Category "Portfolio Review"

New York Portfolio Review – Part 2

I’ve got a joke for you. You might have heard it before.

A black guy and a white guy walk into a bar in Alabama in 1955. The bartender looks at the black guy and says, “If you don’t walk right out of here this second I’ll blow your f-cking head off with this here shotgun.”

So the black guy leaves, with no recourse but to step out the door ass first, to ensure he doesn’t end up with a back full of pellets.

What’s that you say? That joke’s not funny? It’s tragic? Oh. OK. You got me.

It was actually just another one of my ridiculous intros, in which I try to make a point by not talking about what I’m talking about. Which in this case is race, a difficult topic in the best of circumstances.

To be fair, today I’m talking about “diversity.” Which includes such sub-topics as age, gender, gender orientation, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and class. All get cooked together in this melting pot we like to call America. (Or do I mean the Internet?)

I grew up in a fancy, former farming-community-nyc-suburb in New Jersey. I’m a white male, from a good family, so I’ve been afforded opportunities many others have not. But I’m also Jewish, and my people have been enslaved and exterminated, so I’ve got that going for me.

My town in Jersey had a large population of Asian-Americans, as a since-closed-legendary-Bell-Labs facility had many engineers on staff. We had Jewish/Italian/Irish Americans too, but that was about it. Non-ethnic-Caucasian-Americans from lower income brackets lived in other towns, like Union Beach. (There were no African-Americans or Latinos to be found.)

Here in Taos, we’re lucky to be a mountain community that has any diversity at all. So many ski towns are as white as the snow on their famed jagged hills. Here, we have Native Americans, Hispanic folks, and us gringos. That’s a lot, for the American West. Highly limited, though, compared to you urban dwellers.

But New York? Fuhgedaboudit.

Everyone on Earth rubs shoulders. It is one of my favorite feelings. Walking around amongst humans from all countries, skin colors, sexual orientations. You name it. (Well, perhaps not walking around. Sitting or standing on a train. Underground. Pressed up against a lot of strangers.)

Being around other types of people is good for the soul. It imprints deeply that we are so much alike. Personified, the other begins to seem like a neighbor. And it’s cool to like your neighbors.

In-person-contact subverts racism.

Too often, in our photography world, we hear that it’s too white. Or too male. Right? How many times have you read a blog post about a contest jury that was all white. Or an art exhibition that was 90% male. Right? I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Why is it like that, when all smart people know diversity is a good thing?

Inertia. That’s my answer. A lot of people assume things will come to them. That communities grow naturally, and it will slowly get better over time.

That’s one way to go about it.

It’s another to actually call/email/text/FB/tweet/snapchat your contacts about an event, and ask them to do the same with theirs: to reach out and tap up large networks that are different than yours, with the belief that the spiders crawling around various webs will make beautifully diverse babies.

You saw from the title that this article was meant to be about the NYT Portfolio Review, and so it shall be. The above paragraph describes the strategy invoked by David Gonzalez and James Estrin, the NYT Lens blog co-editors who facilitated the review.

Like a lot of people, they believe getting various voices to the table is inherently good. So when they announced the 2nd New York Portfolio review, rather than wait around for whatever submissions came in, they did extensive outreach. “The goal was to make sure we had applicants of all kinds,” Mr. Estrin said. “So we did a special reach-out to make sure that we had the photographers. I know the photographers are out there, both in the documentary world and the art world, so we made special effort to have them apply.”

He shouted out En Foco, among other organizations, for helping to encourage photographers of color to send in their work. Mr. Estrin also stressed that they are interested in including people across class divides as well. “The core of this was the free aspect,” he added. “We wouldn’t do it otherwise. Plain and simple. We just wouldn’t do it.”

I report here that these guys succeeded in creating one hell of an integrated crowd.

As I thought about how to approach a second article, after dropping the fire alarm story last week, the thing that stuck with me was how amazing it was to be surrounded by talented, passionate people from so many backgrounds. I personally reviewed male and female photographers from Japan, China, Norway, Germany, Ecuador, and Brooklyn. (And then had beers at the Half King with a Japanese-Korean guy from Germany, a German guy living in Estonia, and a long-haired Mexican dude who shoots for Sports Illustrated in New York.)

The Lens team needs to be commended, and I’d suggest others follow this model. (They walked the walk, as it were.) Mr. Estrin stressed that his colleague, Mr. Gonzalez, as a person of color, was particularly adept at handling these issues.

“I once asked the editor-in-chief of a publishing house why one of their survey books had so few Latino or African-American photographers,” Mr. Gonzalez chimed in, via email. “He was refreshingly honest in his response: curators and editors often stick to whom they know. Well, I know lot of different people.”

