How to Prepare for the New England Portfolio Reviews
by Mary Virginia Swanson
© 2012 Mary Virginia Swanson
In advance of attending the New England Portfolio Reviews consider the following advice from Mary Virginia Swanson.
SET GOALS, THEN RESEARCH!
CHECK THE LIST OF THIS YEAR’S REVIEWERS AND REFERENCE THEIR MARKETS HERE: Consider in advance what results you are seeking from this investment. Are you seeking advice/ guidance/information, or are you looking for more tangible results? Are you hoping to sell prints? Are you seeking representation by a gallery? Do you wish to place an exhibition of a completed body of work with a museum or institution? Be clear about what you want to accomplish, and research the professional biographies of the reviewers towards securing sessions that are most likely to accomplish your desired goals.
Tightly edit your photographs to a number of prints that allows you to present your body of work in an efﬁcient, thorough manner. A portfolio in the range of twenty images is not so overwhelming in scale to hinder discussions; if the project or series is substantially larger, you can of course bring more to show during the review session, but understand that to engage in a meaningful dialogue, less may be “more.” If you have two bodies (or more) of work, perhaps one that is completed, one or more on-going: consider bringing small selections of each, research the likely tastes and interests of the Reviewers and consider asking which they’d prefer to see. Understand, however, it may be impossible, time-wise, to discuss all work with each reviewer.
Practice your presentation – keep it short and simple! Be mindful of the 20-minute limit with each Reviewer; you will want save time within that time frame to receive feedback from them. Plan on speaking clearly and concisely on your work, leave time for dialogue with the Reviewers, too.
PRESENTATION IS IMPORTANT
Presentation is important as are “ﬁrst impressions.” I suggest you print your images similarly on the same size paper. Protect the work, but not to such an extent that it takes too much of your 20-minute session to wrap/unwrap each print. I encourage you to bring samples of what you consider exhibition-quality prints. I do not advise an all-digital presentation if hoping to effectively introduce your work to professionals that would be exhibiting or representing you and your ﬁnal prints.
EASE IN HANDLING YOUR PRINTS
Ease in handling your prints will maximize your time to talk with the reviewer. Select a box, book or portfolio that will allow you to show the photographs relatively quickly and be seen without harm to the objects. It is not necessary to mat your work for presentation. You can ﬁt more prints in your box or travel lighter; your prints will be frequently shown and may reﬂect this.
Although it may be challenging, I encourage you to show work to reviewers in the size that you prefer for ﬁnal presentation size. The tables you will be presenting your work on will be 3’x6’and if prints are larger than that, several samples rolled in tubes with a supplemental, more manageable portfolio may be a wise choice. Installation views will help Reviewers to interpret large-scale, installation-based or other non-traditional work. Consider making a small “portable” portfolio to have with you at all times throughout all events, i.e. a box of 4x5s, an 8×10 presentation book of prints, or laser/inkjet copies so you will be able to share your work with other photographers and reviewers if an opportunity presents itself outside of the formal review sessions.
KNOW THE REVIEWERS
Go to the newenglandportfolioreviews.com one last time and print your own copy of all the reviewer’s bios and keep it at your ﬁnger tips, to refresh your memory as needed on Reviewers you will present work to, or meet socially during the weekend. In addition to making notes directly on these individual pages, consider bringing a digital audio recording device to capture your session with Reviewers (always ask their permission before hitting the “record” button).
PREPARE PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS FOR REVIEWERS
Consider producing a printed promotional piece that features an image for easier recollection; I always appreciate when the image featured matches one the photographer shared with me at the event; this aids the Reviewers in recalling your work and your presentation to them. Present yourself in a professional manner by having current information on the card.
Design/produce a simple promotional piece that will serve to remind the Reviewers of your work as well as providing them your contact information. I appreciate having something in print (or CD-ROM) featuring reproduction of several images from your body of work (all Reviewers will meet with many photographers during this event; it never hurts to remind them visually of your work).
Make sure it is small enough for Reviewers to ﬁle in a traditional (8-1/2 x 11) ﬁle folder for ease in referencing your work. If consisting multiple pages or sheets, be mindful of the possibility that materials can become separated; put your name and contact information on EACH individual page. If being distributed to a small group of individuals, you can self-produce this piece and save the expense of commercial printing. Note: this printed piece and/or CD-ROM can do double-duty for you if it is designed to also serve as a mailer beyond distribution at this and other similar events. YOU MAY PREFER TO PRODUCE & SEND THIS OUT AFTER THE EVENT, having gained insights from Reviewers as to which images are most powerful, rather than preparing it ahead.
Shop for well-designed yet functional presentation/storage materials. There are many options available through ofﬁce supply/art supply vendors. Be original yet functional. Beware of metal clips/clasps as they can damage your piece(s) in transit or when ﬁled.
Producing a targeted promotional packet: If you are meeting with Reviewer(s) about a speciﬁc exhibition project you would like to place at their gallery, exhibition venue, magazine or more: ensure that the related information you provide is relevant to their needs, such things as total number of images, size, mat/frame needs, space required (linear and/or square feet, ceiling height and panel sizes if relevant), suggestions for related educational components, AV requirements if any, and other site speciﬁc details. If you have previously exhibited the work, perspective/installation views are an asset to accurately interpreting the exhibition at their venue. Likewise, if your hoping to secure a publication contract with the Reviewer(s) for a completed body of work, be certain to provide visually effective materials for them to retain. Many times the person to whom you present may not be the ﬁnal decision-maker at their business or institution; you need them to become your advocate, representing the work/project to their colleagues after RSF towards your mutual advantage – be sure to provide them the tools to do so!
