Photographers frequently ask me about the value of attending portfolio review events and which events to attend and why. The offerings are vast and the investment of time and money varies.
Do I think attending a portfolio review event has value? Absolutely.
Will each and every photographer benefit from sharing their work at these events, no matter how resolved their body of work is at that time? YES. Reviewers can provide creative guidance for works in progress, as well as marketing advice for completed projects.
Can participating in these events help move your career to the next level? Without question. But to do so effectively you must continue the dialogue you have started at the event.
Will every single appointment be a match made in heaven? NO. But responsible reviewers will find much to share with you about your work, regardless of whether it fits their gallery, their collection, their publication program, and know too that you can ask them questions about their industry, from market trends to pricing and editioning to whom they might suggest would be interested in your project.
From my perspective, there are three main reasons you should bring your work to a portfolio review event:
First: The process of applying and preparing to attend is a valuable experience. Writing about your work, editing your work for a 20-minute review session, and preparing a printed piece or CD sample with your imagery to share with others attending are activities that in themselves will lend clarity to your work.
Second: Presenting your work to industry professionals and peers alike. This is an experience that can’t be matched. The standard model is a 20-minute session with each reviewer; the number of sessions offered depends on the length of the event. The number of times you will share your work goes beyond these formal sessions as you will share work with other photographers too. Through having a dialogue about your work, your clarity about and commitment to your bodies of work comes from attending a portfolio review event.
Third: Beginning relationships. Portfolio review events provide an opportunity for you to to share your work and ideas with your peers and industry professionals, be it discussing craft or intention/audience in your twenty minute session. It is of course your responsibility to follow up with those reviewers who encourage you to keep them posted on the evolution of your project.
The next step in your decision to apply is to look carefully at the reviewers that have been asked to participate. An increasing number of events invite a diverse group of reviewers, going beyond professionals from the fine art arena to include influential photo editors, photo researchers, graphic designers, corporate art consultants and others who bring opportunities for your work to be seen in multiple markets. I applaud this effort and encourage you to try to schedule a session with an individual whom you are not as likely to secure an in-person meeting outside of a review event. I encourage you to seek out reviews offering a diversity of industry professionals.
Geographic location too could be the reason you register (or apply) to one event over another. I want you to know your local community, and to introduce your work to others beyond your local area. Every event will do its best to invite professionals from all parts of the country however most invite a strong contingency of regionally-based reviewers for ease of and cost of bringing those professionals to their event. If your work is well known in the east, you might consider attending a review event in the west.
Educational component – another plus from my perspective. If you are committing time and resources to travel to an industry gathering such as these, I wish for you to gain insights from professionals in the form of lectures, panel discussions, and more. When weighing your options, educational offerings may be a factor for you in putting an event in your “plus” column.
Introducing your work to individuals from multiple markets is a growing focus of some events, while others invite a majority of reviewers from the fine art community. Many publishers seek invitations to attend JURIED events. Study the list of the reviewers who have been invited to all events, and this should be a strong factor in weighing the value of your attending that particular event.
My enthusiasm for your investing in portfolio review events grows as 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 physical 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.
So I encourage you to review the offerings, join their e-mailing list, mark their dates on your calendar and know that they (and the host hotels) may will sell out within a few days of opening registration. Being aware of cancellation policies is always wise.
Mary Virginia Swanson