Topic: Guest Blog (3 posts)

Guest Post: Elin Spring

Most of you know of the blog written by Elin Spring. Hers is quickly becoming one of the most important blogs to follow as she seems to get to see everything, interview everyone and have her finger on the pulse of contemporary photography in our area.  In fact her efforts to show us what is up are so impressive she is being recognized in a week or so at the annual Focus Awards at the Griffin Museum of Photography with an award.

Her blog is called: "What Will You Remember?" and you can find it here. Elin asked me if I could review a show for her a month ago and I was happy to do so as I was going to see Brian Kaplan's exhibition titled "Not Your Vacation"at the Danforth Museum anyway. In fact, I was honored to be asked. It is hereIn turn I asked if she would write for this blog. She agreed and went right to a topic that caused caused quite a stir when I wrote about it: Portfolio Reviews

The following post, written by Elin, tackles the issue of portfolio reviews and poses a possible answer. Interesting stuff:

A New Kind of Review?

Ahhh, portfolio reviews! Those highly variable, high stakes markets in which photographers offer their wares, hoping to win gallery, museum and media attention. In the current system, this is the way photographers and art outlets find one another and, in many respects, it works. But sometimes not. What if you’re newly out of school or have just switched into a career in photography or just don’t have a complete, organized body of work to bring to a review, but you still crave feedback and direction?
When Neal Rantoul stated, “Photo teachers are massively underutilized as portfolio reviewers” in his summertime blog post (here), he put his finger on a rather gaping hole in the current review system and started an avalanche of discourse on Facebook. I’d like to take it up again because there appears to be a constructive solution. What if photographers were offered access to educators with the training and qualifications to help them prepare complete, professional projects before hitting the marketplace? What if there was a different kind of interactive evaluation, one I’ll call the “Creative Review”?

Paula Tognarelli, Executive Director and Curator of the Griffin Museum of Photography in Massachusetts, embraces the idea of extending the Griffin’s educational role and is in a perfect position to help develop another useful and effective system of portfolio reviews. I recently talked with Paula and Neal, in an effort to see where efforts might be joined to provide a new option to photographers that would better serve their careers. We came up with some ideas and invite your feedback. 

1. In addition to the traditional New England Portfolio Review (NEPR) event held each spring, a separate “Creative Review” event could be held in the fall.
2. Similar to last year’s NEPR, educational programming could take place in a morning session and individual “creative review” sessions could be conducted in the afternoon.

3. Professional photography educators would be recruited to evaluate reviewees’ works-in-progress and help guide their creative development.

4. Possibly, 2-3 reviewers could meet with each photographer simultaneously for a longer period of time (e.g. 30-40 minutes), rather than sequential, individual 20 minute reviews.

5. Perhaps other professionals, such as printers and writers, could be present to advise on printing techniques and artist statements.

Now it’s your turn! If you think you would utilize a “Creative Review” please speak up.

We’d like to know:

1. Would you like a separate event for Creative Reviews”?

2. Would you prefer single, short reviews or multiple reviewers in a longer session?

3. Would you like the advice of other professionals in your Creative Review?

We anticipate that the cost to photographers for “Creative Reviews” would not differ from current Portfolio Reviews.  If there is support for this idea in the photographic community, we will pursue it! 

Facebook would seem to be the place to air your views.

Thank you to Elin, and to Paula at the Griffin, for being willing to get the ball rolling. 

Topics: Guest Blog,Commentary

Permalink | Posted October 14, 2014

Guest Blog 2

A while ago we heard from Jim Fitts, a valued colleague and the man behind He wrote about portfolio reviews and delivered a short and concise treatise on how best to prepare for one (here).

Next up in the Guest Blog series is Debbie Hagan. Debbie is currently an independent editor, writer and professor at New England School of Art and Design in New Hampshire. Formerly she was the editor-in-chief for Art New England.

If we are an artist, sooner or later we will be faced with the challenge of writing the dreaded "artist statement". Here Debbie Hagan writes about them and leads us to some very good ones:

A Word About Artist Statements

By Debbie Hagan

Last week, I invited Cate McQuaid, art critic for the Boston Globe, to speak briefly to a group of artists at Danforth Art. No surprise, they circled her quickly. Everyone wanted to know, how one goes about getting a review. McQuaid put it simply: send her a press release, images, and an artist statement.

A number of artists cringed. Someone must have told them that artist statements are unnecessary or passé. Or maybe they cling to another somewhat stubborn notion that the art speaks for itself.

Let’s be honest, even experienced art critics, gallerists, jurors, and curators may not be able to instantly recognize your medium and process, especially if they’re seeing your work on a computer screen. For photographers, it’s tricky if you’re using a historic or experimental process or if the art is mixed with another medium. It’s even more problematic for painters, sculptors, printmakers, and others whose work has to be photographed before it can be uploaded and seen online. Inevitably some of the dimension, texture, and subtleties are lost.

