RISD Portfolio

Starting in about 1966, the RI School of Design Photography Department held a competition each spring for students to be in the annual photography portfolio. The student group that pulled this off was the Photographic Education Society (no relation to the much larger national organization of the same name).

If accepted you had to make 150 copies of your image and mount them on the provided board. Of course, we all wanted to have our work in the portfolio. I was fortunate to have work of mine accepted in 1972.

Brian Pelletier

One of the benefits was that in the portfolio were photographs by both Aaron Siskind (by 1972) and Harry Callahan,  two of our high profile teachers. If accepted you got one copy of the portfolio. I think they sold for $150 each. This got you 25 prints from different undergraduate and graduate students plus several photo faculty.

I was looking over the three (1967,1972, and 1975) that I have and almost all the imagery is in black and white and most of the photographs are predominately straightforward. The printing style in those days was heavier, contrasty with deep blacks and bright whites. This was 30 years or so before digital took hold, and color was taught in one class as an elective. Printing color was slow, hot, unhealthy, expensive, and few bothered. "Art" photography was a black and white medium then and color was for reportage and perhaps advertising (think Life Magazine).

At any rate, looking at the prints from these portfolios gives us a glimpse of an earlier era. Photography as a form of creative expression looks, at least to this artist, like it was still evolving, contained primarily within straight imagery and straight prints. In those days making a good print was an accomplishment. A medium still exploring our world, with a camera in hand or on a tripod, the photographer going out to make discoveries and imagery mostly found or come across by chance. Studio, constructed, assembled, blended, configured, set up? Not so much. Our job in those days seemed to be to make art where we found it. 

Harry Callahan

Teaching: I would walk into class with a black 11x 14-inch portfolio box under my arm. I would ask the students to sit in a circle. I would then hand each student a mounted print from the portfolio. Once they each had one I would ask them to study it, as I was going to ask them to talk about it as if they had made it themselves. An intro student talking about a Callahan or a Jim Dow or a Linda Connor with no idea who those photographers were. After each had a chance to speak, some getting into the role-playing and some not as much, I brought them into a few of the photographers' works they talked about. This exercise was a real eye-opener for some students and I used the tactic for many years.

Jim Dow

Ed Sievers

Finally: for those of you that read the blog that are researchers, historians,  and curators who want to see more, you can find copies of all the portfolios that were made in the RISD library in Providence. If I can be of any help please contact me directly: here

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Permalink | Posted May 22, 2022