Stellazine has moved to

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.

Labels: , , , , , , Digg it Facebook MySpace Slashdot Technorati Stumbleupon Twitter

Friday, May 1, 2009

What’s Going to Happen?

Like everyone else, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out where things are going and where photography will fit in the future. As much as I wish I could see into the future, I can’t, and so this is what I’m thinking.

Instead of bemoaning where things used to be I am trying to focus on where they might end up. I’m always thinking about new ways to get myself out there and new things I can do to make my mark. I am also asking for help more than I may have in the past. And that is a great thing.

In this time of turbulence it’s more important than ever to connect with people you know and with people you want to know. If things aren’t going well then all we have is each other. Now I’m not trying to sound like a self-help book, but feeling a part of something is much better and much healthier than isolating yourself.

In New York City you are maybe two degrees at most away from someone in media. Take advantage of that! Ask your friends if they know any photo editors or art buyers and if they will make an introduction for you. Think in terms of the long run. Not everything pans out immediately, but if you are taking a long-range view of your future, you will have more success.

Is your book ready to go at a moment’s notice? Is your website current and attractive for viewing? If you’ve been meaning to update and improve your portfolio or website do it now! If unbelievably you don’t have a website, DO IT NOW! There is no time to waste, because what you should be spending time doing is thinking about how you can make yourself known and your work seen.

Do you read other photography blogs? Why not? Do you comment on things you read? Why not? Do you have a blog? Is it something people can get value from? By that I mean are you offering an opinion or information or ideas that are singular to you? The world doesn’t need another self-involved blog from a photographer who has nothing to say. However, you can make your blog important reading by really understanding what it can be for you. Maybe you want to comment on other people’s work. Maybe you want to talk about your own. Maybe you want to comment on the larger issues in the industry. Make sure you’ve looked around at some of the thousands of other blogs to see how you can make a real, unique contribution.

And if you have a blog, is it linked to others? If you’re just beaming things out into the void without touching down anywhere it will be harder for you to be found. Think about it, you can communicate with and befriend people around the world through the Web. That’s incredible! Think about how you can connect with people everywhere.

If work is slow (or even non-existent) ask yourself what else you can do. If that means taking a job in order to support yourself, so be it. There’s no shame in supporting yourself. Is there a way you can barter for work? Can you do publicity for a neighborhood business in trade for their offerings? Maybe you can shoot some publicity for a local restaurant that will pay you in meals. I don’t think enough people are thinking this way. When things are tight bartering is more important than ever.

I think people should be talking more with each other and coming up with new ideas. I mean if not now, when? If you get an idea, execute it! Don’t wait for things to come to you. Think in new ways, create in new ways and maybe you’ll come up with a viable outlet for others as well. The old ways are falling to pieces at our feet. Let’s get out there and create new avenues for story telling and for great art. Let's show the vital value of photography in our world.

And finally, I hope this goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway)—SHOOT MORE!! Get better at what you do, produce more. It will keep you sharp, keep you connected, and keep you learning and refining your eye. Thing big. Be the photographer you want to be. Don’t stop and don’t let things stop you in your tracks. Things will change, and those who are ready for the change will be able to take advantage when it comes. If you really want to be a professional photographer, be one. Fight despair; fight the impulse to give up.

Remember, you are not alone; we are all going through this together.

Labels: , , , , , , Digg it Facebook MySpace Slashdot Technorati Stumbleupon Twitter