“In fact, I would argue that I might know more people than some of the more noted editors out there. This is not a boast, but a reflection of my cultural/social roots and experiences: as a Puerto Rican, New Yorker, Yalie, Times-man, I’m aware of photographers, journalists and issues that might go unnoticed by others who do not have that sensitivity.”

Beyond diversity, though, there has to be great photography. The second part of the strategy, I was told, was to have enough diversity in the applicants to ensure they could make individual yes/no decisions based strictly upon the quality of the work.

Last year, some of what I saw was not very good. This year, every photographer had work worth showing. So let’s get to it then.

Motohiro Takeda showed me his pictures on Saturday. I’d heard about the project in the grapevine at Review Santa Fe last summer. The prints are very dark, and he hands you a flashlight to view them. They’re insanely gorgeous, but don’t deliver the same experience on the web at present. I wanted you to see them anyway.

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Holger Keifel was there on Saturday as well, and showed me a series on Boxing that was subsequently published on Lens. I loved six images of donated organs, in transit to be transplanted. He claimed to have 7 seconds each time to get the shot, and wanted us to know “the idea of this series is not about death. It’s about saving lives.”

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I also met Linda Bournane Engelberth the first day, when Mary Virginia Swanson grabbed me and said, “You have to look at this,” before handing me a laptop. The Norwegian photographer explores disaffected youth in Latvia, where the opportunities are few, and an Empire-hungry Putin is looking over their shoulders.

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Evan Ortiz grew up in Brooklyn, and is a journalism student at RIT. He showed me the project with headphones in video form, which I thought was strange, as it meant we couldn’t talk. But I liked the video piece very much, so he was right to do it that way. The powerful series focuses on a fellow student who overcame addiction and depression when she came out as a lesbian.

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Gina Pollack showed me images of women in their underwear. They’re accompanied by audio about the project “Bikini Season,” which examines how women view having their private areas waxed. It’s a smart subject, as the audio manages to be hilarious and poignant at the same time, which is a difficult mix to conjure.

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I first met Kayle Schnell on top of a mountain. Honestly. While hiking to Kachina Peak at Taos Ski Valley this winter, I stopped to talk to someone because she carried a heavy, pro camera up a very steep mountain. Not an amateur move. It was Kayle, who’s a journalism graduate student at CUNY. Her long term project focuses on a recovering drug addict on methadone. (And nicotine, apparently.)

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Santiago Arcos Veintimilla is a from Ecuador, and was recently awarded a Fellowship to work with the Magnum Foundation. His project, “La Cienega,” depicts the only town in Ecuador that has no children. That snake photo is going to haunt my nightmares for years.

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James Lawler Duggan is a young photojournalist who’s worked all over the “Arab Spring” territory in the Middle East, and in Syria as well. He described asking the Syrian man to take off his shirt so he could make the photograph, and how hard it was to do that, not knowing what was underneath.

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Grant Hindsley is currently based in Provo, Utah. I liked some of his single images, and a project on same-sex youth couples as well. The Mizzou Pride picture was one of my favorites of the weekend, and it felt proper to end today with Al Sharpton, straight outta NYC.

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New York Portfolio Review – Part 1

The fire alarm chirped voraciously, like a cricket in a bad mood. Immediately, every eye in the room was focused on me, the idiot that opened the fire door.

I saw them staring.

Rather than hide, which was my natural instinct, I raised my hand and waved it around. “It was me,” I said. “I did it. I’m the idiot.” That done, people went back about their business. As I’d made fun of myself, it made no sense for them to bother.

I stood in the middle of the lobby in the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, awaiting the beginning of the second day of the New York Times Portfolio Review, and I’d just made a fool of myself. (Albeit briefly.)

The day before, as everyone filed out after Saturday’s review, I was instructed to use the Fire Exit by the gruff-yet-friendly security guard behind the desk. So I approached her, after my faux pas, and said, “You told me it was OK to use the Fire Exit yesterday.”

“That was yesterday,” she said, glaring at me sardonically. “Today is today.” Is that not the perfect incarnation of New York City herself? Take nothing for granted. Make no assumptions. Or you’ll end up looking like a schmuck.

I only mention this to you, as it seems like every time I head out on the road, something embarrassing happens. Last year, at the same event, I mocked a dude in a Mexican wrestling mask only to find out I knew him. Poor form.

But I was there for a reason, which was to review portfolios and then share work with you, our loyal readers. In so doing, we at APE get the chance to give a boost to deserving young photographers, and also show you what is being made by the next generation. (In the 21st Century, we call that a win-win.)

This was the second year of the event, and it is free, which is rare. It’s announced via a Lens blog post, and then the photographers are selected from applicants all over the world. Even the application process is free, so you might consider applying next year.

