Portfolio Reviews

Over on Conscientious, Joerg delves into the world of portfolio reviews (here) which I mentioned in my post on perceived scams in the photography industry but didn’t really get into because of my limited experience with them. Overall there’s some great advice for potential reviewers and reviewees and I plan to report my own experiences with the process when I attend the Photo Lucida in April as a reviewer (I still need to write about the critical mass photographers I liked that didn’t make the cut).

Mary Virgina Swanson thinks the portfolio reviews are a better way to go than the contests (here):

“I become increasingly frustrated and in fact pessimistic about the value of entering many exhibition and/or publication competitions. The reproduction rights demanded from the winners, and more often now from those who simply apply, are frustrating, unnecessary and unfair. The physical space and the circumstances at the actual judging of the work can vary, within a physically environment that may not lend itself to optimum viewing of your work, or judges working remotely without a dialogue, or so few examples of your work presented that we can barely get to know your work.”

There Are 16 Comments On This Article.

  1. Glad to read this by Mary Virgina Swanson, “…The reproduction rights demanded from the winners, and more often now from those who simply apply, are frustrating, unnecessary and unfair….” It echoes my response to your earlier post. I think that, and the fact that the photographer is being asked to pay for a process that, in the end, benefits the publisher was the reason I concluded a while ago, that I would no longer submit to those contests.

  2. I have to say, the rights demanded in contests is the primary reason I don’t enter them more often. I haven’t entered one in years after winning one as a high school student that was sponsored by Kodak and Canon and subsequently losing all rights to my winning image. They kept the negative.

  3. Good Afternoon Rob. This is a great topic. I have been interested in hearing what PHOTOGRAPHERS have to say.

    Photographers who have had an absolute career benefit (financial) from a portfolio review would help others if they share the result of their paid portfolio review.

    Which Portfolio Review did they attend?

    What was the fee to participate?

    What was their outcome?

    Which stage in their career did they attend? Student, emerging, mid career, or shift transition in career focus, commercial to fine art, etc.

    And cost benefit. Was the cost, reflective of a future cost benefit?

    Great topic! I think this will be very enlightening.

    • @Debra Frieden,
      I had a post recently on reviews. I’m an established commercial photographer attempting to enter the fine art world.
      John F Martin wrote:
      Regarding portfolio reviews. I would only consider a juried review. Then I would check the judges. With that in mind I went to Review Santa Fe 2008. I had a great experience and was offered a book proposal by a very prestigious NYC publisher and contacted by a gallery at 49 Geary in SF. I agree that this is primarily for fine art photographers. It was expensive, what with airfare and lodging but IMHO well worth it. I would go again when I have a new body of work.
      [Reply]
      Posted 24 Jan 2009 at 10:01 pm ¶

    • @Debra Frieden,

      I agree that some contest fees become exorbitant especially when there 20 or so of them to apply to in the December-March window. But I imagine that if you do good work and win one of them that they help you by giving you clout at the vert least.
      A
      s far as Portfolio Reviews are concerned, I’ve been to Review Santa Fe. Every reviewer simply said ‘beautiful work’.
      The fee is $650 I think and of course you have airfare and a hotel and a rented car to factor in as well.
      The two positive things to come out of it was that Sue Brisk, formally the editorial director at Magnum gave me the contact info of about 10 editors and Lesley Martin of Aperture offered to nominate me for next year’s Joop Swart Masterclass.
      I am an emerging photographer.
      Hey, if I actually end up making the cut for the Masterclass, then Review Santa Fe was certainly worth it but I won’t know for a while!

      • @Davin Ellicson, Thank you for sharing your positive experiences. Congratulations on the encouragement from the ED at Magnum and the nomination offer! DF

    • @Debra Frieden,

      My husband attended Review Santa Fe 4 or 5 years ago. It was super helpful for him. A bunch of galleries competed over him, he ended up signing w/ Bonni Benrubi, got a show at ICP, one at Eastman House, a book deal and all kinds of other connections and good stuff from it. Really jump started his career. He has recommended that review (and some of the others like it that he did not attend — FotoFest, etc) – to people who email him asking for advice.

      • @Kristiina Wilson, Now this is the story I love hearing! It gives other photographers great insight. They can also look at his work, and see what “wowed” that particular group. Thank you Kristiina, for sharing.

  4. A really interesting post. Mary’s comments make it even clearer that a lot of publications do this as a way to source additional revenue.

    Not all, but definitely some.

  5. I’ve found the portfolio reviews I’ve attended to be useful. They give you another perspective on your work. However, I’ve never paid for one.

    I remember that one reviewer told me I’d never work in the newspaper industry. Five years later, I started my own paper. Maybe I should send him a copy!

    As a college photography instructor, I think critiques are the most useful tool in the development of new photographers, assuming they are constantly creating new work. If they have to pay a small fee, I don’t see a problem. People pay me to teach them photography, and a chance to rub shoulders or NETWORK with pros (who often love nurturing new talent) is never a bad idea, even if you have to pay.

  6. I agree that some contest fees become exorbitant especially when there 20 or so of them to apply to in the December-March window. But I imagine that if you do good work and win one of them that they help you by giving you clout at the vert least.

    As far as Portfolio Reviews I’ve gone to Review Santa Fe. Every reviewer simply said ‘beautiful work’.

    The fee is $650 I think and of course you have airfare and a hotel and a rented car to factor in as well.

    The two positive things to come out of it was that Sue Brisk, formally the editorial director at Magnum gave me the contact info of about 10 editors and Lesley Martin of Aperture offered to nominate for next year’s Joop Swart Masterclass.

    I guess you could say I am an emerging photographer.

    Hey, if I actually end up making the cut for the Masterclass, the Review Santa Fe was certainly worth it but I won’t know for a while!

    • Debra Weiss

      @Jim Newberry,

      As a former National CEO of APA and with all due respect, there is no comparison between an APA portfolio review and reviews that have mentioned here such as Review Santa Fe and Fotofest. As I stated in a previous post, these are geared more to the fine art photographer or those with long term projects. These are also juried reviews and photographers get the chance to have their work seen by a very different group of people that participate in the trade organization reviews.

      Debra Weiss