feel that put into that context, most people would choose the original.

Since I cannot stand at the register of every IKEA, I had a different (although maybe just as crazy) idea:  Why not drive around the country and pop-up in high-traffic areas and engage with people on the street and give away photography?  The idea shifted, and I made tweaks and changes over time as a result of feedback and some experiments, and eventually the final vision of the tour emerged.  I will show work from national photographers (all from my online project, The Ten) and also curate a selection of five images from five different local photographers in each city.  Each local photographer will give away ten small (approx. 6x9) copies of their photograph to anyone who approaches the pop-up.  People will be able to speak to the photographers about the work and select their favorite to take with them.  Instant collectors.  And each local photographer will have ten new collectors in their hometown to hopefully follow-up with and continue a relationship while I drive on to the next city.  We will also give away a handful of images from The Ten in each city (these are larger, 13x19, and the artists still get paid their commission for the photographs that are given away, so the amount we can give away is directly related to the amount of money the tour can fundraise).  If a person falls in love with one of the Ten photographs, they can give a heart-felt plea about why they should be able to keep the image.  Tables, turning.  Instead of a dealer convincing a collector why they should have an image, the person convinces us.  This is so fun to me.

I would also like to say here that the Local Photographer Showcase component of the tour was heavily influenced (although I realized it later - the subconscious is awesome like that) by a brilliant public art project that Beth Lilly created for Atlanta Celebrates Photography in 2009.  Beth gave away 1200 small, signed photographs by local photographers over the course of a month by going to different places around the city and talking to people that walked by.  I volunteered for one of the hand-outs and was profoundly affected by the experience.  Sounds dramatic, but clearly it's true.

The Criticisms

So you have the background, now to addressing the criticisms.  Here are the two major things I hear:

1.  How is giving away photography going to encourage collecting?

Valid question.  Totally.  Last week I wrote a blog post responding to an email I received asking this very question, but I realized I did not really answer the question.  So here goes. . .

My goal is to create an exciting, engaging, transformative experience around art.  I hope people will interact with the pop-up and get a taste for the value art can add to their lives.  I want people to meet the artists who are out creating great work in their own community and make a connection to them and their work.  Hopefully this connection and introduction will get them over a threshold where they will begin to participate in arts programming in their city and will eventually lead to patronizing and collecting original art.

Despite how it may seem, I am realistic (idealistic and realistic) and realize that we are not going to convert every person who walks away with a photograph into a collector.  But this tour is an opportunity to start a conversation about art - not just with the pop-up participants, but also with larger numbers of people through press and social media.

Which leads to the second criticism. . .

2.  Isn't this tour just a big opportunity to promote Jennifer Schwartz?

This one is tougher to address, other than to say, I'm just not wired that way.  I believe in collaboration and community-building and doing whatever I can for the greater good.  Even writing this sounds ridiculous, but I do believe that doing good is important, and it drives me.  Will there be some side-effect benefit to me personally - my reputation or my gallery?  Maybe, it's hard to say.  But this tour is altruistic.  We are giving art away, not selling anything.  If I had spent the last year and a half working on something with the potential to make money and did not involve leaving my husband and three kids to drive around the country, crashing on couches with a shoe-string budget. . . well, that may have been smarter.

All in all, I'm just excited to begin this great adventure, and my hopes are high that I can make a positive impact in some way.  Art is awesome, and I'm happy to shout it from the rooftops.  Or from my bus.



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