WHEN ATTENDING THE PORTFOLIO REVIEW EVENT
BE ON TIME! If late for your scheduled review appointment, the time will not be made up.
REMEMBER YOUR GOALS
Be up front about your wishes – are you sharing a “work in progress” in which case you are seeking feedback? Are you seeking advice regarding technique? Editing? Presentation? Are you asking for advice regarding gallery contacts? Publishers? Museum Curators? Or, do you wish this initial opportunity to be a chance to introduce yourself and your work? Let the Reviewer know at the outset what you hope to gain from your twenty minute session.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Make sure that your presentation takes LESS than the 25-minute appointment so that you have time to gain feedback/advice from the reviewer.
Make notes for your reference as soon as possible following each session on the alphabetical sheets you prepared – who you saw, their comments on the work and/or on speciﬁc images, printing, presentation, general advice and other remarks you will want to review. Carry your binder with you at all times for this purpose and add to it comments about Reviewers and their upcoming projects as you learn these things from other photographers during the event. Another idea is to make yourself a list of reminders or “prompts” to print below the Reviewer Bios – reminder notes TO YOURSELF to ask for their business cards, ask if they’d like to be added to your mailing list and what format they would prefer materials to arrive in (CD/Website, print, slides?).
Don’t assume that a reviewer would like to keep in touch or that they wish to keep more than a simple business or promotional card. At the end of your session, ask if they would like to retain additional materials for their future reference, and if so, indicate whether you can provide these on site or offer the courtesy to ship things to their ofﬁce following the event (at your expense).Ask too if they would like to be kept informed of your work as it evolves, and if so, in what format – email, print, CD-Rom, notices of new work posted on your website, etc.
Be sure to ask Reviewers for their business card if you intend to add them to your mailing list.
Keep your business and/or promotional cards handy and give them out. Ask for cards from other professionals at the event to add to (or begin) your promotional mailing list. Ask for cards from fellow photographers, too, and keep in touch with your community.
Be courteous to fellow photographers by respecting the 20-minute appointments and pack up your materials before the next person’s session with your Reviewer is set to begin.
AFTER THE EVENT
Following up with your new contacts is essential if you want to maximize your potential for tangible returns from this experience. You will initiate relationships – now cultivate them.
Write each Reviewer and thank them for their insights towards your work, advice, and their time; here again is where a recording of your session will allow you to revisit your discussion and speak to their comments and suggestions directly. Send follow-up packets within a few weeks to those who requested additional materials at your expense (never send C.O.D. unless peciﬁcally told to do so).
If a Reviewer encouraged you to provide more material for their ﬁles, such as an artists’ resume an overview of a current or past project, an exhibition proposal, photocopies/laser prints of images, sets of slides, CD-Rom or other such promotional materials and if you wish to have these items returned to you following their review, you must provide return postage, ideally in the form of a pre-paid overnight delivery service such as Federal Express, UPS, etc.
Take advice to heart: re-edit your work, alter presentation format(s) and apply other advice in order to enhance the returns from your next portfolio review opportunity.
If there were Reviewers that you had wished to meet with but were unable to, don’t hesitate to write and express your wish to have been assigned a session with them, and your interest in their becoming aware of your work, that you look forward to showing the work at an industry event in the near future. Add them to your mailing list.
Lastly, don’t forget to continue to share your work with your peer group between attending such events – critical dialogue among art makers is invaluable.
I hope that this advice will be helpful to you, and that your career will beneﬁt from your efforts before, during and after attending New England Portfolio Reviews at the Grifﬁn Museum of Photography.
-Mary Virginia Swanson
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Virginia Swanson makes it her goal to help photographers ﬁnd the strengths in their workand identify appreciative audiences for their prints, exhibitions and licensing placement. Her informative and frequently updated seminars and lectures on subjects related to marketing andcareer opportunities have proven to aid photographers in moving their careers to the next level. She is a sought-after Reviewer at industry events such as FotoFest and Review Santa Fe, hasbeen a Speaker at countless industry events and has served as a Juror on international photography competitions. Photograph Magazine’s “In Proﬁle” column highlighted Swanson’sdiverse career in the July/August 2011 issue. Ms. Swanson currently works individually with photographers as a consultant providing creative guidance, aiding in career strategies, brandingand marketing efforts.
Swanson maintains a popular blog about opportunities for photographers called MarketingPhotos and frequently shares recent articles and interviews on her website. Her greatly anticipated title Finding You Audience: An Introduction to Marketing Your Photographs will be available later this year. Swanson coauthored Publish Your Photography Book with Darius Himes (Princeton Architectural Press, Spring 2011).
© 2012 Mary Virginia Swanson
Our thanks to Mary Virginia Swanson for generously sharing an excerpt from her forthcoming title FINDING YOUR AUDIENCE: An Introduction to Marketing Your Photographs, available soon at