Portfolio Reviews – my experience

New Industrial Space - untitled 5

Having completed a day of portfolio reviews the day before at the Palm Springs Photo Festival, I would like to share my thoughts about the entire process, especially for those who have not been through one, but are considering it.

The portfolio review concept is based on you being able to meet with someone who’s opinion might mean something to you.  You would like to show your work and then received some great (valuable) feedback about it. And of course be invited to exhibit or be represented or get a book contract.

And the reality is very different, but for some, it may happen. The trick is, if you don’t go and participate, for sure it will not happen.  Kinda of like winning the lottery, you have to at least buy a ticket. And I believe and subsequently found out, that your success at a portfolio review is also related to your preparation. Previously I had read an article by Mary Virgina Swanson about preparing for a portfolio review, but I am unable to provide the link (anyone?) to the excellent article. But her bottom line: be prepared. So I will now elaborate on my preparation process and what happened.

First a warning, I also happen to be a professional project manager for over twenty years, so I can get very detailed and anal, especially since I am also an engineer, but I will try to keep to the highlights and summarize versus the gritty nick picky details. But for some of you, this may seem like overkill. Probably is, but then again as you read, it did get results;- )

So here is the portfolio context: I have one day to attend out of the 4-1/2 available, I want to hear the afternoon panel discussion on the state of the Art, and its going to cost (all USD) me $60 to just attend, plus $250 for 5 reviews. That breaks down to $50 per review, which lasts 20 minutes. I think of this as buying part of a consultant’s hour, who charges $150 per hour. Pricey, eh?

So for me, the go or no-go on doing this review was my question: For Monday, can I talk with at least 5 individuals who I think will be of help to me and in the future? But even first, what did I want to accomplish?? I needed to understand my end game in order to make my choices, other wise it’s Alice and the Cheshire Cat all over again.

So my take-away goals, in order: 1. Networking and referrals, because in my day job, I don’t see the gallery owners, directors and those who make the exhibition decisions. 2. Book publisher referrals, those who make the decisions as what to publish. 3. Gallery representation referrals for non-exclusive representation.

And for Monday, I identified at least 9 or 10 individuals who I thought could help me reach my goals.  Thus time to move on to the next step; research on the galleries, museums and individuals in order to establish my priority (aka force ranking) of who I want to see most (first) to how I would like to meet with least. And I chose a mix of magazine publishers, gallery owners and museum directors/curators. So Monday did look like it could meet my needs and so I made the decision to go and sign up for the portfolio reviews.

So the question of who to see was addressed, but now, what to show?? Again, preparation. I knew that I was going to provide a nice take-away for each reviewer, a signed copy of my recent publication in LensWork #74. So I did not need to show them the prints from the Bad Trip – Sad Trip (In Passing) series. BUT just in case, I brought with me the A/P prints from that series that I was working with for my Bad Trip – Sad Trip Edition Folio, which turned out to be a very smart move as you will see later. I did not want to show my Foundations Edition Folio either, but likewise, I kept my A/P of that in my backup bag as well, and that also turned out to be a very smart move.

So then it was down to the various series in progress and I decided it would be one of those from China and the series Open During Construction(Zhao Chang Ying Ye) was the most developed of the three series and I had the corresponding images up on my web site. From the images for this series, I had decided to narrow the selection down to 12 prints, but keep the other images in my backup bag, but I did not end up needing these. I selected the 12 images that I felt provided a broad interpretation of my series. And I kept the images to 12 because 1. I did not want to spend too much of the 20 minutes having someone look at the prints, versus discuss the images and my interests, and 2. they see lots of images and will probably make a very quick assessment of where I am and what they are interested in with just 12 (also confirmed by the Virgina Swanson article I mentioned earlier).

Last, the presentation of the images, how printed, what size and how presented. I have a folio cover that I use as the proof for my Edition Folios that could carry the images and make the prints presentable. Which means that the prints were going to be 8-1/2 x 11″ with an approximate 7 x 9″ image. Nice to hold and look at (thank you Minor White!). And since they could get beat up, I printed the images on my proof paper, Epson Professional Presentation Matte, which I think was another good choice. Each reviewer gave a sign of relief when told that these were review prints that did not need special handling (e.g. white gloves, etc). Their emphasis was on the images.

Oh, and time management, as 20 minutes will haul ass if it was not carefully thought about. So here was my plan, 3 minutes for personal introduction, figuring 5 – 7  minutes to have them look at the prints (I want them to handle the print and stop were they wanted to provide comments) and 10 minutes to discuss my work, their thoughts and ask for referrals. Looked good on paper!

