So I’ve been trying, and failing, at getting another blog posted this month. Every time I try, I have either been sidetracked, too tired, or just can’t get the words together the way I’d like to. Today, however, I’m sitting in the airport in Oakland, California, waiting on the first leg of a trip home, so I don’t think there is a better time than now. Nothing like a flight delay to allow some free time! I had intended, the last few times I tried to post, to talk about something a little more conceptual. I still plan on tackling that subject, but for now I figured I’d just post a little update on what has been going, and why it is I’m sitting in Oakland.
In an attempt to get my work out and get some eyes on it, I decided to attend the PhotoAlliance Portfolio Review in San Francisco. The review is held at the San Francisco Art Institute, which is a beautiful place to be, especially with the amazing weather the weekend provided. Although the fee provided for 10 reviews over two days, I ended up with 11, and there were even opportunities to see some “roaming reviewers” at the last minute.
For anyone who has not been to a review, or is completely unaware of what they are, let me explain the process and what they are all about. This particular review, like many, has an initial list of people who will be doing the portfolio reviews. These reviewers are usually experienced individuals who have close ties to the photographic industry. Some of them are educators, photo editors, curators, or even printers; however, all of them not only have experience, but the knowledge to answer questions, give critical feedback, and possibly provide opportunities to the person having the review. From the list of reviewers, you are given a number of reviewers that you will be able to see. Sometimes the number varies by how much you want to pay, others are a set number and price. Before choosing your preferred reviewers, it is always advised to look all the reviewers up and learn about them. You don’t always want to see a reviewer that specializes in fashion when you’re a landscape photographer, although sometimes you can get some interesting, outside the box feedback this way. After picking who you would like to see, you eventually get your list of reviewers, and not always the ones you wanted. Don’t be discouraged if you get a reviewer you didn’t expect! One of the best sessions I had this past weekend came from the ONLY person I hadn’t initially requested.
The review process is a great way to get feedback from some people that one might not normally get access to. It also allows you with, usually, twenty minutes of uninterrupted time for these people to get a look at what you have been working on. You want to keep the body of work both tight and at a certain count of images. Usually it is recommended that you keep it to 20-25 images, but sometimes you can get away with a few more. Books can be brought, too, but you’ll sometimes have to decide if you want to focus on the book or the prints. Also, bring a notebook and be prepared to write quickly! If you have time between reviews, immediately go over your notes. The last thing you want to do is look at them at the end of the day and have no clue what you meant with your shorthand!
Of course, there are some obvious things to remember. As the reviewers are professionals, you need to be as professional as possible, too. Don’t be late, don’t overstay time, unless the reviewers is okay with it, and always thank them, no matter how you might feel. Reviewers don’t always get paid, and many times they are donating their time, so be respectful of it. Make sure you have something to leave behind, too, so that the reviewer can remember you. A business card or postcard with one of your images on it is more than enough, but sometimes you can go bigger. You’ll probably get a card from the reviewer as well, but if not, get an email address for email lists. And lastly, use that email address to send a thank you shortly after the review.
Going into the review, make sure you have questions prepared. It’s not always easy, it takes some extra time, and may need to be a different set per reviewer, but the more prepared you are, the more you’ll get out of the experience. While in the review, be sure to listen, but don’t be afraid to talk. Make sure, though, that you stay on point, you only have 20 minutes, and it can go by quickly.
Just like anything else, reviews can go well and, also, poorly. Understand, though, that reviews are subjective. The more reviews you have of one body of work, the more contradictory ideas will be thrown your way. The key is to take all of this feedback and apply it where you feel it works. No one is correct or incorrect, and everything is one person’s opinion. It is important to remember this, because at the end of the day, you can feel wiped out by the process. It can be an emotional rollercoaster, but you need to be sure to know that all the criticism is meant to be constructive.
The PhotoAlliance Review was done over a two day period, so it allowed me to do something I didn’t get to in the last review I went to. I was able to go back to my hotel, take the input that I got from the first day, and come up with a tighter set of questions and goals for the next day. You don’t always get that opportunity, but when you do, take advantage of it. As I said, it can be a little bit of a rollercoaster, even if the response is overall positive, so be sure to take time to decompress for a bit. Again, though, be sure to go over your notes and make sure all is understandable so that you can read it knowledgeably when your ready.
You never know what the review process will give you. You go into it with an idea of what you want to get out of it, and if you’re open, you most likely will get what you’re looking for. Sometimes, however, you can get more than you expected. The people that are reviewing you know people also, so don’t be surprised if you are given names of people who’s work you might benefit from looking at. You might even be given a connection you never would have had had you not had that particular reviewer.
I had a wonderful time in San Francisco and the people that put together the PhotoAlliance Portfolio Review do a wonderful job. The reviewers are top notch, and the venue is beautiful. If you ever decide to go, I hope that you end up having the same type of weather we had, as there is ample space outdoors to sit and meet others at the review. This review was by far one of the better experiences I have had and I hope that, for anyone looking into doing a portfolio review in the future, this helps give you some needed information.