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Friday, May 29, 2009

Finding Gems in a Portfolio Competition

I recently judged an online portfolio competition for the Center for Fine Art Photography, an international non-profit based in Fort Collins, Colorado. I honestly did not know what to expect, but accepted for the sheer challenge of taking 250 twelve-image portfolios and narrowing them down to 15 winners. I was also charged with picking one photographer for an exhibit, and one for the cover of the book published with the winners work. My final choices, and the quality of the work were a wonderful surprise.

It is not uncommon in my experience to find that photographers don’t always understand what a “body of work” really is. Just because you took all of the photos doesn’t make it a body of work. There has to be an idea behind the work, an idea that binds all of the images together with a common thread.

First I edited out the portfolios that had 12 random images, then the stock photography portfolios. After that I was left with around half of the original count, and got down to the business of judging. I saw work that reminded me of other photographers—I edited those portfolios out. While it is great to admire another photographer, you need to find a style and an eye that are your own. I saw more black and white landscape work than I would have liked, and some portfolios that seemed very impersonal--style over substance.

Yet it didn’t take long to begin to see that there were some real gems in this competition. I saw more photo essays than I expected, and less of what is considered “art photography.” That was a pleasant surprise simply due to the quality of the essay subject matter. Here are a few of the photographers whose work stood out to me.

Isadora Kosofsky, is a 15-year-old photographer whose portraits at a Los Angeles state-funded convalescent home blew me away. The strength of her eye and her compositional ability mark her as a real up and coming talent. There is a sophistication in her work that belies her age, and I hope the current state of this industry does not hinder he growth. I will be interviewing her soon, so stay tuned.

I loved the Highway 80 landscapes of Peggy Jones, with their focus on the plastic bag trash that waves like a woman’s scarf in the wind as tanker trucks whiz by. The photos give an entirely new meaning to environmental photography. The amazing book sculptures of David Orr are precisely photographed to create a dialog between the photographer and viewer as to what a book really is. And Shelley Calton’s portraits of lingerie are delicate reminders of the past that are touching in their quaintness.

Wrenay Gomez-Charlton photographs show us the intimate and awkward story of her daughter’s budding entry into adolescence. In the unselfconscious way in which we are allowed to see her daughter I am reminded of that moment when I too was suspended between growing up and still being a little girl.

You can see the entire exhibit online starting June 3. Check it out and enjoy.

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Blogger Wrenay Charlton said...

Thank you for sharing your insight and judging process. I am very honored to have been one of the 15 selected.

Wrenay Gomez Charlton

June 03, 2009  
Anonymous Steve Immel said...

It was very helpful to read your editing process and to try to understand how a particular portfolio may have missed the cut. Thanks for that.

June 15, 2009  

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