Having your work reviewed


General Photography

Following my earlier request, Suzanne Revy kindly sent me some comments about getting your work reviewed at a portfolio review.

“I attended some reviews in Boston last spring, and then went to PhotoNola in December. I participated in Critical Mass, and I am planning to go to PhotoLucida this spring, after which, I expect that I will get off the review circuit for a couple of years.

“My experiences have been generally quite good. My very first review in Boston, I was offered a show! The second person who reviewed me was less than enthusiastic. I think my experience at the outset is unusual, and I think it’s important to keep one’s expectations realistic, wear your thick skin, and don’t take criticism personally. I think it’s important to research the reviewers to find those that you think will respond to your work. In fact, those first two reviewers seemed like good fit for my work, and I was interested in their response.

“I wouldn’t skip reviewers that you think won’t or can’t ‘do anything for you’. I met with a newspaper editor… I’m not looking to get into newspapering, but he gave me some valuable feedback on the work, as did a reviewer who ran a very good digital printing lab in Boston, and even though I am, for the moment, all film… I found his feedback about my work very illuminating. Occasionally, I have had a reviewer make comments that left me scratching my head, but in the end… I found after giving all the feedback some thought… I was able to really step back, and take a look at my edit and sequencing of the work, and make it stronger.

“The process of a day of reviews can be quite grueling. There’s very little time for lunch between reviews, and you can’t really brown bag it over everyone’s beautiful prints… so, have a good breakfast, and be prepared to be very hungry and tired at the end of the day! One of the most satisfying parts of the process, is sharing work with the other photographers. I quite like working and floundering on my own, but it can be inspiring to get together for a weekend with like minded folks, and take in their work.

“PhotoNola had a portfolio walk, which gave me the opportunity to meet some of the reviewers who would not be looking at my work. If you are going to do a weekend of reviews, make sure they host a portfolio walk. My only frustration with the portfolio walk was not being able to wonder around a little more than I did, to see all the work there!

“The reviews have opened some doors, for me, and all in all, I think it has been worth the time and expense, but I think doing them for a year is going to be plenty… I’ll have to get back to making pictures, and in a couple of years, if I feel confident with a strong new portfolio of images, then maybe I’ll play again.”

Having received this, I asked Suzanne how she approached reviewers:

“I decided to approach reviewers with a quick short couple of words about the work, though I’ve also had reviewers sit me down, and ask to tell me a bit more about myself before looking at the prints. I’ll let them know my goal for the work… essentially, finding wall space, make a few comments here and there about individual images as I go through the prints. I try to go through the images once, and then let them give me a response, if possible as I go back in reverse order to get the pictures back into the box.

“Of course, it’s great to have a positive response, and obviously that can feel good. That said, I had one reviewer say some stuff that seemed a little out there, and I wasn’t quite sure what to think… and I found myself thinking about what he said later, and incorporating some of those thoughts about the work as I went about shooting in the few months after that review. So, in the end… it was the critical feedback that stuck with me. Also, I had one day of reviews in Boston where two of the reviewers offered to edit the work. After that, for PhotoNola, I was a bit more careful with my sequencing, so I think it helped to have had the experience of being edited. I gained some insight into my own presentation.

“Lastly, with each review, I would ask, or learn about the reviewers organization, what they look for in photographs and photographs… how they operate. It’s as much an opportunity to learn about how a gallery, museum, magazine works for the reviewees. Always good to learn about them. For example, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to or whether I should offer a limited edition for my prints, and I got a great succinct answer to that question from a gallerist. It’s good to have a question that may confound you on your own… answered from someone with experience in an area new to me.”