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Flash Powder Retreats

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Flash Powder Projects Retreat #11

I often talk about Flash Powder - the project David Bram and I started just over two years ago - because although it is not part of Crusade for Art, it is all about taking photographers to the next level with their work. Flash Powder hosts invite-only retreats for groups of four photographers to help them get a project ready to launch and to develop a 12-month plan.

Last month we held our 11th retreat, followed by a small reunion for all of the flashers (as we call retreat participants). The four participating photographers had very diverse backgrounds and aesthetics, which is something we aim for to get different perspectives and make the collaboration more powerful. David and I are continually blown away by the talent, dedication and energy of the photographers we work with, and this group was no exception. This group. Wow.

Justin Cook

Rod Fincannon

Honey Lazar

Audra Melton

Honey Lazar, Audra Melton, Rod Fincanon, Justin Cook

Honey Lazar, Audra Melton, Rod Fincanon, Justin Cook

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Flash Powder Retreat #9: I Just Love Photographers

...and working with photographers

...and being inspired by photographers

...and looking at the images made by photographers

Photographers are awesome.

Leading the Flash Powder Retreats (with David Bram) is easily one of the most gratifying things I do. We spend four days and five nights in a house with four photographers and work sun-up to sun-down on their photographic projects. The retreats aren't for making work - they are for taking an existing body of work, tightening it (edit, sequence, project statement), and creating a plan to launch it. It's intense and exhausting, but it is incredibly exciting to be able to immerse myself in someone's project and overall photographic goals and work collaboratively to move the work forward.

The 9th Flash Powder Retreat just ended (this one was in Highlands, NC), and as usual, the goodbye pulled on the heartstrings. Another great group, both talented and fun. I encourage you to check out these photographers' portfolios and keep tabs on them. I'm sure you'll be hearing a lot more from them soon.

Leon Alesi

Victoria Crayhon

Eugene Ellenberg

Hannele Lahti

And just so you know how much fun we had. . .

Flashers: Gene Ellenberg, Hannele Lahti, Leon Alesi, Victoria Crayhon
Flashers: Gene Ellenberg, Hannele Lahti, Leon Alesi, Victoria Crayhon
a rowdy game of Dirty UNO
a rowdy game of Dirty UNO
Sunset Rock
Sunset Rock
photo 4
photo 4
photo 5-1
photo 5-1
showing work
showing work
beautiful weather, working outside
beautiful weather, working outside
David on Impossible film
David on Impossible film
in town, at the Ugly Dog Pub
in town, at the Ugly Dog Pub
photo by Victoria Crayhon

photo by Victoria Crayhon

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Flash Powder Explosion

Mark my words - these photographers are going to set the world on fire.

A year and a half ago, David Bram and I had an idea.  What if we invited a few photographers we felt had a lot of potential to a five day, four night retreat and worked with them to take their work to the next level?  We would all stay together in the same house, and everyone would bring their photographic project.  By the end, they would each have a solid edit, sequence, artist statement, a 12-month plan, and the knowledge to make it happen.  They would also have the two of us, as well as the rest of the group, as a resource going forward.  It was a big idea, but then again, I love those.

So we created Flash Powder Projects, and we haven't looked back.  Seven retreats in three different locations and 33 photographers later, we are constantly hearing from our retreaters with amazing news and successes. This is one of the best and more rewarding things I do, and the relationships I've made with these photographers have added so much to my life.  And luckily, they all seem to feel the same way about the value of this experience.

A week ago we finished our seventh retreat, this one in New Mexico. Even after all this time, David and I still get nervous about the group. We are really selective about the photographers we invite, because so much of the experience hinges on collaboration and each person bringing a unique and informed perspective.  The photographers need to be at similar levels and have a similar drive to move forward in their photographic careers.  And then the personalities need to mesh, which is the truly stressful part, because that is impossible to predict.  Luckily we have nailed it each time, and the bonding that happens is insane.

This group was no exception. The retreat was at a ranch in southern New Mexico, 90 miles from the nearest grocery store.  These four!  When the photos come out and we dig deep, the barriers just naturally come down.  We all left not only inspired, but closer than I thought was possible.

But enough of the sappy stuff, and let's get down to their incredible work:

Dustin Chambers

Steven Ford

Maggie Meiners

Lexey Swall

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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.

_EHO1227

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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