This post is by Anna-Maria Pfab, Module Leader for Falmouth Flexible's part-time, online MA Photography.
Photography is one of, if not the, most democratic of the art forms and is usually amongst the most easily shared and viewed. This has given rise to an abundance of photographic portfolio reviews and they have become ubiquitous in the field of photography.
They give photographers of all levels, from students to amateurs to professional photographers, the opportunity to receive constructive criticism and feedback on their photography as well as the chance to network with industry professionals and to meet peers.
Photographic portfolio reviews come in many different forms: you might book a portfolio review at a photography festival such as FORMAT or Les Rencontres d’Arles, sign up to an online portfolio review at Magnum Photos or set up portfolio meetings directly with gallery directors, curators or art directors.
Creating a portfolio for your Photography degree application? See Anna-Maria's top tips:
Choosing a photographic portfolio review that is right for you
It is important to find the best ‘fit’ for you and your work. So what are the variables you need to consider?
Many international photography festivals offer photographic portfolio reviews. These portfolio reviews are unique opportunities to make significant contacts with industry leaders who would be difficult to meet otherwise.
However, this comes at a cost. These portfolio reviews are usually rather expensive to attend and competition is fierce. Aside from the cost to participate (and this might also include travel and accommodation expenses), photographers should also think about the cost of producing the appropriate portfolio, if this does not exist already.
Prints should be big enough to see clearly, but not so bit that laying them out takes up unnecessary time and feels cumbersome. 10”x12” is ample, loose or in sleeves so that they can be easily laid out and rearranged, opposed to fixed in any kind of binder.
A sensible way to address these cost issues is to consider portfolio reviews as a business expense and allocate some of your annual budget to attend one or two portfolio reviews a year.
Smaller photographic portfolio review events can offer more accessible portfolio review opportunities. They can be a great way to make regional contacts and get some experience.
Photographic Portfolio Review Dos and Don’ts
Consider what you are showing and if you are really ready to show the work
There are different reasons for wanting a portfolio review depending on your photography and career goals. One of the most important parts of choosing to do a portfolio review is to actually make sure that you are at a point where you ought to be showing work. You don’t need to rush; you can take your time with this.
Research your reviewers
Make sure that your work is relevant to what your chosen reviewers do. Research them thoroughly. You usually have 15 – 30 minutes with these industry professionals, so you don’t want to waste it.
Have a purpose for each review…
…and communicate this when you sit down and introduce yourself. Maybe you want feedback on a specific project? Advice on which outlets would be a good fit for your photographic style, subject matter or practical methodology? Make sure you know what you want from each review and come with one or two specific questions that are pertinent to your reviewer and your reviewer’s area of expertise.
Make sure to follow up
Portfolio reviews are also excellent networking opportunities, so make sure that you email your reviewers a few days after the review to thank them. You could also ask them if they would be happy for you to add their email address to your newsletter list so you can keep them updated in the future.
Take things personally
It can be difficult to receive feedback especially if it is not what you expected or hoped for. But as hard as it might be to absorb the feedback in that moment, it is essential not to take things personally. Take notes during all reviews (or make audio recordings if the reviewer agrees) and once the event is over, reflect on all of the feedback points received.
Reviewers want to know that you are professional and are taking this opportunity seriously. No one wants to hear: “I didn’t bring my strongest work”, “I didn’t really have time to prepare much” or “Can you tell me who you are and work for?”! Come prepared!
Argue with the reviewer
Reviewers are leaders in their fields and usually know what they are talking about. They will usually ‘get to the point’ quite quickly and will be frank in the delivery of their feedback. Their opinions might all be different but are also all valid. You may not agree with someone, and that is okay, but never tell them that they are wrong!
Looking to interrogate your photography practice and deepen the quality of your work? Falmouth Flexible’s part-time, online MA in Photography can help you succeed in the competitive creative industries. Start in January, May or September: