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Best Practices


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.



Connect People to Your Art

Last Spring I drove around the country in a VW bus (Lady Blue!) for the Crusade for Collecting Tour. I was fortunate to meet photographer Adam Smith, who gallantly offered to help me around Seattle, a city I had never been to before.  We spent a day together, and he even got to experience a Lady Blue break-down first hand. Over an amazing dinner of burgers (the key to my heart!), we began discussing his work.  He told me he had an opportunity to exhibit his photography at an apartment gallery called Vignettes, run by Sierra Stinson (apartment galleries are when an arts-minded person transforms their apartment/home/sleeping porch into a gallery for a night).  We talked for a long time about how to price and edition the work (one of my favorite subjects!), and we talked even longer about what he hoped to get out of the exhibition.

Adam had two goals - to engage in meaningful conversations with people about the work and themselves and to not end up with a bunch of photographs to bring home at the end of the night.  While he did not want to give the work away, the price was not the primary concern. So we thought and talked and thought and talked and came up with this idea - what if he bartered the images?  And barter he did.

Each image was available for $30 plus a barter of any type.  We felt the barter component would be the piece that facilitated the conversation and engagement with Adam and the work. What were you able to offer?  Why were you drawn to that photograph enough to want to trade something for it?  The barter would also provide another connecting point with Adam after the event.

After the event, Adam wrote me, "Turnout was great, a steady stream of people over the course of the three hour event. The exhibit consisted of 10 pieces, 11x14, digital C-print, edition of three. I ended up selling out of two images and sold the first print from two other pieces for a total of 8 prints sold. Some of the items bartered:  A tattoo, bottles of wine, tutoring & babysitting for my son, a painting, home cooked meals, farm fresh egg delivery, $150 and so on..."

This is a great example of how powerful it can be to work backwards. If you spend the time to figure out your goals, you will be in a much better position to leverage your opportunities in your favor. Be thoughtful and proactive, and make it happen.

Adam Smith Vignettes
Adam Smith Vignettes



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.


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.



Advocating for Art Audiences

Since I've had advocating for art on the brain, this quote seems appropriate, arresting, and invigorating: If traditional arts institutions are going to survive, some person or group that’s in a position to influence significant change will have to step forward, demand a higher level of professionalism across the sector and then help the industry shift its communications focus from being self-important, condescending and boastful to being curious, humble and tuned in to the needs, wants and desires of tomorrow’s audiences.  - Trevor O'Donnell



Do We Need to Become Our Own Arts Advocates?

In a word, yes. Although I later learned this photo was misleading (apparently the sign was in the wrong spot), walking by this empty booth got me thinking about the importance of the mission of Crusade for Art.

We are at the precipice of a crisis in our art.  Prodigious effort is going into programs and initiatives that create supply – opportunities to educate artists and help them create and exhibit work – which is resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of fine art photographers and huge volumes of their art.  Little support focuses on creating a demand for this art.  Demand is not keeping up with supply, and if not corrected, will create a huge imbalance where there is an abundance of art but no audience for it.  Crusade for Art is dedicated to cultivating demand for art.

Artists are on the front lines and are best positioned to be change-makers.  Crusade for Art aims to educate, inspire, and support artists to create unique, approachable programs that bring new audiences to art and allow them to engage with art in a meaningful way. By inspiring, mentoring, teaching, and funding, Crusade for Art will empower artists to focus on creating demand for art and thereby encourage systemic changes to create a new crop of art lovers, patrons, and collectors.



Art Cloud Helps You…Do Everything

Art Cloud is an art management system designed for galleries, but with functionality (and price points!) for artists and collectors.  And it is amazing.  I sat down with Alex West (the brains and super friendly and arts-minded person behind the operation) this week for a demo, and I was blown away. When I started my gallery almost five years ago, I looked into the available software out there and felt like it was too expensive and not significantly better than my suped-up spreadsheet (I love me a spreadsheet).  But this is not only affordable (for galleries: $500 activation + $99/month, for artists: no activation fee and $19/month - seriously), it is basically a brain, alarm clock, manager, schmoozer, and organizer all in one.  This system is incredibly robust.  And easy.  And affordable.  And no, I'm not getting any kickback, I'm just a huge fan.

OK, here's how it can work for you gallery/artist/collector -

First, you can keep track of all of your inventory, with every bit of information about each piece you could imagine.  And if you (artist) and you (gallery) both have Art Cloud, the information can automatically sync up.  It's a cloud thing.  Brilliant.  Galleries can also have the inventory sync to their websites, so you don't have to update both places.  Also awesome for galleries - you can automatically generate pricing sheets and wall tags for shows (the wall tags export into a label doc that's already set up for the Avery pre-sets), create invoices, track partial payments (once the invoice is paid, the piece automatically takes it out of inventory). . . swooning.

But the best part (in my obsessed with creating demand for art opinion) for artists and galleries alike is the client management component.  A few posts ago I talked about the importance of regularly communicating with your collectors and advocates.  This software makes it so easy.  You can build profiles for each person you enter, add notes ("reviewed at FotoFest and liked my barn project", "met at this cocktail party and said was interested in coming by the gallery", "Super Artist Friend suggested I show this person my work"), set reminders to reach out, and keep track of the type of work they like.  So if you have a person tagged with "abstract", and you add a new abstract piece into inventory, it will remind you to communicate with this abstract lover. . . and you can email the abstract lover the image and info about the piece directly from Art Cloud.  It's genius.  It makes my spreadsheets look sad and wimpy.  And I'm ok with that.

Check out Art Cloud here:  You won't be sorry.

Looking for more help to connect new audiences to your work?  That's what Crusade for Art is all about.  Read more here.



The Easiest Way to Grow Your Audience

Sometimes common sense eludes us, and the answers to our toughest questions are literally staring us in the face.  Case in point – all artists want to know what they can do to sell more work.  Here is the answer:  Keep in touch with the people who already support you. Cultivating the relationships you already have is the easiest and most important thing you can do to grow your audience.  As a collector, you can have one of two experiences.  You can buy an image and hang it on the wall, or you can buy an image, hang it on the wall, and know that you have helped support the artist that created it and have an ongoing relationship with him or her.  If you were the collector, which would you prefer?  Which artist would you be more likely to buy work from again?  Which artist would you want to continue to support and introduce to others?

Artists should be reaching out to their collectors and supporters at least twice per year, and it should be in a personal way.  While email newsletters are important to keep a wider audience up to date on your work and successes, your core supporters should also receive a hand-written note, a very small print or postcard with your newest image, or even a (gasp!) phone call.  Do not underestimate the power of the personal connection.  After all, it’s what drew these people to your work in the first place – they saw your image and felt a personal connection to it.  Increasing the depth of that connection will only benefit you both.

Looking for help connecting new audiences to your work?  That's what Crusade for Art is all about.  Read more here.



Art as Investment?

Most people that purchase art as an investment are focusing on high-end, blue chip art with a proven sales record.  As this article (The Art of Investing: The Rewards Aren't Always Financial) suggests, if you are buying art from an emerging artist, it is quite unlikely that you will be able to turn around the next day and sell that piece for more money. But they do make this point, which I could not agree with more:

Art is different than other investments. It's there in your house, part of your life.

"You are telling people something about yourself when you hang it," Moses says. "And therefore, I think that emotional investment gives you a certain tie to that work that you don't find in other objects that you buy."




