Photographers, teachers, curators that I deeply respect. I was proud to be considered as one of them – I sometimes have to remind myself : you have a gallery now!
Anyway I never thought too much about the portfolio review process, I saw it as part of the game and even if I’m not a big fan of collecting money from photographers (in any situation really), I like the idea of being part of the game.
Also Photo Alliance is a non-profit organization, (that does a lot for the San Francisco photo community by the way), and of course the reviewers are not paid to be present. So no one is here for the money, and no, you don’t get better reviews if you pay more!
This opportunity was a way to get more involved in the local photo community, ‘give back to the community’ as people like to say, meet talented people sharing my passion for photography and practice in real time and in face to face what I’ve been doing everyday for the gallery: reviewing photographers’ work.
Of course the main difference is the real time, face-to-face part of the review. It’s easy when you’re on your own, in front of a computer to browse through images and play the keep or ditch game, make comments in your head, criticise anything you want and click next when the work doesn’t appeal to you… not so easy when you’re in front of the photographer!
So how did it work?
2 days. Around 40 reviewers and more than 50 reviewees. Each reviewer has a list of 10/13 reviewees per day and I guess this also goes the other way round, each reviewee gets a chance to meet with more than 10 different reviewers a day. The reviewer stays in their room, while the reviewees come and go. 20 minutes per one to one, face-to-face session.
And the rest is up to each individual experience.
And each one is unique. 20 minutes can be extremely short when you connect with the person and with the work (or just when there are lots of photos in the portfolio…) It can also be painfully slow when the work doesn’t talk to you or gets you out of your comfort zone. Good thing that I have a tendency to talk a lot…
1. A few tips for reviewers (and myself next time): be honest
- First try to understand at what point of their career, their project, the photographer is. (Showing a complete body of work, looking for criticism and improvement, going back to photography after a few years, orientation on editing the work for a book or a show, etc…)
- Be honest – you have the right to not like everything you see and unless the person is only looking for approval or representation this is all right
- Try to formulate as clearly as possible your comments – good or bad, the review is not about if you like or don’t like what you see, it’s more about how you could help the photographer to make his work and his vision better
- It’s ok to not know everything about the history of photography or all photographic styles (we all have our weaknesses)– this is also about discovery and it’s ok to admit that the work is out of your comfort zone
- There is no right or wrong answer – People have feelings, like different things and so interpret differently what they see. There are no wrong interpretations (Art is not an exact science)
- To be more practical:
o You have the right to remain silent…while starting to look at the photographs! (Even if like me you have a tendency to avoid uncomfortable silence in every situation)
o There is no time to comment each individual photo so don’t.
o If you have the time, it’s easier to look at the complete project or
portfolio once before formulating your feedback – it gives you more time to think and better articulate what you’re going to say
o First comment on the overall project and then you can come back to some particular photos in more details.
- In most cases I think you can select your reviewers, so research who they are before meeting them and if possible make sure your work is relevant to who they are and what they do
- Know why you’re doing this and what your expectations are – I think you should start by explaining your purpose to each reviewer as an introduction to your work (representation on a finished project, way forward, doubts, advice on editing the work, etc…)
- Learn to express orally your ‘artist statement’ or ‘project statement’. Know how to explain in few simple words what your project is about, why this project, etc… Simplicity here is key - it’s not the time or the place for a long philosophical speech…
- Prepare some precise questions for each reviewer – about your work, about your doubts, or about how what they do can be pertinent for you
- Select the right amount of photos for your portfolio – Keep in mind you have 20 min, I would say that 40 is too much while 10 is too little. You need to leave enough time for the reviewer to see everything but you also need to give them a good sense of your work.
- Look after the presentation. Think about the sizes (and no, the bigger not necessarily the better) it all depends on the work and on the experience you want to share – very personal work, large landscape…
For too long we have given the camera too much power to determine what the art actually is. I see evidence of this in the obsession with equipment. It should not be the camera that determines what the art is, we should be.