As is often the case with start up ventures, the second year was definitely smoother than the first. Last year was fun, but this year was more efficient. I reviewed a few portfolios on Saturday, as a rover, but mostly focused my attention on the younger photographers who were invited to Sunday’s event.

Last year, we showed the work of two photographers. This year, everyone I reviewed had something worth sharing with you. As is often the case with younger artists, the work was inconsistent. Great images would be followed by clunkers, like the end of the batting order on a bad baseball team.

But all of them had a voice, and showed me at least one picture I found worth publishing here. The only problem, such as it is, is that I ended up seeing more than 10 artists, which can make for a muddled viewing experience below.

So we’re going to break it up into two articles. This week, I’ll show you half of the artists, and next week…the rest. I was genuinely impressed by the passion and talent in the room both days, so I can only hope you’ll respond to some of what you see over the next two weeks.

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I reviewed Andi Schreiber’s work on Saturday, and we met briefly in Santa Fe last summer. She’s a photographer, and mother, based in Scarsdale. Andi makes pictures with an honest-but-not-quite-pitiless view of family and aging in America.

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Wenxin Zhang is an artist based in San Francisco. She describes her photo series as novels, and hopes to figure out innovative ways to present the work in book form. Her portraits were my favorites.

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Arno De Pooter is a painter, photographer and digital artist from Belgium. Most of his work was pretty good, but one series in particular, called “Bleach,” was really terrific. His symbol choices were perfectly now, and the desert mirage aesthetic heightened the futurism.

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Cassandra Giraldo showed me a portfolio of images made of “Gentle Punks” in St. Petersburg, Russia. As opposed to Skull-crushing-Aryan-racist Punks. She shoots mostly editorial, but is also pursuing photography as art.

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Patrick McNabb, from NYU, was working in a theatrical, stage-it all-and-go-big-on-drama, kind of style. Some felt heavy-handed, but a few were really smart, strange, cinematic and believable.

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Mark Dorf is based in Bushwick, and is working on some fresh digital images that manage to feel relevant without being too Geeky. Some, but not all of his work, is also somewhat photographic in nature.

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Portfolio Reviews – Review Santa Fe

- - Portfolio Review

I believe, when done right with a little luck/good timing thrown in, portfolio reviews can be very beneficial to photographers. I joined the Board of Directors at the non-profit Center in Santa Fe (full disclosure) over a year ago and have really enjoyed getting to know the people behind it and the inner workings of the portfolio review they put on called, Review Santa Fe. I took the opportunity of their annual call for entries to interview the Executive Director, Laura Pressley. She brings together a very high level group of Gallerists, Curators, Photo Editors, Book Publisher and Photographers annually for the event, which is no easy task. What’s always impressed me more is her ability to network, forge relationships and engage a group of people who have zero time for anything extra. Ask any additional questions you have in the comments.

Give me a little bit of your background and how you got started working with CENTER?

I’m from Chicago, received a BFA from the College of Santa Fe. After I graduated, I moved to the San Francisco area and worked at the Richmond Art Center where I witnessed the transformative effects of public art and community based art projects on families and cities. I felt myself align with the ethos of art service organizations and the public sector.

When I came back to New Mexico in 2000, I got involved with PhotoArts Santa Fe, a city-wide celebration of the medium. Through the event, I met the Director of the Santa Fe Center for Visual Arts (our old moniker) and was later recruited to be their Programs Coordinator after their success of the first Review Santa Fe. I have been here ever since. The name of the organization and the programming keep evolving, but the organization has maintained a sincere purpose and campfire quality that has been there since the beginning.

You are in the middle of your call for entries, tell me about the programs you have this year?

Yes! The call for entries (http://www.visitcenter.org/callforentries) is targeted to photographers who are looking for support and exposure opportunities. The award recipients receive a professional development package including online and traditional exhibiting platforms. This is not a “contest” but rather an opportunity to work with an art service organization in expanding your reach.

PROJECT LAUNCH (http://www.visitcenter.org/competitions/overview/project_launch_2014) is a grant for documentary, journalistic or fine art projects with a $5,000 cash award, two exhibitions with one during Review Santa Fe and the other at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center later in the year, also publication in Lenscratch, invitation to Art Photo Index and more. The Selection Committee is Fred & Laura Ruth Bidwell, Bidwell Projects & Transformer Station; Roger Watson, Curator, Fox Talbot Museum; and Patrick Witty, International Picture Editor, TIME magazine. Deadline: January 22, 2014

PROJECT DEVELOPMENT (http://www.visitcenter.org/competitions/overview/project_development_grant_2014) is a grant for works-in-progress for documentary, journalistic or fine art projects with a $5,000 cash award, two exhibitions with one during Review Santa Fe and the other at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center later in the year, also publication in Lenscratch, invitation to Art Photo Index and more. Juror: Lisa Hostetler, Curator, George Eastman House, formerly Curator at the Smithsonian Museum. Deadline: March 12, 2014

