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portfolio reviews

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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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Sequencing Strategy - Do You Have One?

I'm about to start the third full day of portfolio reviews for Photolucida in Portland.  If you aren't familiar, Photolucida is a wonderful photography festival that hosts portfolio reviews every other year.  For four days, photographers sit with a wide range of industry professionals for 20 minutes at a time to get feedback on their work, and hopefully opportunities for exhibition and publication. Yesterday I was on a sequencing tear.  It seemed that so many photographers I met with had not paid enough attention to the order the images were in.  I cannot stress enough how the sequence can make or break the edit in a portfolio.  So I felt inspired to think about advice that would help a photographer think about how to best sequence their work -

Quite simply, the flow needs to work.  Let the story unfold in a clear, logical way that makes sense as the viewer moves from one image to another.  Make sure you are telling the complete story without hiccups (images that take the viewer off-track) or holes.  Allow the viewer to move seamlessly through the work.  Keep a consistent vibe and feeling, building a narrative or emotional arc without disrupting the viewer’s eyes or emotions.

In addition to considering a logical ordering strategy (chronological, narrative, etc.), pay attention to aesthetic qualities in the photographs.  Colors and shapes can bridge transitions between images and create a smooth flow.  Less obvious connections also create an interesting sequence.  Consider what associations a straight read of an image bring to mind and what other image in the series creates a logical link to it.

Looking for help tightening your project?  Read more here.

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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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