Having your work reviewed (part 3)


Contemporary Photographers

Another contribution, this one from Rick Olivier. If I receive further contributions, I’ll add them below this post.

Rick: “People attend these reviews, it seems, for two reasons: either to get feedback on a current project or to seek opportunities for a completed project (exhibits, publication, etc.). I was in the latter group. And although I did get some good ideas on whom I should approach with the work, what I ended up learning, really, was how much I DIDN’T know about the world of ‘Fine Art Photography’, and that would fill up a much larger space than what’s allowed here!
The usual pre-showing homework items are fairly well known and can be found pretty quickly on some of the excellent consultant sites like Mary Virginia Swanson’s. The only additions I can see that might help an aspiring photographer would be the following:

”- RESEARCH - if you’re lucky to attend a well-planned showing like photoNOLA3 you’ll have a brief bio on each reviewer that you can print out and bring to the show. Don’t forget to print it out! You’re still at the mercy of the ‘selection committee’ or ‘names in a hat’ or whatever method they’re using to match you up with your 8 or 12 (etc) reviewers so your research may be limited. The more of these names (and their work) you know going into the review the better prepared you’ll be.

”- PRESENTATION - I think it’s kind of silly to have a ‘spiel’ prepared like you’re selling brushes door-to-door, but you should be able to speak articulately about your work. (Name-drop ‘Barthes’ or ‘Derrida’ at your own risk.) I think it’s better to just let the work speak for itself right off. Concise answers seem to be appreciated. Don’t let your nerves cause you to blab on for the entire twenty minutes. Photographs aren’t made of words, after all. Your book or portfolio should be EASY to work through, not cumbersome. Naturally, you should be well dressed and not have body odor or bad breath or any hygiene issues.

”- EDITING - This is the toughest one for most photographers, myself included, and an area in which you stand to learn (and lose) the most. Like any other showing of your book, you are only as strong as your weakest image. You need to show only the BEST images. Less is more. If you want to show the entire (large) body, bring a book or secondary vehicle for that and show it later, some other time. My personal opinion is that your prints need to be STELLAR, not ‘work prints’. You’re spending a ton of money, why would you bring second rate prints? This makes no sense. You only have twenty minutes. Make it rock.

“The portfolio review can be a great motivational tool. It forces you to get serious about what you’re shooting and showing and editing. The best reviewers may hit you with some brutal honesty, observations your friends and family simply can’t see or wouldn’t say if they did. Your ‘inner child’ may take such criticism as a personal affront, but try to avoid indulging in this (or if you do, go ahead and grieve, scream, and gnash your teeth for a couple of weeks then be done with it… that’s my approach anyway… If you’re aware of what’s happening you’ll come out of it much wiser and have a clearer idea of how to proceed from there.)

“The biggest effect of my photoNOLA3 experience has been in showing me just how much I have to learn about the art/photo world of galleries, museums, and publications. I assumed that since I’ve actually been a working photographer for thirty years I could simply apply my current skill set of commercial marketing to a different group of people. Nope. What I’m learning is just HOW different this world really is from that of the commercial arena. Fortunately, this is feeling more and more like a real adventure the more I learn. I’m discovering a type of critical book I’ve avoided for decades, things [books] like ‘Image Makers Image Takers’ and, wow, they’re fantastic! Sure, much of it doesn’t make sense at first, or perhaps this is simply my calcified belief system being slowly shattered, but I’m just trying to accept that as part of the whole long-term educational process. And if you attended a review and weren’t challenged, didn’t have your eyes opened and/or your butt kicked just a bit you might feel cheated anyway. Go with it.”