Okay, so what happen?? Here is my summary of the reviewers in the order they occurred;

Houssein Farmani, Director of Farmani Gallery (LA), Lucie Awards, my first priority and first choice (I was early in the sign up process, another preparation item, eh?). Most remembered comments; he had stopped immediately to continue looking at the image with this post, and then quietly said that this was very beautiful and that I had a sense of space that was very Japanese. And that I he sees how I handle space in a similar way with the diverse images within this set of 12. That my series of industrial (his emphasis) urban landscapes was excellent and unique. Takeaway: gave me a personal referral to a book publisher to consider this series for publication. very nice. At this point, I felt the portfolio reviews had paid for themselves.

Laurie Frank, owner/director Frank Pictures Gallery (LA), second priority and second choice. So far, so good. Remembered comment: She thought the urban landscapes were very beautiful and she also stopped to look longer at this same image in this post. hmmmm. But I was not a good fit for her gallery as she felt that my images required a more sophisticated photography buyer, her artists was more figurative and Hollywood oriented and she was not as comfortable with landscape work. And she recommended that I meet with Houssein Farmani. Wow, that confirmed my first choice was right on. Take away; good feedback on my images and continued networking. Oh, and since Laurie was running late and almost did not make it, Holly Hughes, Editor of Photo District News also did the review with us. Holly wanted to talk to me more about China later. nice.

Tim Anderson, publisher/editor CameraArtsmagazine, my third choice and third review, not bad. Prologue, while waiting for some of the reviews to start, Tim came early and sat down next to me. So we spent about 20 minutes just casually talking shop before the reviews began. A very nice thing about the relatively small and casual conference, accessibility. Featured comments: Very much liked the China urban landscape photographs and commented on my consistent and distinct use of space within the photographs, much like a fingerprint, such as you almost can’t help yourself. hmmm.

As we had talked earlier about LensWork coming off the retail shelves, he then did a quick look at my LensWork #74 copy I gave him and remarked that my sense of space was evident in this series as well. When he gave me a copy of his current CameraArts magazine, I asked him to sign it. He stated that his personal signature was almost a symbol and I told him about my personal chops (stamps) that I had made in Shanghai, which he asked to see. So I pulled out my Foundations Edition Folio and showed him my red chop that I use. He then did a quick fan of the Edition images and then the take away, he requested that I send the Foundations Folio as submission to his magazine. Oh wow. Now this is not a sure thing, but means I was at first base and rounding to second. very nice.

Kevin R. Miller, Director of the Southeast Museum of Photography (Florida), my fifth choice and fourth review. In preparation, I could not find the SouthwestMuseum of Photography, but I figured, Southwest, that’s still relevant. But I had been sucked in my a typo, he was the Southeastnot Southwest. But networking is networking, it was all good for me. Now Kevin was the third person to stop on his own accord for the image with this post. hmmmm, a trend. He also noticed that I have a unique sense of space, almost Oriental. hmmmm, a second trend is occurring. But then since I had mentioned my series in LensWork from my intro, he wanted to look at those images. So after a quick look at the magazine, he thought that these were very interesting images. When I asked if he would like to look at my actual prints, he jumped at the opportunity, so we spent as much time with the Bad Trip – Sad Trip series images. Take away: he requested a few images of my China series for his reference files as well as using the copy of LensWork I had provided. He also commented that the bigger museums work on a five year planning horizon, so this was a long term relationship. Okay with me!

Tim B. Wride, independent curator, prior curator of photography for Los Angeles Museum of Art, Director of the No-Strings Foundation, and my sixth choice, fifth review. Featured comment was the first question he asked me, that was yesterdays post. And he stopped at the image with yesterday’s post as well. He thought that the image from yesterday should be the basis of my on-going project about Chinese industrialization and industrial urban landscape. That term industrial urban landscape again. And again about my use of space in my photographs reflecting my Chinese landscapes and how that seemed to carry through my series. Was this term about use of space a cliche or really evident in my work?? I will go with the later opinion, that there is something intrinsic about my use of a camera in capturing my images. My take away, to continue working on this series.

Okay, final thoughts, eh? This was a big investment in time and resources for me. I did not come into this with high expectations and would have been very satisfied in achieving the introductions, conversations and some referrals. I had expected to hear some conflicting advice about what I was doing and how I was doing it, which did not occur. And in fact there was conscensus on my use of space within the form of the picture, as well as favorable reaction to my series. No comments that the paper was on matte, the size or that it was in color.

And I did receive a referral to a publisher, request for a magazine submission, and a request for reference prints for a Museum and some really nice and thoughtful feedback. And I found out that I was not a good fit for a specific gallery and that I should continue on with this series. All great information. Beyond my expectations, so it was very nice indeed. 

Best regards, Doug

Follow up note: Planning was a good idea and I think having a reviewing strategy paid off very well, 12 images was about right, and using good quality work prints was not a stated issue, so I think that was a good decision as well.

10 thoughts on “Portfolio Reviews – my experience

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  1. Katie, could you elaborate on your experiences a little more: good stuff, bad stuff, lessons learned?


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