Thus, the artist statement can clear up questions that viewers may have or any details that are important to understanding your work. Plus, it offers intellectual insights into your thinking: what intrigues and inspires you. Maybe you’re fascinated with patterns formed by construction fencing or maybe you’re documenting performers’ lives backstage at a theater. Obviously you don’t want to over-explain your work and take away from its mystery. At the same time, you can seize this opportunity to find common ground with viewers and help them see the way you see.

Here are a few artist statements I really like. Nasser K writes an artist statement for each photographic series he creates. All artists should do this, because the statement does vary with the work. In Trees Grow and Fall, a multimedia documentary, he raises social concerns and asks viewers to consider, how is deforestation affecting us as people and our society?

Merill Comeau’s statement goes straight to the point telling us about the fabrics that make up her murals and what they represent to her. We learn that she uses hand stitching as a way of drawing on her fabrics—impossible to see in a photograph. She also tells us that she’s the daughter of a seamstress, and this creates a human lens through which we can see her art.

Lesley Cohen takes a slightly different approach. Her artist statement is a little more poetic and yet feels exactly right when looking at her art. It is more abstract and slightly mystical. In her artist statement, she tells us that she uses charcoal and pastels—again, hard to see on the computer. I love the way she tells us, “Working intuitively, I am inventing mystifying structures. I am on a journey of discovery to detect the secrets that are embedded in the process.” I’m intrigued, and I want to go on this journey.

There’s no formula to creating a good artist statement. The writing style should be natural to the artist and consistent with the work. As for content, the statement should be no more than two to three short paragraphs and cover three main points: 1) ideas that intrigue and motivate the artist; 2) materials used, particularly if they’re not obvious and have a special meaning or origin; and 3) the art-making process, particularly if it’s unusual, executed in an unexpected way, or if it’s essential to understanding the art’s meaning.

There’s no magic here. You can work endlessly writing and rewriting your statement, but it won’t sell your work. It won’t convince gallerists to represent you or jurors to pick you for the next big show. Your art still stands on its own—front and center.

At the Danforth last week, Cate McQuaid also told artists that choosing artists to be reviewed can seem a bit random, because it’s based on a lot of different factors. However, she did say that she needs to feel a connection to the art, and I’m guessing that’s why she likes to see an artist statement.

Debbie has a website and can be contacted through the site: Debbie Hagan

Thank you so much, Debbie.

Topics: Commentary,Guest Blog

Permalink | Posted March 19, 2014

Guest Blog

I've asked a few friends if they would like to write a "Guest Blog" and first up is Jim Fitts. Jim is the man behind and a long-time photo person: he is a photographer, collector, portfolio reviewer and, included in his credits is a stint as Executive Director of the Photographic Resource Center in Boston. This is one seriously qualified "photo weenie".

Without further interruption, Mr. Jim Fitts:

But enough about me…

Before I even explain what I’m addressing in this post, I want to let you know that the record is two hours and fifteen minutes.

What is the topic of the post? Sex? Definitely not. It is the amount of time that someone (in this case a photographer) can speak nonstop about their work without asking one question, or showing any interest whatsoever, in who they are talking to.

I have firsthand knowledge.

Here goes.
I rarely agree to do portfolio reviews that I am not compensated for. After several decades of doing reviews at no charge, I decided that I should be paid for my time reviewing a photographer’s work. I don’t get medical advice from my doctor for free. I don’t get financial advice from my accountant for free. I am happy to pay their fee, in part, because I know their time and advice has a definite value.
That said, there are only two reasons I will agree to review a portfolio for free. The first reason is if someone I trust has recommended the photographer to me. The second reason is if it is a photographer I have reviewed previously and I am interested in seeing the progression of his or her work.

Recently I reviewed two portfolios by photographers that I know, admire, and have reviewed in the past.

Both photographers seemed genuinely excited about their new work, and rightly so. It was very good work and I am pleased that I had the opportunity to see it.
But. Both photographers shared a trait that drives me mildly insane and, I believe, shows more than a small amount of disrespect. Neither photographer asked a single question regarding what I may be currently working on. After a handshake and a “hello” it was off to the portfolio review horse races until the photographer ran out of time or ran out of personal insights about their work.
I understand that if you are paying for a review at a portfolio review event that you want to optimize your financial investment, but if you are the recipient of a review by someone who is freely giving of their time and advice, at least show a bit of interest in the reviewer.

May I make one suggestion?

Before you attend your next portfolio review write down five questions to ask the reviewer and make sure that one of them concerns the reviewer. You might be pleasantly surprised. The reviewer may remember you and your work beyond two hours and fifteen minutes.

Thank you, Jim.  

Jim has been gracious enough to let me guest author on his site and so I wrote a piece on artist residencies. Photoweenie features artists. You can submit if you conform to the site requirements: submissions.

Topics: Guest Blog

Permalink | Posted March 9, 2014