Prior to October, I had never had a formal review of my work, and now two months later I feel like a seasoned veteran. I was extremely nervous going into my first reviews at Hous Projects, and now I feel like I would be willing to show my work to anyone. The review process was invaluable to me in many ways, and I think that doing multiple sessions over a relatively short time span is something I will consider doing on an annual basis if I have the opportunity.
I was forced to really think about consolidating a cohesive body of work for the first time. Like many photographers I tend to shoot just about everything I see in a wide variety of formats, and this ends up being a scattered and chaotic pile of images in a multitude of archival storage boxes, folios, and internet photo sites. There is nothing wrong with that, but I couldn't possibly take a representation of all of my infinite photography genres to a thirty minute review. Preparing for a formal portfolio review made me narrow down into sharp focus what really matters to me as a photographer. What is at the core of this
What did I learn? Too many things to mention or remember here in one sitting, but several key things. First, the importance of the document; the print itself. I am so accustomed to looking at my work and the work of others via the computer and internet sites that it becomes the visual norm. Electronic photography becomes my basis for aesthetic judgement and critical assessment and that is not the way it should be. The carefully printed tangible photograph observed under ideal lighting adds a tactile level of experience never found on the computer screen. The one on one dialog between photographer and reviewer standing in front of the actual printed image; picking it up, turning it around, moving it on the table among the other images is entirely different than two people sitting in front of one computer screen scrolling through images. I now have a completely new appreciation and respect for my archival storage box containing my carefully selected and reviewed portfolio of images.
Second, and probably the most significant thing I got from these reviews was a sense of my work being credible; a validation that I was making a cogent expression of ideas. Not every reviewer was excited about my work, but even when I sensed indifference to my subject matter, it was still clear to me that my message was being felt. That is the most important aspect of my personal working style, and I walked away from each review with not just confirmation of the message being heard, but also suggestions of ways to improve upon the methods of telling. Simple comments or questions about my work would immediately get scribbled into my notebook as the review was taking place. Alex Webb asked me if I knew the work of Lewis Baltz. I told him I had heard the name but didn't know of his work. He suggested I look it up and I was astonished to find this work that Baltz did in the mid 1970's of New Industrial Parks. I have no conscious memory of seeing this work before but I have to wonder if it has been in my subconscious from many years ago. (Baltz was capturing the birth of this architectural style, while I am now documenting its death ?)
Lewis Baltz Archive
Another strong validation for me was that the majority of the reviewers made a connection to the underlying gut feelings of my imagery, without any verbal context from me.. Ricardo Viera called them 'emotional abstracts' , and Larry Fink referred to them as 'poetry' and called me a 'poet'. Highly satisfying considering that I have written and meditated on the connection between photography and poetry many times.
Photography & Poetry
Photography & Poetry
Moving forward, I will go back to what I stated earlier about feeling like a seasoned veteran of the review process. What I mean by that is I think I gained a sense of maturity; a small leap in overcoming the ignorance of 'not knowing what you don't know' prior to a new learning experience. I think I have a better sense of 'what I don't know' about my work. The reviewers have pushed me towards a place beyond where I might have imagined I was headed. I have no idea where that place may be, but I have discovered that the portfolio review is an essential element for me in moving forward as an artist. I want it to become an annual occurrence.
Ruben Natal San-Miguel
Rebecca Norris Webb
A few tips for a successful portfolio review