THE CHOICE AWARDS (http://www.visitcenter.org/competitions/overview/choice_awards_2014) are in three categories Curator’s, Editor’s or Gallerist’s Choice and you can choose to enter 1, 2, or 3 of the categories for your work. The recipients are featured in the Award winners exhibition at Center for Contemporary Arts during Review Santa Fe. They also receive complimentary participation in Review Santa Fe, Lenscratch publication, invitation to Art Photo Index and more. The jurors are Curator’s Choice – Malcolm Daniel, Curator in Charge, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX formerly Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Editor’s Choice – Cheryl Newman, Director of Photography, The Telegraph, England; and Gallerist’s Choice – Steffi Schulze, Gallery Management, Camera Work, Germany.

REVIEW SANTA FE (http://www.visitcenter.org/reviews/overview/review_santa_fe_2014) is a juried portfolio review event and conference scheduled for June 26-29, 2014 in Santa Fe, NM. Review Santa Fe is designed for photographers to get their work seen by those that can help them achieve maximum impact. Scholarships and payment plans are available for photographers upon acceptance. Deadline: January 22, 2014

I see portfolio reviews popping up all over the place, tell me what separates Review Santa Fe from the rest of what’s out there for photographers to attend?

Review Santa Fe has changed the course of many photographers careers with dozens of actual outcomes every year. The juried component elevates the experience for all involved as it attracts not only committed photographers but also reviewers from high distributions magazines and high profile museums who don’t go to other reviews. The reviewers talk amongst each other giving CENTER’s reviews high marks. Many have stated that it is the best review they ever attended.

I just sent out our e-news yesterday with part of a testimonial from Alec Soth, here is the whole thing (from 2005): “A few years ago I felt stuck. I’d completed a project and received some attention in my hometown but I had no idea how to get the work out nationally. Out of the blue I was nominated for the Santa Fe Prize. The award and the attention were terrific, but the real prize was the review experience. The exposure to prestigious professionals and fantastic fellow photographers gave me access to an invaluable national network. It didn’t take long for this experience to reap huge rewards. Within a year of my experience at Review Santa Fe, I had a solo exhibition in New York, a book contract and was invited to participate in the Whitney Biennial.”

I do a lot of the research on who is using photography well and paying. Our reputation and our alumni have allowed me to cultivate key relationship with those picture professionals. At Review Santa Fe, you may have opportunity to meet with someone who can add your work to our nation’s archive in the Library of Congress. In one day it’s very possible you could meet with decision-makers from The Library of Congress, the Whitney, the Getty, TIME magazine, The New Yorker and many others who are looking for content. So, there’s fertile ground at Review Santa Fe that attracts not only some of the best reviewers and photographers.

Our alumni list is hot, hot, hot with editorial and fine art photographers – Alec Soth, Chris Jordan, Julie Blackmon, Hank Willis Thomas, Brian Ulrich, Tamas Dezso, Cristina de Middel, Carolyn Drake and Ben Lowy…the list goes on and on.

If I’m a photographer thinking about going to a portfolio review tell me how should I evaluate what’s available and how do I know I’m ready for one?

Regional reviews at your local photo art centers are great for getting feedback on a work-in-progress. It’s actually quite nice for reviewers to know that there is no expectation and allows for a really authentic and engaging conversation that can lead to insights and next steps. The more national and international reviews, you are ready when you have a cohesive body of work within a polished presentation that may be relevant to a broader audience. It doesn’t have to be fully completed but having a resolved concept and direction and being able to communicate clearly what the work is about is important.

In terms of criteria, I would evaluate the organizations track record and, if you can, ask a reviewer to speak candidly about their experience at an event. The most important thing are the reviewers attending. Ask yourself, are there reviewers on the roster that you want to meet? If so, are they accessible in other ways? You want to try to use that opportunity to meet with people you could not otherwise.

Also, many of us are becoming conscious consumers. There is a critical difference in the priorities of a non-profit art service organizations and other types of businesses. We are accountable to all of our attendees, as well as donors, the city, the state and sometimes the federal government. I have a responsibility to have actual outcomes in my programs and for our attendees to have worthwhile experiences. I would look to see if the program is aligned with a mission-based organization as that instills a level of trust and mutual investment. Essentially, non-profit organizations are for photographers, not for profit. On that note, another important question: are there scholarships or payment plans?

What advice can you give specifically with regards to Review Santa Fe?

- When in doubt submit the edgier series.
- Bring two or more projects with you to the event.
- Submit fewer images, and the tighter edit (you will be judged by your weakest, not your strongest image).
- Pay attention to your sequencing, make it like an album. When it doubt, have a strong #1, #4, and other signature pieces sprinkled evenly throughout the series. End strong.
- In your reviews, realize that you, as storyteller, are as important as the work, in building key relationships. In other words, your bedside manner is very important.