After spending a century establishing the possibilities in this medium, and working toward its acceptance as fine art, might it be possible for us to now declare that we are more than mechanical technicians? Can we now free ourselves to focus on a higher plane of artistic pursuit, the real challenge being what do I have to say with these photographs?
“'If people want to be celebrated for being smart or for having exceptional taste that’s all fine and good, everyone can go right on congratulating one another in their little mutual admiration societies. But please spare the rest of us all this moralizing on why we should be giving people who share links anywhere near the same amount of credit we afford that singularly special act of original content creation.'”—
“Kristen Hileman, curator of contemporary art and department head of the Baltimore Museum of Art, says that while she wasn’t overly aware of the definition creep of “curate,” she’s fine with one field borrowing terminology from another: “In fact, it is intriguing to think there is something so evocative in the vocabulary describing my job that others want to use it to articulate their own abilities or services. One of the legacies of 20th-century art has been a thorough appropriation of the everyday, so how could one object to the non-art world stealing something in return?”—Are DJs, Rappers and Bloggers ‘Curators’? (via photographsonthebrain)
As a creative and progressive community of photographers, we can work to extend the strengths of crowdfunding. The new arts economy requires, more than anything, social connections. (…)
An easy first step for all of us to take to work on this issue is to take the initiative to form the social connections that are crucial for the new economics. Search out sites that promote photographers from countries and cultures less frequently seen - Greater Middle East Photo, We Take Pictures Too, Invisible Photographer Asia, and Kilele for example. Connect with the artists you discover there. Be proactive in communications with them to create a stronger, more cross-cultural online photography world - establishing these connections will begin to bridge the divide that is leaving the majority of our fellow photographers unable to use the powerful tools of the new economics.
Photographers are witnesses to………………..well to be perfectly honest I’m often not quite sure. Are you?
You might think you are recording ‘the truth’ but all you are recording is a moment, one single piece of the bigger picture. And sometimes that ‘moment’ might seem to be the reality of the situation, the one you take away and which defines that experience for you and for others, but which is in fact wildly inaccurate. So, I’ll let you into a secret…..the real decisive moment, the most important one, is the moment when you decide to leave a ‘situation’, or to stay and see what else happpens…that moment, more than any other, may decide what the true ‘reality’ of your experience will be, and the memory and images you take away from it.
Decisive moments don’t just define your pictures, they define the richness of your life.
The decisive moment, John Macpherson on duckrabbit
What we talk about when we talk about photography. (…) The phrase seems to imply that photography, like love, is one of those irrepressibly miscellaneous topics of conversation that can’t help opening up, in a rather unruly way, into other topics even as one tries to discipline one’s thoughts into some sort of purity and rigour.It is as if one can only talk about photography by talking about other things, as if any proper conversation about photography is necessarily an improper one. (…)
Photography must create its own access to a whole universe of reference – allusions, echoes, resonances and reflections – drawn from the myriad worlds of the other arts, determined by the peculiar character of the individual photographer’s inner life and circumstances.
by Aveek Sen on still searching blog, Photography: A Promiscuous Life, Part 1
I am deeply disturbed that the only thing we want to really get concerned about is something we can quantify, something we can put in terms of dollars and cents. Every one of us knows that the things that are most important to us cannot be measured in that way.
So, if you haven’t loved a tree enough (if not to hug it, at least to want to walk up to it and touch it as if you’re touching a profound mystery) — if that experience has eluded you — I feel bad for you because you’re not going to live a happy life.
Robert Adams ‘Turning Back’
”—From the interview: “Turning Back” published in ART21.org – 10/28/2007 (via landscape-stories)
“When I was just starting out, I met Cartier-Bresson. He wasn’t young in age but, in his mind, he was the youngest person I’d ever met. He told me it was necessary to trust my instincts, be inside my work, and set aside my ego. In the end, my photography turned out very different to his, but I believe we were coming from the same place.”—