The Filter Photo Festival: Both Sides of the Table Part 2
Today, Lenscratch Editorial Assistants, Sarah Stankey and Grant Gill, reflect on their experiences being on the other side of the reviews at this year’s Filter Photo Festival. Both had their portfolios reviewed and both began to understand the value of networking with reviewers and fellow photographers.
First, Sarah Stankey’s impressions:
This was my first year participating in the Filter Photo Festival and now I plan on attending every year in the future because it was so rewarding!
For me, I was slightly nervous bussing to Chicago without all my classmates, teachers and other familiar faces that I had become accustomed to being around while attending school. This felt like my first event as an artist and not as a student.
Because of festivals like Filter, I feel like I can live in a small city like Madison, that doesn’t offer a huge photography community, and still keep up the essential relationships needed to inspire my work. I decided to volunteer at the event, which was the best decision I could have made. It created the path that led me to meet so many new people. From other photographers, to reviewers to Filter staff members.
The other huge benefit to volunteering was a complimentary portfolio review. This was only my 3rd professional review and my first as a graduate. Being nervous is normal which is why I find it so essential to do prep work. I spend time researching my reviewer, writing down questions and practicing my elevator talk. 20 minutes is a really short time but it could seem like forever if neither person has anything to say. Don’t explain unnecessary aspects of the work, just quickly and efficiently say who you are, what the work is, and what the goals are for the work. Like I said, this was only my 3rd review, but after practicing all of these things, it was a better experience than I could have possibly expected going into it. I left with a new understanding of my work and inspiration to leave the weekend with.
My tips for attending festivals:
1. Don’t bring huge prints, they are not fun to carry around and there will not be a lot of space to view them
2. Don’t bring prints you are cautious of allowing people to touch
3. RSVP to lectures, reviews and the portfolio walk if it is offered, almost everything was filled
4. Research people who will be attending the event so that you have something to say upon meeting them
5. Talk to people! Once I got out of my shell, I had a great time.
6. Expect to get very little sleep all weekend, but it will be worth it!
– Sarah Stankey
And now from Grant Gill:
I am not new to the photo review scene, though I have not gone further than Chicago to get one. This was my second time attending Filter Photo Festival, and the first time as a professional. That word – professional – it still seems strange to say. As if four years in undergraduate has given me the courage to start seeing myself as a working artist. I believe this is why I went to Filter this year. I didn’t go just to get feedback, and make connections, but really to begin the transitional phase between student and artist.
I was lucky enough to still qualify for the student discount at Filter this year, but this narrowed down the pool of reviewers significantly. I didn’t mind, in fact it allowed me to research some professionals that I had never heard of before. My thoughts on choosing reviewers had a hierarchy that started with gallery owners and directors, then professional photography reviewers, ended at art critics, and excluded professionals that were primarily working as artist. Because my focus was geared towards inquiries about exhibition, I really wanted to start meeting as many contacts that I could, and I felt meeting with gallery owners and directors was best way to achieve this.
Ironically, fear of judgment is a constant problem while talking about my work in such professional situations. I spent most of my drive to Chicago worrying about the “what ifs”, but my nerves quickly faded that day after walking into my first review when I saw Michael Weinstein’s yellow bandana on top of his head. Maybe it was just because it was unexpected, or because yellow bandanas are funniest of all bandanas, but I went into that review smiling and confident as ever.
The rest of the reviews followed with ease, and even some excitement. My review with Kyohei Abe, the director of the Detroit Center for Contemporary Photography, was formulated into two parts. My goal strictly was to familiarize Kyohei with my work in hopes that it would leave a lasting impression, and lead to a further relationship. In no way did I ask about a solo show (I’m not that forward), but this was the first time I really tried pressing an agenda into a review. I was interested in his opinion on how to get my work out there, showing in galleries or in centers like the DCCP. The conversation went back and forth between professional suggestions and comments about my work. He really encouraged me to submit to various things, in which slowly my name and images will begin to be remembered.
Networking is huge during events and reviews like Filter. Part of me felt like I was in a single’s bar mingling in the lobby before my reviews, and even speed dating during the portfolio walk. Lots of names and business cards went flying around, and sometimes it’s hard to keep track of who you’ve met. It’s important for myself to always remember faces and names, and taking note of who is who at these events. Nothing is worse than forgetting someone that remembers you.
One of the most important things with reviews is to not waste a minute. I see a review as solely my time, and I want to be in full control of how the conversation flows. At my first review, it was frustrating when the photographer before me extended into my time. This is a grey area for me still, and while I waited to speak with Michael Weinstein I eventually had to impose making it known I was there and ready. Luckily, when I finally sat down to talk with him, I was completely satisfied with our conversation. His thoughts on my work, specifically about the installation and written form, were key to how I see my work beginning to function in any space.
The weekend ended on a really great conversation with Nicole White, Associate Director of the Schneider Gallery in Chicago. When I read her bio, and viewed her website, it was clear that our similar interests would prove to be valuable. Though, it was late, and I was beginning to feel the drain of the weekend. I have been let down in the past by meeting with reviewers towards the end of their sessions, sitting through lackluster conversations, and just not making a connection. This did not happen with Nicole. The ability to converse with such ease is always a pleasure when receiving a review. Not only was our interaction personable and warm, it also provided me with much pending research, and a further contact to reach out to.
My overall experience at Filter was brilliant, and proved to be an immense help after recently graduating. I would like to thank Filter Photo Festival for another great event this year, allowing me to continue to learn, and housing an environment for success.
– Grant Gill
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