In this second installment on portfolios I will write about different kinds of portfolios and different forms of presentation.
But first a story. Back in August I met with Katherine French and Jessica Roscio, the head of the Danforth Museum and its curator, respectively. I had just returned from photographing wheat fields in Washington and we were meeting to flush out the show coming up in April, 2013, which, you guessed it, is Wheat. I had thrown in about 150 files from the recent trip to the Palouse of wheat on my iPad in case they wanted to see them. I had also made a couple of prints to show them. We looked at the prints and then Katherine asked if I had anything else to show. I pulled out the iPad, set it in front of them and let them start sweeping through a great many pictures. After looking at a few, Katherine turned to Jessica and said, "Don't you just love the iPad?"
To someone like me whose whole career has been print based, I heard her say this with some dread. But look at it from the museum director's point of view. What better way to get through a large quantity of images to choose a show?
So, things change. When I review portfolios either one on one or at NEPR (New England Portfolio Reviews, held every spring in Boston, is a collaborative effort of the Photographic Resource Center [PRC] and the Griffin Museum of Photography) I will only look at prints. Why? Because prints are still the ultimate determiner of quality. Make a good print and you show that you know what you're doing.
However, there are clearly circumstances where an iPad, a website, an on-demand book, a screen-based slideshow are excellent ways to show your work.
My point is here that it is most important that you do your homework. Know who you are about to show your work to and research their preferences. Also, know what you want from the person you are showing your work to. Want a show? Want to know if the work moves them? Want to get the work published? Want their advice about what to do with your work? Want to know how to make it better?
So, I've written about different forms of presentation and, somewhat peripherally, about different kinds of portfolios but I probably should try to be a little more specific here. Foremost is usually the question about what to include, one body of work or representative examples of several groups. Again, this can only be answered by considering your intention and who you are showing the work to. As a general rule, think of a time frame of 20 minutes or so in which to show someone your work.This means that 30 or 40 prints is way too many. Think in terms of 20 or so. Play it through as a kind of rehearsal: introduce yourself, open case, explain the work, give him/her some time and space to look at the pictures, perhaps with asking you some questions along the way, some time for a conclusion, a conversation about what could be next, a thank you and a good bye. That's a lot to fit into a short time.
I am going to end this installment here but want to add one more thing and this is perhaps the hardest pill to swallow. Photographers suck at knowing what their best images are. We are too close, too involved, have some silly anecdote about how hard it was to get this picture or what we had to do to get that one. So what we need to do is to show our work to anyone that will look at it and learn from that experience. Their reaction to your work is key. This will give me a good place to start off in Portfolios Take 3.