What can people expect to get out of the event? I heard from someone who had great reviews last year but they were frustrated because 3 months later nobody had responded to any of the follow up including yourself. Then in another 3 months a big magazine is publishing a portfolio of their work, so they are relieved obviously, but there was a long period where they were not happy about the time and money spent on attending and the lack of response afterwards. I know it can feel real chummy at the event, but then everyone goes back to work and reality. Can you comment on that?

Given the work is strong, it all comes down to patience. There is a lot of content needed these days for hungry image consumers. I tell a story during Review Santa Fe orientation about a three time alumni who showed her black and white images of bumblebees back in 2006. It didn’t get published until 2010 from a publisher she met at the event. That was when bees were on everyone’s radar because they were disappearing and made the news. Sometimes the reviewer is waiting for the right moment, when the audience is ripe. Editors are managing a bunch of assignments and don’t have time to take a moment to tell you that the timing isn’t right yet.

In terms of my experience, which is also reflective of some reviewers, emails that are non-urgent may wait a season or longer to be addressed. I know it’s almost absurd, that amount of time. The thing is that I love talking to photographers and this particular one, I eventually communicated when I was able to properly engage with her. If I just wrote back “be patient” and explained editors and others heavy work loads, would that have helped any? That discussion needed to be within a context of a sincere conversation that is specific to each individual at a particular moment in the life of their projects and careers.

I see that photographers get discouraged and that’s hard especially when some of their fellow reviewees seemingly get recognition right away. This year within several weeks of the event, we had two photographers on the Wired blog, one on the Smithsonian blog, two others on the New York Times Lens Blog, and a gallery exhibition. The thing is that you don’t know how long each individual has been working on their projects prior to that recognition, and how many times they tried to get the work out prior to the event, if they have an established connection to the reviewer and perhaps Review Santa Fe was that impetus to finally show the work. Each story is different.

But absolutely stay in touch. What prompted me to finally write back was that particular photographer’s holiday card made me laugh. Please keep in mind that once you put the work out there it is not on your time frames or your needs anymore – it is on the magazine, the gallery, the business, or the organization’s schedule. Since they are the ones you are hoping to work with you have to trust their judgement and trust that they are savvy business people who know when the moment is right.

What you can expect is to get your work in front of people who have the power to distribute it to a broad audience. You can expect to be around a group of people all working at a high level and who are dialed into the field. You can expect to make friends you may have for years. You can expect reviewers to be mutually invested in looking at new work. You can expect that although they may not write back in a timely fashion, they will remember your work and reach out when the time is right.

CENTER is celebrating its 20th anniversary, do you have anything special planned?

Sure do. It includes expansion into the central downtown Santa Fe outdoor venue location (the Railyard) and projections of the 2014 photographers works during the simultaneous international multi-media festival called Currents. This parallel festival has a series of programs and installations happening along with evening events with DJs and projections that our participants and encouraged to attend. Its all right down the street from our new location, the Hotel Santa Fe. We are also hosting a Saturday night Fundraising Gala with the Center for Contemporary Arts who are celebrating their 35th anniversary and the Santa Fe Workshops attendees are also invited to the gala as they are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year.

Plus, the 100 participating photographers will be invited to give artists presentations scheduled throughout the weekend at the Center for Contemporary Arts. We will have two of our high profile alumni – Julie Blackmon and Phil Toledano – to give evening presentations. There’s more planned but basically its going to be non-stop forward momentum infused with some fun.

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Reviewing Work At The New York Portfolio Review

by Jonathan Blaustein

I sat in the back row for orientation, flanked by two friends. The large conference room at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism was buzzing. To my left sat David Emitt Adams, an Arizona photographer who prints on oil drum lids. To my right was Jaime Permuth, a Guatemalan based in New York, who photographs in Queens. We were excited, and probably a little nervous, to take part in the first ever New York Portfolio Review, sponsored by the NY Times Lens Blog.

I was listening to the tail end of Michelle McNally’s introductory speech, when David’s elbow gently poked my rib cage. He pointed across the room, and whispered in my ear, “Get a load of that guy.”

I looked up, and noticed that one of our fellow photographers was wearing a Mexican-style lucha libre wrestling mask. Awesome, but maybe a little inappropriate. Like everyone, I was curious as to the identity of our masked man.

There were over a hundred photographers in the room, many of whom had flown in from around the planet. The Times was hosting its first portfolio review, which was announced on the Lens Blog this past winter. Those sitting there, patiently waiting to have their work reviewed by some of the biggest names in the industry, had been chosen from among the several thousand applicants who submitted work. The event was totally free, which is a rarity. Even the food was complimentary.