Looking vs. Owning: Why Collecting is Awesome

The past two days in Chicago have been a whirlwind of photo awesomeness.  The photographers here - Chicagraphers, as they call themselves (clever, right?) - are an enthusiastic and welcoming crew.  They seem to love the medium and love their community, and we have felt like VIPs every minute. Yesterday we (the "we" is Sarah Moore - my trusty co-pilot on the east coast leg of the tour - and me) and I had the biggest treat.  Jess Dugan, a supremely talented and incredibly thoughtful and sharp Chicagrapher who is in the MFA program at Columbia College and works as a curatorial assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, pulled out photographs from the museum's collection for us to drool over.  When we were setting this up, she asked what we might like to see, and I told her I wanted her to pull some of her favorites.  I didn't know the museum's collection, and I knew she would know the jewels.

We got to see Sally Mann, Larry Sultan, Mary Ellen Mark, Robert Mappelthorpe, Dawoud Bey, Alec Soth's prototype of Sleeping By the Mississippi. . . it was a dream.

When Jess and I were speaking about how fortunate she is to be able to work with these images and view them daily, she said something that struck me.  She said that just knowing an image and loving it is different than living with it every day.  That when you get to see a photograph that speaks to you hundreds of times, it becomes part of you and the connection becomes intrinsic.  (I'm paraphrasing.)

That is why collecting is so amazing.  You get to interact with an image you love on a daily basis, and it seeps into your soul.  That may sound mushy and overly-romantic, but hey, I'm driving a bus around the country to talk about collecting, I'm pretty mushy about it.  You should be too.  Art is awesome.



Pencil Pals: The Start of an Entrepreneur

I met someone recently who was asking me a lot of questions about my start in the photography world, my ideas, my vision – basically, all of the craziness that lives in my head.  And he asked me if I had always been entrepreneurial.  The question took me a little off-guard, because I have never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, although I’m not sure why.  I did start a business – a few actually – but somehow the association of art and business often gets lost. However, the business side of art is hugely important, especially for artists.  You can be the most talented person in the world, but if you do not know how to get an audience for your work, you will most likely not have any success beyond getting a few “likes” on facebook whenever you post a new image.  “Likes” make you feel good, but they do not usually translate to sales or exposure opportunities.

Artists need to think strategically about who their target audience is and how to attract them.  They need to create a strong, consistent, professional brand through social media and their website.  They need to develop a plan and timeline to thoughtfully launch new work that involves strategically reaching out to appropriate galleries, publishers, and online outlets.  It sounds like a lot of work.  It is.

So back to my business beginnings. . . When I was asked if I had always been entrepreneurial, I had a flashback to my elementary school days and remembered the business I started.  Crazy, because I hadn’t thought about this in years and years, but – I had a club, and of course, I was the president (read: dictator).  We wanted money to buy matching t-shirts with our club names on them (we each had gemstone names that were supposed to correspond to our birthstone, but June is pearl and not sparkly, so as club president I had the authority to assign myself “Amethyst”).

We had a goal (t-shirts) but needed a plan to reach that goal.  I felt we could create a product to sell to our classmates (3rd graders), so we had our target audience, now how to attract them?  At the time, these loom potholders were very popular to make, but better than potholders were headbands made from the loom loops.  We created a few headbands and made posters and order forms (a professional brand, pre-social media and websites) to post in the 3rd grade classrooms.

They were a smashing success, but we ran into some unforeseen problems.  The demand was very high, and we did not have a dedicated workforce in place (the other club members were not pulling their weight – slackers).   Also, everyone wanted pink and purple headbands, and if you know anything about those loom loop packets, they only come with one or two pinks in the entire bag.  We did have the advantage of no supply costs, since our parents bought the loom loops for us, but ultimately we had to close up shop.  We got the t-shirts, but a well thought out business plan may have helped us foresee the set-backs that ultimately did us in.

No, I do not advocate third graders writing business plans, but I do think artists should.  If you are creating something you want to sell, you have a business, and you need a plan.  Art is no exception.  Be thoughtful and deliberate about it.  Your art deserves nothing less.

