If you’ve never had a portfolio review or lack confidence in your work, this is for you.
Sept 2016 and the Manifesto portfolio reviews have come round again. I nearly chicken out when I see Frédérique isn’t on the list of reviewers, no socks will be blown off now. Oh well, I talk myself into it and decide to choose reviewers that a) work with fine art photography and b) can speak English, after last year’s problems. Which whittles my short list down quite a bit.
I also learnt last year a load of disconnected pictures is daft, and decide to only take my Mérens project. I could really use some help with it; after working on it for the past year I reached a point where I can’t seem to move forward. I’m not looking for gallery representation or publication or any kind of external validation. Just good, old-fashioned, honest critique and guidance. At least I’m clear this time on what I want to get out of the experience, which was an important point I neglected last year. So I edit down to about 15 of what I think are my strongest images, and make darkroom prints. They’re a mixture of photographs made with pinhole and SLR cameras, all black and white film and I have the gumption to make a written statement to clarify my intention and meaning if I get tongue-tied again.
When I walk in I meet Panagiotis from Photometria Festival in Greece and Tania from Photon in Spain. Both give me a kiss and welcome me warmly. Before we even talk about my work they ask about ME. I say, I’m relatively new to taking photography seriously, and explain I came to it via being a sculptor. They ask about how I ended up in France, want to know where and how I live my life. When I do get my pictures out and talk about the project, they’ve already put me at ease and given me confidence to talk about it.
The advice they gave me was to have more consistency with my cameras and process. They felt the pinholes were the strongest images but I need to be more part of it as it’s such an intimate subject. It needs more narrative, more depiction of the horses’ qualities and temperament, the bonding of the herds, and my emotional attachment to them. Oh, and composition. Lots of things for me to work on and think about. They were supportive and positive about my choice to shoot film and work in the darkroom. They both gave me their emails and took mine and made me promise to stay in touch and keep them updated with the project, they seemed to genuinely care about how I progress.
So despite the disappointment of not seeing Frédérique, I actually really lucked out in the end. My arm was crapped out so I couldn’t write notes but as soon as I was on my way home I waffled on a stream of consciousness into my phone. It was exactly what I needed – a mix of constructive criticism yet some proper support and enthusiasm for the project and a way to move forward.
So to sum up, it has been a fantastic experience and the chance to meet some amazing and inspiring people. I strongly advise anyone who has struggles with a particular body of work or project, and the opportunity to apply for a portfolio review to just go for it. You don’t need to be at a point where it’s resolved, or even particularly cohesive, as long as you are clear about the outcome you want from the review it can help propel the work forward hugely. Even if you think you’re not ready to share it with the world but you are ready to do the hard work. We all have to start somewhere with our big dreams.