It was an august group of seasoned professionals, and, of course, the guy wearing the lucha libre mask. My friends and I giggled, reflecting the personality of adolescent troublemakers in the back row. “Dude,” I said to David, “I’ll give you twenty bucks if you climb on the table and tackle him, like Macho Man dropping down off the top turnbuckle. Twenty bucks, dude. Twenty bucks.”

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He laughed, but was wise enough to pass. Then, the lucha libre guy got up from his chair, and started heading our way. “Quick,” I told the guys, “when he walks by, let’s all yell ‘Que Viva,’.” It’ll be awesome. Like. Totally.

The anonymous photographer was tall, and bore down on us like a lumberjack eyeing a tasty bit of tree. Just as he was about to walk by, our taunts at the ready, something surprising happened. He stopped.

Suddenly, I was looking up at a pair of sparkly eyes, peering out from behind the wrestler’s mask. “Heeeeeey, Jonathan,” he said. I let out a long breath, ashamed at my recent behavior. Everyone within a few rows was watching, or so it seemed.

Immediately, it came to me: Sol Neelman, who put out the cool book “Weird Sports” a couple of years ago. I reviewed it, and then we met once in Albuquerque. Had to be him.

“Sol?” I said, tepidly. It was indeed.

“I have a present for you,” he said. The next thing I knew, he handed me a lucha libre mask of my own. “Put it on.”

“Come on, dude, put it on,” chimed the gallery.

By then, it was clear I had an audience. What the hell, I thought, might as well be a good sport about it. As I posed for the inevitable photos, however, I realized that I couldn’t actually see. The mask didn’t fit, so my eyes were covered. Fortunately, David captured the moment in a Polaroid, which he graciously scanned, so you can now snigger accordingly.

What’s the lesson here? Maybe it’s best to keep your mouth shut sometimes, rather than mocking the one guy who looks different? Or, maybe we should all lighten up a bit? Que viva.

From there, I had a fantastic day, as all my reviews were stellar. I met with some excellent people, but, really, we’ve been through this before. I’ve written several articles about attending portfolio reviews, so let’s not go down that road today.

The next day, though, I was asked to review the work of a great group of younger photographers. (It was the first time I’ve been a reviewer at a portfolio review event.) As I was the only attendee to be on both sides of the table, it occurred to me that I could use this article to highlight the best work I saw. (You know, like an actual professional.)

I sat behind a table that Sunday, anxiously waiting to dispense advice. I was open with the photographers, admitting I was much less influential than the other people in the room, and that it was likely I could offer nothing more than my honest opinion about where to take their work. I hadn’t thought of writing about them in an article like this, so the possibility wasn’t discussed.

Given the international flavor of the event, three of the six photographers I met were European. Two young women, from Italy and France, had not-yet-developed work, so we focused on picking out the best few images as a foundation on which to build. The third artist visiting from the continent, Daniel Alvarez, was from Barcelona. (Who doesn’t love that city?)

He showed me a recently published book, which I’ve photographed for you. Black and white, high-contrast, grainy images of his Japanese wife were mixed within a non-linear narrative. They were more intense than erotic, and personal in a way you don’t often see with photography like this. (Probably because he actually knows, loves and lives with his model, rather than just being a male photographer fetishizing some random hottie.) The sequencing of the book was also strong, and I’ve included a particularly impressive run. (Negatives/modernist building/contact sheet.)

Of the Americans I met, the two young women also showed images that indicated promise, but were not quite there yet. I encouraged them, highlighted the best images, and pointed out that their evident talent and work ethic, extended over time, would likely yield the results for which they were hoping. The other American, Andrew Burton, was rather confident, and gave the sense that I was probably not high on his list. (Not that I blame him. I wouldn’t have ranked me highly either.)

Andrew is a photojournalist of the old school, and had pictures to show me on his laptop. The project we discussed had recently been shot in Afghanistan, where he was investigating the American military handoff. The pictures were unquestionably excellent.

I pointed out a compelling succession of images, and mentioned that the formal compositional structure would read well in an art context. (On the topic of how to show his work outside the journalistic milieu.) Many of the other images were more angular, with less rigid use of cropping. The advice was: the fine art photo world is, and will likely always be in love with formalism.

An Afghan National Army soldier practices drills at Command Outpost AJK (Azim-Jan-Kariz) in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, January 29, 2013.

Soldiers in the Afghan National Army's 6th Kandak (battalion), 3rd company walk through a poppy field during a joint patrol with the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment near Command Outpost Pa'in Kalay on April 5, 2013 in Kandahar Province, Maiwand District, Afghanistan. The United States military and its allies are in the midst of training and transitioning power to the Afghan National Security Forces in order to withdraw from the country by 2014.

