Photography Portfolio Review Experience, Tips and Process
En Foco is a 25-year old non-profit dedicated to cultural diversity in photography. One of the many programs they offer to support photographers of Latin American, African and Asian descent are their portfolio review sessions.
Newbie jitters made me nervous as hell of the portfolio review process. Deep down every photographer wants acceptance of and praise for their work. Any rejection from these esteemed photography professionals might make one feel like your hours of shooting were just a waste of time (and money); truly validating natural insecurities that deny your talent.
Yet the main take away from these review sessions is that they are what you make of them; and you should make the most of them. It’s advised that you go in prepared, but its likely you’ll get a unique response from every single reviewer and as a fellow photographer later said to me “you have to work to satisfy yourself ultimately.”
The portfolio I showed included images from Panama, an intimate survey of the experience I have when I go back to my mother’s home country. Agonizing and editing for weeks, I presented a tight set of 10 diptychs, juxtaposing images of flora/landscape with portraits.
Hanging with other photographers in the waiting room/lounge, I tried to expel my nervousness by talking about it. A woman soothed me by saying that the worst I’d hear is that I should shoot more. That didn’t sound so bad!
So in hopes that others might benefit from my experience, I’ve outlined some general photography portfolio review tips and suggestions that I got from each person I met with.
Jessica Ingram, Adjunct Professor at Tisch, NYU
It is advised that you read up on the reviewers before you meet face to face. Through research I read about Jessica’s own photography work which focused on her family. So I thought she could relate to my own vision. I was right and Jessica suggested I:
- Keep a daily diary – even if it’s just a simple list of what I ate
- Investigate the way I see myself in the work – take self portraits
- In preparation, create shot lists before I take my next trip – sometimes when you’re in the moment it’s hard to remember or realize what you want to capture
Jessica ended by recommending I look at the work of Liz Cohen and Jessamyn Lovell.
Rosie Gordon-Wallace, Director/Curator of the Diaspora Vibe Gallery
A Jamaican-born licensed medical microbiologist, Rosie’s love for Caribbean and Latin American art is at the core of the foundation for her gallery. From a director/curator’s perspective, Rosie suggested I think about the presentation of my work in a gallery setting:
- Think about larger prints
- Push the technical through experimenting with different paper
- Consider creative framing options and what would make people want to buy the work
For updates on what’s happening at the gallery, read the Diaspora Vibe Gallery blog.
Elvis Fuentes – Curator, El Museo del Barrio
A Cuban art specialist, Elvis constantly flipped through my work, back and forth. Studying the images, he made comments unique to each one during which he offered this advice:
- Cover all possibilities that exist within your chosen theme/vision
- Explore the 5 senses, develop more than just a visual experience
Elizabeth Ferrer – Director, BRIC Rotunda Gallery
Experienced curator and writer specializing in Mexican and Latino art and photography, Elizabeth is an authority on the work of Lola Alvarez Bravo, one of my mentors. In her review she quietly commented:
- The intimate image is more successful
- Consider self publishing
Elizabeth ended by suggesting I get to know [the work of] her colleague Ricardo Viera, Professor of Art and Curator at Lehigh University.
Erin Riley-Lopez – Curator, The Bronx Museum of the Arts
After a quick review of my work, Erin asked me a series of questions about my work then suggested enrolling in the BXMA’s AIM (Artist in the Marketplace), a thirteen-week seminar program offered annually in the fall and the spring, teaching the marketing and business aspects of being an artist.
Michael Itkoff – Founding Editor, Daylight Magazine
Hanging in the photographer’s lounge, you’ll hear of reviewers who have slots open (so stick around). This is how I got my 20 minute review with Michael. As editor of a documentary photography magazine, I imagined Michael looks at amazing images all day, all the time. Here he tells me what he likes to see most in photographs:
- Images should reveal layers and 3rd levels of meaning
During his review Michael referenced the florals of photographer Hiroshi Watanabe, Jonathan Harker‘s postcards of Panama plus he told me of other artists working on the isthmus like Rose Cromwell and Lorena Endara.
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That's a great question and would love to hear other photographers answer it!
I think it depends on what you determine you want to get from the review.
I left with a sense of how people will possibly perceive my work and thinking about ways that I can change it to better reflect my intentions.
Thank you so much for sharing this! I've been curious about portfolio reviews for the longest. So does getting so many different kinds of feedback help? Or can it be confusing or even frustrating?