Porfolio Reviews: The Other Side of the Table
I thought I pass on my ruminations from my recent experience of being a reviewer for Review LA through Center. Having only experienced reviews from the other side of the table, I had no idea how elating and grueling it is to be a reviewer. By the end of the day my eyes were literally burning and because I wanted to be completely present for each photographer (having spent their hard earned money on the review), I worked hard to stay engaged until the end. On Saturday, I met with 16 photographers back to back with 5 minutes breaks in between (and a lunch and longer breaks for the necessities of life). I spent the week before researching the photographers so that I could help them in the best possible way and give them concrete suggestions. By the review day, I was looking forward to seeing the work in person. I truly enjoyed the entire experience–from connecting with fellow reviewers, to meeting with photographers, and spending time during the Portfolio Walk connecting with more of our photo community.
If you are planning to attend a review in the future, here are some suggestions I’d like to pass on:
Take a few minutes and find a quiet place to write down what feedback the reviewers have given you. Trust me, you won’t remember everything unless you write it down. Or better yet, bring a little tape recorder.
Send the reviewer a thank you e-mail immediately, and if you want, you can follow up with a hand written card and additional materials you want to share. About a third of the people I reviewed contacted me within a day or two, and trust me, those are the people I will continue to have a dialogue with. Keep reviewers updated as to your progress and successes, but don’t take advantage of the connection.
Take a minute to thank the organization that hosts the reviews–seeing the tremendous effort that CENTER put forth to keep everyone organized, inspired, fed or hydrated, and happy gave me a new appreciation for how much effort it takes to run a top notch review.
Research your reviewer BEFORE you come to the review, ask them about their work, and make an effort to create a two sided conversation. They will appreciate knowing that you have an idea of who they are.
State your intentions as soon as you can. “I am looking to have this project made into a book” or “I am looking for gallery representation”…that way the reviewer can help you achieve your goals. At the same time, be realistic. If you are a beginner with undeveloped work with no track record, don’t expect a gallery to be interested. Build your resume, market your work, get published–those are the things (besides great work) that interest galleries.
Work on your prints. Your prints are ultimately what you will be selling. Great images that are poorly printed end up being just poorly printed and no gallery wants that. And if you can’t do it, get someone else to do the printing. And that’s not Costco.
Nothing happens overnight (on occasion it does!)—Museum and gallery exhibitions are booked out for sometimes up to 3-5 years. I am having a show 5 years after the reviewer saw the work…. patience is a virtue in this world.
If you don’t have a review lined up with someone you want to see, don’t assume they can see your work. Politely ask if there is a convenient time to share your work with them.
Remember that it’s not all about you. The more you network and show good will to other photographers, the more the world will open up for you. You can’t always be the prom queen, or even get invited to the prom, but you can celebrate those who do, because your turn will come and they will celebrate you.
This is very small insular community. Gallerists talk to curators, editors talk to gallerists, photographers share information regularly. How you conduct yourself is really important. Know your boundaries. Understand that gallerists are trying to make sales at events like Photo LA or at openings, they are not interested in seeing your work at that time. Show support, go to openings, meet people, and when the time is right, ask about the best way to show them work.
Remember that everyone is looking for the next new thing—that’s inevitable and make your peace with it. But also remember that building relationships and goodwill goes a long way too. If you make good work, beautiful prints, support your community, and show up READY, you will make your mark. And I’ll be cheering you on…
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