(As a sidenote, I started the business back up in 5th grade selling Pencil Pals – little animals made out of pipe-cleaners with a bead for a head that hugged the top of your pencil. They were more popular than Garbage Pail Kids.  I thought I had solved the labor issue by creating a relatively easy product to make, but I did not anticipate kids ordering 25 Pencil Pals at a time.  Apparently my fellow club members did not have the same work ethic as I do, and my only option was to raise the price from 5 cents to 10 cents per Pal.  There was a mutiny, and we halted production.  It was a shame.  They were adorable.)

Looking for help to formulate a plan for your work?  Read more here.


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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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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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3 Ways Email Newsletters Help Photographers Tell A Story

Welcome guest-blogger, Dean Levitt - co-founder of Mad Mimi (the Communications Sponsor of the Crusade tour and the best email newsletter company I've worked with by far)!  

3 Ways Email Newsletters Help Photographers Tell A Story

We have many photographers using Mad Mimi for email marketing, and we've seen many of their newsletters over the years. Nearly all of them have a good eye for design, with strong visuals and creative use of color. However, if there's one aspect of email marketing that photographers often neglect... it's the story.

Here are three ways that you can use your email newsletters to tell a compelling story that compliments your striking images.

Portion of a Mad Mimi newsletter with gorgeous images and clean design, as well as some solid storyline
Portion of a Mad Mimi newsletter with gorgeous images and clean design, as well as some solid storyline

1. Develop The Characters

Email newsletters are an opportunity to share the story behind the subject of your photograph, whether you describe the characters captured or how you came to take that photograph. Why it appeals to you is appealing to others and the newsletter is a place to tell that story.

2. Technique Is Fascinating

Newsletters are a great place for photographers to totally geek out. Fellow photographers, enthusiastic amateurs and non photogs alike are interested in the techical apects of a shoot like the gear, filters and lighting you used. Diving into technical concepts is fascinating for readers.

Another element of technique is the physicality of any shoot. Tell the tale about how you balanced on the edge of a rooftop to capture the moment perfectly or the all night ride to that gritty location. It's thrilling to us non-photographers.

3. Share your Mantra. State your creed!

Whether you're a commercial artist or one solely dedicated to personal expression, you have a creed. You have a voice of your own that matters to readers. It's interlaced with your imagery and you can weave it into the story you tell in newsletters. For readers, clients and even subjects, gaining a deeper understanding of your artistic goals is something that can elevate the experience.

So while you're sharing visual poetry with clients, art lovers and anyone else, remember that the story behind the images is worth sharing too.

Here's some other tips from Mad Mimi you might find useful:

Look At The Size Of That Image (

5 Email Marketing Tips To Boost Engagement (

4 Steps To Effective Email Marketing And Facebook Integration (

Dean Levitt is the Chief of Culture At Mad Mimi Email Marketing (

Looking for help creating your own innovative ideas to connect new audiences to your work? That's what Crusade for Art is all about.  Read more here.


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Stages of Fine Art Photographers

As photographers move through the process of making work, there is a natural evolution from experimenting to creating with intent.  I think of fine art photographers as falling into one of three stages or levels.  The levels are not a hierarchy – it all depends on the goals of the individual photographer.

When any person is first learning and experimenting with a camera, they take photographs of everything around them.  They often carry a camera with them and shoot a lot of different subjects in a lot of different circumstances, to get familiar with the equipment and to figure out how to capture an image and have it look they way they intended.

This is so important, and in a lot of ways, it is a stage no photographer really leaves.  This is the way a photographer develops not only competency with the mechanics of a camera, but also their eye and photographic style.

If the photographic bug starts to stick, and the photographer wants take their photography beyond documenting their vacations and family, they may consider investigating what it would mean to move into fine art work.  At this level, the photographer tends to start looking at the work of established photographers they admire and begin working on a photographic series.  In the beginning, they may make work that roughly falls into categories (people, landscape, nature), but over time as they become seriously interested in pursuing exhibitions and other fine art photography opportunities, they begin to create more conceptual work based around a theme.

