How to Survive and Conquer at Portfolio Reviews
Posted on October 27th, 2012
This first post from Sari Goodfriend:
Featuring Ariel Shanberg from Woodstock Center for Photography, Mary Virginia Swanson, Independent Consultant, W.M. Hunt, Curator, Gallerist and Collector
I wasn’t able to be at this panel from the beginning so when I walked in, Ariel was showing some work from Klea McKenna – unfolded paper airplanes that have been exposed to light. He told the audience that as a reviewer, he wants to fall in love with a body of work and emphasized repeatedly the importance of prints as opposed to iPads or laptops.
MVS ( aka Swanee) mentioned that she appreciates when people tell her it’s their first review. She said photographers should tell her what they want to get out of meeting with her
Hunt then bluntly advised the following behavior when showing your work: “when in doubt, shut up.”
He doesn’t care about what you think of photos, what matters is what his reaction is.
All the panelists concurred that you shouldn’t hand them a printed artists statement. You are there to talk about the work. They’d rather hear you speak about your work (if asked, of course…).
Hunt again: “Don’t ask what the review wants to see- they don’t know you, they just want to be amazed.”
Ariel: Polite print count is 20
Swanee: Use the time carefully and don’t overload with too much work. Plan out exactly the 20 minutes.
Hunt: The energy you radiate even approaching the reviewer is important.
Ariel: It’s a first date- don’t immediately tell people stories.
Hunt: We don’t want to see work in progress. We want to see what you do at the height of your powers. Only later is it good to show works in progress. Prepare everything 6 months in advance so you are super organized.
Swanee said she actually doesn’t mind seeing work in progress or when people are starting a project, but then again, she is a consultant and Hunt is a curator.
She continued: “Tell the reviewer whether you are looking for advice or trying to get exposure. Don’t use the review as a critique – get that from your community.”
Ariel: “Camera clubs or review groups are best for that. Woodstock hosts a monthly photo salon, or start one in your community if you don’t have one.”
All agreed that you shouldn’t approach reviewers if they are not on your list because they are tired after seeing so much work. Unless it happens organically, don’t be that annoying person.
In other words, particularly if you live in the same city as the reviewer you missed, it’s a good idea to contact them independent of the review. For example, if you write to them after the review with a polite note saying you hadn’t been lucky enough to meet with them but you would like to know if they could see if you privately sometime, you may actually have a chance to do it.
Hunt: You can meet anyone once. Twice is hard…
Question from the audience asked about showing different media forms. Panelists all answered that yes, it’s fine if you do it in an efficient and organized way so you don’t end up wasting your entire 20 minute review just showing a video. They all like to see “Photographers as thinkers. “
Ariel: Photo as a tool to explore the world – environment, geographic, etc…
Hunt: Being in the world of photography demands a lot of homework, but there’s a fast learning curve. Speak with other reviewees. That said, one’s first review is “usually a mess.”
Swannee: “I don’t mind being the reviewer for someone’s first review – I will coach people on what they should show.” Also, “most people want a book and a show and haven’t thought about different options for their work.” She will help you look in different avenues.
Hunt‘s parting wisdom:
” Be Real, Present, Modest, Fun. Do not bullshit the reviewers. Answer questions directly – Show you can think.”