As someone whom has reviewed many portfolios over the years I am often surprised at how little advice there is for photographers on preparing to show them.
Here is some practical advice to help you get the most out of your sessions:
Who to show your work to? When you are looking which reviewers to book at events such as the upcoming Photo Meet or Rencontres d'Arles for example don't just pick the people that you have heard of. See if your work fits their modus operandi. There is not much point in showing a publisher a body of work about architecture if they have not shown any previous interest in the subject in their previous publications. Do your research on the people you want to see. Read their bios, note their appearance so that if you do not manage to book a review you know what they look like. There is often an opportunity to mingle at these events, you can pass on your card then perhaps...
What to bring with you as well as the work: As well as a fabulous portfolio it is good to be memorable & leave something for reviewers to go back to later if they choose to.
A business card: It seems old fashioned these days but it can be very useful for quick reference. If you have a key eye-catching image that sums up your current project include it on your card or a postcard. (Don't forget to add your website info & tel number & email on a postcard). There is a reason for this: an image is easier to remember than a name. Contacting someone quickly via the phone can make the difference between an image featured in a paper or magazine when an editor is working to a deadline.
Press release: If you have an exhibition coming up make sure you have a press release with you containing all the pertinent information about the show & the work, sponsors etcetera to give to the reviewer.
Take notes: Technology is such a large part of our lives now that it is easy to forget the value of a good notebook. Time is of the essence - it is much quicker for a reviewer to note something down for you, than wait for you type it up or for them to try to & type it up on an iPad/phone they are not familiar with. Spelling something out takes time, it is precious & 20mins goes fast! I've frequently been recorded at a review - just ask permission first & only use it for personal reference. It is so easy to forget an important tip or name as the day goes by.
It may seem obvious to place your best work in your portfolio - whether on paper / website / pdf - but it is easy to forget that a 20 minute session goes in a flash. 20 photographs at an average of a minute each is not very long to discuss each image & discuss the project or series.
If you have more than one series it is a good idea to do a contact sheet example of each series/project to show a reviewer which one they would prefer to see. This way they can have a quick glimpse & see which would fit best & also a peek of more in case they want to follow up later to see another project.
Introducing the work:
A short paragraph summing up a series that can be read quickly or read to the reviewer whilst they browse your work. This can also help to keep your information concise, making sure to include all the key elements of a body of work - even if it is incomplete, your intention for the work can be included. 100-300 words max is a good ballpark. (You can always expand on this on your website.)
Questions for reviewers: You may have specific questions to ask which differ from one reviewer to another. There is nothing wrong with have these written down so that you don't forget or miss something.
Gloves: White cotton gloves can scratch prints when things get caught in the weave of the cotton fibres & the oil from your skin can go through them. Nitrile unpowered gloves are the best for handing prints. Here are the ones I prefer. A box of them goes a long way & you can give a new pair to each person. Handle your work with care - dings look bad on prints & costs you money.
Portfolio boxes are heavy & many people often have their work in a digital format. (I like both - love the physicality of a print though - as a collector it is not surprising) Having one print with you to show the quality of the finished article is always good though. Seeing the work in its intended size is a good way to display how a work would look in an exhibition & the impact it has in its optimum size. Remember, size isn't everything - big is not always best. If you need advice on this ask for advice. If you have 2 sizes bring both. (It may be impractical to go full size - its quality that is the most important thing)
Last, but by no means least: All this advice is worthless unless you listen to the reviewers. You may not agree with everything they say, but you might just learn something. I know that I can always learn from others, no one has all the answers but they may lead you towards some that are right for you...
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