The distinction between a category and a conceptual theme is important in the world of fine art photography.  Contemporary photography dictates that strong work be about something.  So beginning to brainstorm project ideas and then go through the exercise of telling a full and compelling story in 20 strong images is a very significant step if your goal is to be recognized in this realm.  It is really difficult to tell a story in images where each image could stand on its own and the body of work as a whole does not feel repetitive or schizophrenic.

And then there is the level that I think of as truly “arriving” in the fine art world.  A photographer can create interesting bodies of work where all of the images fit together and feel strong and consistent.  But then there is the photographer who does this but goes beyond, because they are making work because they have to make it.

Finding a topic that hasn’t been done before is not the most compelling reason to create a photographic project.  Why is what you are saying significant and valuable?  How are you making the viewer see something in a way they wouldn’t see it otherwise?  How are you making them feel something unique or important?  What are you making them think about that deserves attention?  And above all, why is your voice the best one to transmit this information?

If you’ve got this figured out, you’re golden, and I want to know your work, because you are going to make me feel something.  And what other reason is there to look at art?


Looking for help getting to the next level with your work?  Read more here.


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My Mad Mimi Love Story

Long before I had a gallery or a Crusade, I started a small photography portrait business, Snapdragon Photography, specializing in babies and families.  I emailed about twenty people I knew who fit that category, and I was off.  After a while, my email list grew, until one day I sent a newsletter update, and someone on the list marked it as spam.  After getting shut out of my email for days, I learned about email newsletter companies and “spam regulations”. In the twelve years since, I have tried several different companies – most notably, Constant Contact and MailChimp.  Constant Contact was a beast, and the templates were not especially intuitive or creative-looking.  Everything I made looked like it was coming from a law firm.  At some point I switched to MailChimp.  I fully admit to being lured by that adorable monkey with the cute sayings.  I was happy with the look and usability of MailChimp, but as my email list grew, the fees were killing me.  Because the Constant Contact and MailChimp fees were comparable, I assumed all email marketing companies had a similar pricing structure.


A friend tipped me off to Mad Mimi.  For starters, it was half the price.  I had been paying $75 per month and now pay $36 (I have an 8,000+ email list – the free plan supports up to 2,500 contacts).  And after years of trying to scroll through a gazillion different template options that all felt complicated and not quite right, Mad Mimi’s platform was so simple.  Mad Mimi doesn’t use templates – you pick color and drag and drop, and the whole thing looks fresh and creative and won’t make you pull your hair out.  You can customize, but you don’t have to fit a square peg into a round hole.

And so one day I was creating a newsletter about the Crusade to send out through Mad Mimi, and I thought I would approach them to be a sponsor of the tour.  The fit just seemed right – they are innovating their field in a way that is simple, accessible and affordable.  They were super receptive, and it’s been gang-busters ever since.  And I’m so over the monkey.  That Mad Mimi girl is some kind of cute, and she’s going to look awesome on Lady Blue!



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.



How Not to Submit to a Gallery (part 2)

I tend to review gallery submissions in groups (read: either when I have a chunk of spare time to devote to it or when they have piled to a critical mass on my desk and can no longer be ignored).  Since I was taking a five hour flight to Oregon to lead a photographic retreat all about positioning yourself in the best way to get the most impactful exposure for your work, I figured it was a good time to dig in. I recently wrote this post on how to submit to a gallery (and how not to), so all of these do's and don'ts were already top of mind when I opened the first package.  Oh horror.  My biggest pet peeve - an unmarked disc in a cardboard mailer.  What was most striking though was that of all the submissions I reviewed on that flight, the one that was by far the least impressive in presentation (no note, no intro letter on paper or on the disc, a CV that looked and read like a student's, and just three jpegs with no explanation or artist statement) was from the most experienced person (a professor at an arts university).