An improvised explosive device (IED) detonates underneath a vehicle during a patrol outside Command Outpost AJK (short for Azim-Jan-Kariz, a near-by village) in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, January 28, 2013. No one was killed in the attack.

A 10-year-old girl injured by an improvised explosive device waits for a helicopter to evacuate her for further medical attention from strong point DeMaiwand, Maywand District, Kandahar Province, on January 18, 2013. The IED also injured a 25-year-old man, who had both legs blown off.

A member of the Afghan Uniform Police, on patrol with the U.S. Army, wipes his brow after an improvised explosive device (IED) attack during a patrol outside Command Outpost AJK (short for Azim-Jan-Kariz, a near-by village) in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, January 28, 2013. No one killed in the attack.

 

We also talked a bit about how the photography industry is changing, no matter which wing one inhabits. I shared with him my belief that today’s photographers have to be multi-talented, and be able to create various incomes streams. The old ways are dead, I theorized, and they’re not coming back. (Then, I might have pounded the table for emphasis.) Shortly after that meeting, Andrew was hired as a NYC-based staff photographer for Getty Images. Just like the old days. Shows what I know.

After the reviews were done, everyone got together for a pizza feast, again catered by the Times. The afternoon featured a slate of lectures, which I had to miss, as I was due for a second pizza party with my family, across the Hudson River in Jersey. Before I headed back into reality, though, I made sure to stop in to thank James Estrin, Lens blog co-editor, and the visionary behind the event. (Along with David Gonzalez, the Lens Blog co-editor, who took the time to give me some tremendous journalistic advice.) Mr. Estrin is a generous guy, and I’ll reiterate my appreciation here. It was an amazing event, and I’m honored to have been included.

photoNOLA, New Orleans, 2012

by Jonathan Blaustein

They say time heals all wounds. I’m sure that’s not true. To heal implies making things better. The parents of those poor Connecticut children will never be better again. With time, though, they will likely hurt less. They will keep on living. And in six weeks, most of us will forget they exist.

Sometimes, though, the rest of us, those glued to our screens during a tragedy, are the ones who get stuck. Occasionally, the bystanders will latch on to the moment of horror, and not let go. Like with Hurricane Katrina.

I went to New Orleans last month to attend the photoNOLA festival. I was booked for their portfolio reviews, and was also hoping to get around the city a bit and see things. But my very first impression, in the airport, served to solidify my preconceptions about this storm-ravaged region. The place was under construction disarray, with plywood tacked up willy-nilly. I even grabbed a snapshot of a marker-written “Baggage Claim” sign that was about as ghetto as anything I’ve seen.

Like I said, my vision was stuck a bit in 2005. When my Eritrean cab driver approached Downtown, I saw the Superdome up ahead, and then we drove right past it. At first, I held my breath, and saw those roof tiles gone in my mind. Then, I looked more closely. The place was shiny-metal-gleaming in the rosy late afternoon light. It is now sponsored, heavily, by Mercedes Benz. The stadium was stylish and expensive looking, in 2012.

I was on notice. The multiple cranes seen erecting buildings around the city were another sign of money and development. (You can learn a lot from the cranes on a skyline. We saw so many in Spain, in 2004, that I knew something was up. Or, as the Spaniards would tell you, tragically unsustainable.) Lucien, of whom you’ll hear later, told me the cranes were raising jails and hospitals. Two constant sources of cash.

I also learned that Eritreans will eat in Ethiopian restaurants. Though the two countries were locked in vicious wars for 30 years, that forced my cabbie to flee to America, apparently the food is pretty much the same. (He was sullen, so I tipped him poorly. I still feel guilty about it.)

The short version of my trip is that I found a city booming. So much so that I only saw a fraction of what was on display. Photography exhibitions were everywhere. Robot parades, Second lines, lectures, openings, music, art, it was everywhere. Good for New Orleans. While we may still have Katrina on the brain, especially in Sandy’s wake, the folks living there have most certainly moved on. Thank goodness.

I ate amazing food, day after day. I was kidnapped, three times, by photographers visiting from various parts around the South. The cliché about Southern Hospitality was on full display, and I’m now officially down with it. (For you foodies out there, Friday’s dinner was at Clancy’s. Book it. And celebu-chef John Besh’s pizza place, Domenica, was also a standout.)

The festival began a couple of days before I got there. There was a gala benefit on Thursday night, and lectures by Sasha Wolf and Mary Virginia Swanson earlier on Friday. I missed them all. You know I’ve got a baby at home, so my trip was too brief. If I return next year, I’ll make sure to stay longer. And I’d heartily recommend you go yourself, but don’t shortchange it.

