I rarely get a chance to review portfolios. In the past year I’ve only had one chance, so this coming opportunity at Fotoweek DC is a gem I’m very much looking forward to. What I like about reviewing is seeing how someone will take something they love, something that is so important to them and encapsulate all of it into a very small, edited, edible size. It isn’t easy, but that is the point. HOW someone does this is also very interesting. What do you present? How much? And in what form will you deliver the work?
If you haven’t had your work reviewed I can’t emphasis how important this is. What is the difference between showing your work on an iPad and showing a box of prints? What about a book? How many images do you show? What if someone sees something they like? Should you have extra work in reserve? What should you leave behind? Are you prepared for rejection? All of these questions are a starting point for being reviewed. Also, choosing the right reviewer is a key element.
The last time I had my work reviewed, for real, I was completely and utterly unprepared. Completely. I was showing the work you see here to book publishers, and beyond being able to answer the question, “What is your name?” I was unable to answer a single question in relation to this work. Who is the audience, Italians or Italian Americans? Where should the book be printed? How many copies? What size book are you thinking of? How many pages? What paper? Who is going to write the forward? Are you prepared to have shows in NY and LA entirely on your own? Etc, etc, and perhaps most importantly, do you have “X” amount of money upfront?
This was me…”Ahhh, I don’t know?”
My advice, learn from my mistakes.
The reason I included these particular images is that they are all portfolios from the exact same body of work, but each portfolio was designed for a certain type of review, or a certain situation where I might end up showing the work. And these are ONLY the print versions. Let’s not forget I have these images on my phone, website, etc. After having created these different versions there were a few that immediately began to stand out. The large print box (13×19),the smallest print box(3.5×5) and the smallest book(7×7) were the items I used the most. The iPad was, and is, the version I use the least. For some reason I don’t think work is considered the same way with the iPad that it is when showing prints or a book.
However, the phone has worked very well because the size actually brings people closer to work. The phone is like printing tiny prints which force the viewer to get close, as opposed to wall size images that actually physically make people back away. All of these dynamics are changing with the current explosion of viewing options. This is a good thing.
There are several things I would advise. First, you don’t need massive prints. I see this once or twice every time I’m at a review. Occasionally this can work but in many cases the idea of handling massive prints becomes an obstacle, and with twenty minutes total, most of the time it doesn’t work that well. And, if you are going to make massive prints make double sure your imagery requires this size print. I see a lot of work printed huge for no particular reason other than we now have the capability of doing so. As a reminder, my box of 3.5×5 prints has been as well received as anything I’ve ever done.
You also don’t need to show a huge number of images. Most of the time I’m going to see what I need to see within about ten images, twenty maximum. It’s great to have work in reserve, so if something strikes someone you can pull out the backup.
Finally, I think it’s best to have a user friendly portfolio. I know there is something museum like about white gloves but I don’t want to wear them and I surely don’t want you to have to sit there and turn the prints for me. At my last review I was approached by several people with white gloves and STACKS of prints. STACKS. Once they began turning prints, without me touching or feeling anything, I was so ready to say, “Okay, DONE,” but I’m too polite and endured the print onslaught. However, after about ten prints I was only thinking about how to get out of the review. And people I’m a “build you up, look for the positive” type reviewer, not the “break you down, focus on the negative” kind of reviewer.
Ultimately, in addition to all these physical or electronic options at our fingertips lies the all important reality that as an “artist” we MUST to able to TALK about our work. Did I mention how important this is? I might look at a body of work and think, “Not my thing,” or “Not sure what to say about this” but when the photographer can clearly state their intentions their goal and their influences, feelings, reason, etc., it allow me to sometimes see the work in a new way. When I learn the “why” I can sometimes aim the photographer in a direction I might not have otherwise been able to do.
And just to emphasize my obsession, I’ve included this image of me TALKING about this same work. Don, if you are out there, I think you shot this but let me know if I’m wrong about that.
Enjoy the review process, it’s one of the most interesting things we can do with our work. Take the lows and the highs and chop them off. Most will walk away somewhere in the middle, which is my experience isn’t such a bad place to be.