My Experience at PhotoAlliance’s Portfolio Review

Barbara Hazen is a passionate photographer who recently turned her hobby into a career. She has been working with Stuart one-on-one for the past few years, and had a solo exhibit at The Image Flow  in 2012. As part of  an ongoing goal to challenge herself photographically, she entered her work into a highly competitive, national juried portfolio review… and was accepted!

Here is her story of the review experience:

Last weekend I attended the PhotoAlliance’s 7th annual Our World Portfolio Review in San Francisco. The event started out with a lecture by Leo Rubinfien on street photography. In his discussion, Rubinfien questioned the need for some to define street photography all too specifically and criticize it as a lesser form of art. Rubinfien showed a historical sweep of photographs taken in the past century including his own work and that of Garry Winogrand, while deconstructing these myths that have defined street photography. (The current exhibit of Winogrand at the SFMOMA was curated by Rubinfien.) It was a great kick off for all to begin a productive weekend of portfolio reviews.

Going to a portfolio review is not for the feint of heart. You must be prepared for all types of critic and comments about your work, both positive and negative, from people you may have never met. All participants received about 10 reviews from a variety of professionals in their field including educators, photographers, non-profit and commercial gallery and museum curators and directors, book and magazine publishers packagers and editors. Thom Sempere of PhotoAlliance carefully matched photographers with most of their chosen reviewers. In between the 20-minute reviews was an opportunity to meet other participants and see the large variety of work being presented from tintypes to scanned images and everything in between. We began to share our work, and help each other lick our wounds when a review did not go well. We began to form a new network of fellow photographers.

As a first time participant and a relatively new photographer I had allot to learn. I came well prepared with a manageable portfolio, leave behinds and business cards. Having my main portfolio was not enough however.  Every reviewer wanted to see more than one body of work, if not a few images shown at full scale for gallery viewing. Among other questions, they wanted to know my ‘story’ behind my portfolio and what I wanted from the review session. I quickly realized that I needed a tough skin to manage the indifferent and negative reviews, which in my case were frequent. Having an open mind and checking my ego at the door was key to a good meeting.  Understanding that these reviewers have seen thousands of images and portfolios before, I needed to be confident in my own work and take only the information that served me. It became apparent in the first few reviews, that my photography was not at the level that these professionals were expecting or hoping to see. I had to remind myself that the purpose of attending this review was to get out of the comfort of my local support, and see if my work resonated with a larger audience.  I was dealing with the big league, perhaps looking for a diamond in the rough. The best reviews came from individuals that respectfully looked at my portfolio, even if it was not a good fit for their venue, and then preceded to give me both criticism and encouragement, advise or suggestions on the direction of my work, or a person to contact.

It was actually the support and suggestions of my fellow participants, especially the seasoned photographers, that gave me the most encouragement and validation. We were all in the same position this weekend, presenting something new to these professionals, and hoping to get some traction in the larger art world. They had rejections just as I had, but recognized that this was common, shrugged it off, and went to the next reviewer.

Although the PhotoAlliance review was difficult in some ways, I view it as a positive jumping off platform for my future projects. I give myself credit for getting this far, and will use the advise and encouragement I have been given to enrich my work, while keeping my personal artistic bent my own. Next time I will come more fully prepared with multiple portfolios and a clear story to tell!  In short, this was a great experience, if not just the jolt I needed to reevaluate and push me forward as a photographer.

Barbara Hazen, March 2013

Related Posts