My reviews were on Saturday, and I began with a meeting with an associate curator from the Museum of Modern Art. It was the first time I’d met with someone from there, the gleaming art Mecca, and I thought hard about how to approach it. I decided that the likelihood of her seeing something in a box, and it then ending up on the wall, or in the collection at the MoMA, was next to zero. Probably more like zero. (Maybe down the line, but still…)

The second route would be to be “insanely memorable.” While I can be charming on a good day, 20 minutes is not a very long time to strike up the kind of conversation that impresses someone enough to go straight to the top of their to-do-list. Possible, but, again, unlikely.

On the other hand, one thing I could reasonably hope for would be to get her honest opinion about my work. Presumably, you don’t work there unless you really know what you’re talking about. So advice, a critique, was something that seemed attainable, and potentially very helpful.

That’s how I approached it. I didn’t even show her prints from my established project, “The Value of a Dollar,” or try to woo her with my extensive resume. Rather, we focused on my in-progress work, where it was headed: what she liked, what she didn’t like. It was fascinating to hear her riff on my work, and very encouraging.

I’m sharing this, here, because I’ve been and am an advocate of portfolio reviews. The process has really made my career, and many others before me. But I’ve been victim, in the past, of that desire to make every meeting out be the game-changer. To hustle and schmooze. Talk without listening. What do they call that, the elevator pitch? Please.

The beauty of these events, and photoNOLA was an excellent example, is that you can learn more about what you’re doing from seasoned professionals. Can these meetings lead directly to exhibition, publication, and acquisition? Yes, they can. But even more, they can help push us further along, outside the domain of the “like-asphere.” (Am I coining this term, or does it already exist?)

The event was based out of the International House Hotel, just next to the French quarter. (In which the streets truly do smell of booze and urine.) The reviews took place in the hotel conference facilities, across the street, in a couple of rooms very well set up for the attending photographers. (Free wifi, free food, coffee and water? Classy.)

There were countless events in the evenings, so much that without a car and a better sense of direction, it was hopeless to try to attend most. I was bummed about that, as I didn’t get to see as much as I’d hoped, and was mostly restricted to the CBD and the Quarter. (Though one kidnapping brought me to the Lower Garden District. Cool spot. Hipster central.)

Ultimately, I realized that a surfeit of options of things to see is a good problem. You can only be in one place at a time, and you can’t talk to everyone. That’s why I’d recommend a longer stay, and why I hope to get back as soon as I can.

As for the events I did see? It started with the Shelby Lee Adams Lecture at the Ogden Museum of Art, on Friday night. He was super-intelligent, and showed a range of lesser-known work from his long career. Some of his portraits of Appalachians reminded me a lot of Roger Ballen’s pictures of poor South Africans. The pictures are straight, but the folks are so seemingly pitiable, and the lens so sharp, that the intent can seem mean or exploitative. Or, I should say, some folks interpret them as such.

As Mr. Adams is from and lives amongst his community, and his subjects love the depictions, I’m inclined to find them cool as hell. But he was very defensive about his critical reputation, mentioning it on three or four occasions. He took swipes at “Academics” at the University of Kentucky, and others. My companions and I all commented about it, as it seemed a waste of energy. He’s got great work, and is successful and acclaimed. (As he said, to paraphrase, once you get a Guggenheim, you can do whatever the hell you want.)

I was reminded of my own past fury at our pack of rabbly commenters, though I’ve since decided to leave people to their opinions. The critics are out there, in every field and forum. If you put your work out there, and it’s good enough to draw attention, then you have to learn how to take/live with the criticism. Because it will most certainly come.

Still, it was a great presentation over all, but we had to split a bit early for late dinner reservations. The next night, I was able to catch the end of a group Q&A with Keith Carter, Josephine Sacabo, Shelby Lee Adams, and Louviere + Vanessa at A Gallery for Fine Art Photography, in the French Quarter. The place is a must on any future visit to New Orleans. Tons of great historical work, and some contemporary Black and White photography as well. (Helmut Newton’s pictures jumped off the wall. Sexy photos, sexy town.)

Let’s wrap this up. photoNOLA rocks, and New Orleans rocks. It’s a city with an unfathomable amount of cultural events, and more insane restaurants than you could ever, ever eat at. The cost of the portfolio reviews is less than some competing events, which is a bonus. And every dollar you spend will pump right into the local economy.

The cabdriver who took me back to the airport was, in fact, right out extras casting for all the movies they’re shooting here these days. He could easily have been a character on David Simon’s “Treme.” Aforementioned, his name was Lucien, a fifty-something African-American guy, born and raised in NOLA.

He was funny, loquacious, and intently offered me his wisdom. We swapped stories for the whole ride back to the airport, talking shit about money and power. (I wish I could quote him on that week’s NFL shooting tragedy, but it’s NSFW.) When I lauded the local hospitality, and promised a speedy return, he summed it up for me as follows: “It don’t cost anything extra to be nice to people.” Amen.