Another person sent in a submission and apologized at the top of his CV for not having a gallery-worthy CV.  If you hear nothing else, hear this - it's all in the positioning.  First off, he had some solid exhibition experience.  Second, that is not the end-all, be-all.  If you are new to the game, spin that in your favor.  You are a new discovery!  Strong work, ripe for the picking!

Here is an example of how spin can be your best friend:

The other day I asked my son (he's eight years old) to feed the dogs.  He says, "but mom, I fed the dogs yesterday".  I say, "Jonah - I am giving you an exclusive opportunity to feed the dogs.  I haven't asked anyone else - just you.  Feeding the dogs is the most fun thing to do."  He says, "but I don't think feeding the dogs is very fun".  And I say, "Jonah, it's so fun.  I think you may be doing it wrong."  He says, "Ok, I'll try again".

There you have it folks.

But back to the first impression (no unmarked discs in cardboard mailers!!), here is a submission that impressed me before I even saw the work:

Great logo (that fits the character of the work), intro letter, awesome branded cd envelope, and a postcard with her signature image on it.  I had a solid vibe of the work and a great impression of her as a professional, committed artist before I even put the disc in my computer.  We have a call set up for next week.

And that's how to submit to a gallery!

Looking for help getting a submission packet together?  Read more here.



How To Submit To A Gallery (or how not to. . .)

I often get asked how to submit work to a gallery in a way that will be effective (seen by the gallery owner or director) and how to follow-up without being pushy.  And a while back, I posted this picture on facebook as an example of how not to submit to a gallery.

Just a few days later, I received this submission, which made me long for the origami-style wrapping of the former.  The cd just rolled out of the envelope onto my desk.  I was concerned I may be getting punked with a computer virus.

So if these fall solidly into the category of how not to submit, what is going to make your submission stand out in a good way?

Think backwards.  What is the end result you are looking for?  You want the gallery to be impressed with your work and want to feature it in a show or better yet, represent you.  So let me ask you this – with all of the amazing photography out there, would a gallery want to work with someone who is professional, thoughtful and organized or someone who sharpies their name on a cd and throws it into a cardboard mailer?

I am looking for a great working relationship with my photographers.  I am also looking for people who live and breathe their work.  I want you to want it, and I want you to sell it to me.  That’s the only way I can sell you to someone else.

Be thoughtful.  Put together a package that will impress the gallery with its presentation as much as its content.  I would love to read a letter, see an artist statement and bio and possibly a small print before I ever put a disc into my computer.  This example below was fun (which fit the work) and didn’t include a disc, just a link to her website (which I went right to and even tweeted about that day).

As for follow-up, I think touching base a month later by email to see if the gallery has had a chance to review the work you sent is appropriate.  If you met with the gallery in person either at a portfolio review or in their physical space (always preferred, always more impactful and memorable), a hand-written thank you note right after the meeting is appreciated and shows you respect their time and insight.

After the initial contact, many photographers add me to their newsletter mailing list, which is a good way to keep people abreast of new things that are happening with your work.  One photographer I reviewed at a portfolio review a year and a half ago sends me a beautiful card with a small print inside (her latest, typically) every 4-6 months to touch base.  It is thoughtful, professional, and shows she is committed to her work.  And ultimately, I ended up working with her.  Now that’s how to submit to a gallery.

More:  How Not to Submit to a Gallery, Part 2

Looking for help getting a submission packet together?  Read more here.



Instagram, Say It Isn't So

If you post pictures online, there is always fine print to wade through to determine who has rights to what and protect where your images can end up.  Some people post with wild abandon.  Others go to great lengths to make sure their images are fully in their control. So to people in the second camp, today's announcement from Instagram about it's new terms of service probably does not come as a shock.  The long and the short of it - they can use any image posted on the service for any purpose, as in, Instagram can get paid by an advertiser to use your image, and you will not be compensated or even asked.

This article from outlines the terms and tells you how to delete your account, should you decide choosing which filter best suits your plate of scrambled eggs was too much stress anyway.