Fine Art Photography Daily

The Filter Photo Festival: From Both Sides of the Table

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The Filter Photo Festival , which takes place in Chicago each September, was particularly special for me for several reasons.  I am a big fan of this festival and have made so many wonderful connections at it, and this year, my two Lenscratch Editorial Assistants, Sarah Stankey and Grant Gill, were able to attend the event, coming from Milwauke and Minneapolis to attend the reviews with portfolios in hand.  I thought it would be interesting for readers to get two perspectives on a review event, one from the reviewer (me) and from photographers sitting down for a review for the first time (Sarah) and the second time (Grant).  Their post will run tomorrow.

The Filter Photo Festival is always a stimulating and rich experience.  Over the years, I have come to know the very capable and hospitable staff and many of the Chicago-area photographers who return annually to partake in the line-up of events.  Each year layers new friendships onto the old and deepens the already established ones, and for me, those relationships take place on both sides of the table. This year I was particularly busy, having juried the Filter Festival Blow-Up Exhibition, then upon the invitation of photographer and educator Dirk Fletcher, I spent Thursday afternoon at Harrington College of Design giving a couple of lectures and meeting photographers. Friday morning, I taught a new workshop: Self Promotion: How to Start and When to Stop with Carrie McCarthy from the Santa Fe Workshops, and then jumped into three days of reviewing portfolios. And making sure that every moment was about all-things-photographic, each evening was rich with programming.

So I begin with an overview of the festival:
In addition to the reviews, every day (and night) was packed with activities. I arrived just in time to catch the wonderful lecture by Curtis Mann. Truly inspirational.


Wednesday night Curtis Mann lecture at
Harrington College of Art and Design
photograph by W. Tanner Young


Jennifer Greenburg lecturing at the Schneider Gallery
photograph by W. Tanner Young

Thursday night I was thrilled to hear my friend, Jennifer Greenburg discuss and share her terrific project, Revisiting History, at the Schneider Gallery. On the heels of her lecture, the Mapping: Borders, Bodies, Memories exhibition opened across the street at the David Weinberg Gallery. Curated by Paula Tognarelli of the Griffin Museum, it was a beautifully curated exhibition with a lively attendance.


The opening night of Mapping: Borders, Bodies, Memories
at the David Weinberg Gallery
photograph by W. Tanner Young


Gallerist and photographer, David Weinberg, Filter Executive Director, Sarah Hadley,
and Griffin Museum and Mapping Curator, Paula Tognarelli
photograph by W. Tanner Young

There were a wonderful array of lectures and workshops offered, several captured below..


Walker Blackwell, master printer at LATITUDE
demonstrating Pro Printing
photograph by W. Tanner Young


Debbie Flemming Caffrey presenting her workshop:
Sustaining Long Term Photographic Projects
photograph Erin Hoyt

I think that attending Photography Festivals are an important way of connecting with the photography community–relationships are built with fellow photographers, reviewers, and festival staff that begins to build into something meaningful. Several of the photographers that I met with this year, had shared their portfolios with me in previous years. I was able to see their growth and progression and get insight into new projects. Those images are now filed away in my visual Rolodex, to consider for future posts or curatorial projects. I also feel invested in the success of those I meet with.


Portfolio Reviews with Fred Bidwell
and photographer Alice Hargrave
photograph by W. Tanner Young

What photographers don’t realize is that the reviewers are nervous too. I understand the amount of time, effort, and financial outlay it takes to attend a portfolio review and I want to bring value to the 20 minute meeting. I feel a tremendous responsibility to help a photographer along their journey, whether it be by giving insights into the work, helping them see their work differently, suggesting new markets for the images, or championing their efforts. I am sometime amazed how unprepared a photographer is for the experience, but worse yet, is having 20 minutes with a photographer who leaves no time for conversation, who describes work that I can already see, who talks non stop for the entire 20 minutes (or doesn’t talk at all), and  is not open to new ideas and ways of seeing. It is clear to me why some photographers have so much success at portfolio reviews — they come prepared, are articulate, and excited for the review.


Nicole White, Assistant Director of the Schneider Gallery reviewing a portfolio
photograph by Erin Hoyt

Here are a few quick tips to help prepare for a portfolio review:
1. Know who your reviewer is, acknowledge them and what they do when you introduce yourself.
2. Let the reviewer know your name, where you are from, and how much work you will be showing them (“I have brought 3 bodies of work.”) Also let them know if the project is completed or unfinished.
3. State what the work is about and what your intentions were when making the work. Don’t hand them a statement and ask them to read it. You should know your work inside and out and it shouldn’t be hard to articulate something you have dedicated so much time to.
4. Practice.
5. Bring prints that can easily be seen on a smallish table. Over sized prints take way too much time away from the important conversation.
6. Come with questions–you should have different questions for each reviewer as each has a different expertise. Get all the questions you have answered, for example: How is my printing, what size might be best for exhibition, what edition sizes do you recommend? Does my work fit the as aesthetic of your gallery? How does your museum go about collecting work? Don’t be shy. You have paid for this time.
7. Have an open mind. Sometimes a reviewer will see you work in a whole new way. Allow yourself to listen and consider the feedback.
8. Bring a simple leave behind…reviewers have to bring everything home on a plane. Postcards are just fine. If the work is good, the reviewer will remember it.
9. Send the reviewer a thank you e-mail within a week of the reviews..once they are home and back in the swing of their lives, the memory of your review together will begin to fade. It you thank them a month later, you seem pretty lame and you may be a distant memory.
10. Some of the best relationships you will make will be with other photographers. Ask to see their work, don’t make it all about you.
11. If you are offered something wonderful at a review, keep it to yourself. Hate to say it, but not all things offered come to pass, and it’s obnoxious to other photographers to be touting your yet-to-be-achieved successes.


Friday Night Portfolio Walk, open to the public
photograph by W. Tanner Young

Tomorrow, Sarah Stankey and Grant Gill share their experiences as photographers at the festival.

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