Portfolio review events geared toward photographers have proliferated in recent years, and they’re “a great place to meet a peer group, and start a dialogue about your photographs,” says photography consultant Mary Virginia Swanson. But at a cost of several hundred dollars, not including travel expenses, portfolio reviews are an investment. In this video Swanson offers tips about how to get the most out of a review, including information about how to select reviewers, how much work to present, and some of the questions to ask reviewers about opportunities to sell or license your work.
Portfolio reviews can be costly or, depending on what you make of them, cost effective. This idea—set forth by Center For Photography at Woodstock Executive Director Ariel Shanberg—was the focus of a panel this afternoon at Photo Plus Expo that aimed to help attendees understand how they can maximize their time and money during portfolio review events.
Shanberg was joined on the panel by creative consultant Mary Virginia Swanson and moderator WM Hunt, a photography collector and former gallerist. The three spoke of their appreciation for portfolio reviews and their atmosphere of discovery, where reviewers are excited to find and discuss new work that they can share with others in the photo community. “If you strike a chord [with a reviewer], they will become your advocate and refer you [to others] and try to help you,” Hunt told the photographers in the audience.
Each reviewer gave examples of photographers whose work they reviewed and were amazed by, but they also offered a host of practical tips that should help photographers make the most of these 20-minute “speed dates” with editors, collectors and curators:
Mary Virginia Swanson described several different portfolio reviews but also pointed out that her article in the new issue of Emerging Photographer magazine had information and listings of several top portfolio reviews, as does her blog, here.
Swanson suggested that photographers consider bringing a tape recorder and—with the reviewer’s permission—recording their reviews rather than taking notes so they could engage more fully with the reviewer.
She also recommended that photographers ask at the end of a review if the reviewer would like to be kept informed about the photographer’s work, and if so, how (via email, print cards, phones or discs with images….). Swanson further suggested that the photographer should ask what to put in the subject line of the email to be sure to get the reviewer’s attention.
The thickness of a photographer’s portfolio is often inversely proportionate to the quality of the work, Hunt said. He explained that the most serious, confident and thoughtful photographers have the thinnest portfolios because they have refined their work.
On the subject of how much work to show, Shanberg suggested that there is a polite limit of 20 prints. You may want to show more to a book publisher who wants to see that you have 80 images for a book, or reviewers might want to see more work if they are excited about it, but putting a white piece of board as a divider in your portfolio to suggest that a reviewer can stop after 20 or so images is welcome, Shanberg said.
Swanson added that bringing multiple bodies of work to a 20-minute review is fine as long as the photographer is comfortable with the idea that they will spend the whole time watching the reviewer look at work instead of engaging in a discussion.
The panelists and moderator agreed that following up with a handwritten, physical note of thanks made a big impression. Swanson shared an anecdote about photographer Dave Anderson, who made notes at a portfolio review of which image each reviewer he saw liked, and then sent the reviewer a note with that image.
Swanson encouraged the audience to be similarly thoughtful about their leave behind pieces, whether they are cards, accordion folds, small handmade books or other pieces. Make the text style and branding consistent with your website and other materials, and choose an image or images that will easily remind the reviewer of your work.
Shanberg encouraged the audience to think of the review process as the start of a longer conversation, and reiterated the idea that although a reviewer may not give you an exhibition or publish your work themselves, each one has the potential to nominate you for a grant or fellowship, or recommend your work to an editor or curator.
-If you are at your first review, tell the reviewer, that so they can help you manage your 20 minutes better [Mary Virginia Swanson]
-When in doubt, shut up. Which means that talking too much suggests nervousness and distracts the reviewer [WM Hunt]
-Don’t ask what the reviewer wants to see; they don’t know you and can’t answer that. Show them what you are most excited about [Shanberg]
-Don’t hand a reviewer an artist’s statement and ask them to read it. Why would they read it when they can just hear directly from you? And it shows you aren’t confident speaking about your work [Swanson, but echoed by the group]