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“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” – Norman Vincent Peale
How can a photographer get ahead these days? Between fanning the flames of creativity, producing gratifying work and marketing oneself, there’s a lot of juggling going on. If you’re not in school, it can be pretty difficult to find the kind of feedback and advice that will propel you in the right direction. What to do?
In a word, portfolio reviews. Where to start? Locally. The New England Portfolio Review and Workshops (NEPR) featured an exciting new format for portfolio reviews and a weekend of relevant, pragmatic programming, sponsored by the Griffin Museum of Photography and the Photographic Resource Center (PRC), over the weekend of July 23rd, 2016 (and every July) at the Griffin Museum in Winchester, Massachusetts. I think what happened there this year is worth shouting about, along with some of the work I had the opportunity to review, which you will see throughout and at the end of this post.
Currently, portfolio reviews are the prevailing way in which museum curators, gallery directors, publishing houses and art writers like me discover and promote new work. Most reviews consist of a one-on-one meeting between photographer and reviewer for 20 minutes. This format is not without its critics and controversies, but changing the formula has been equally fraught. Luckily, some people are just more daring than others and this year the Griffin Museum’s Executive Director, Paula Tognarelli, decided it was time to experiment with a “test kitchen”. As a reviewer, I think her idea worked like a secret sauce. Not a secret for long, though, because I’m telling.
At this year’s NEPR, each photographer had 30 minute sessions with a panel of three reviewers. If a standard review can feel contentious and frightening for photographers, the prospect of three reviewers may well sound like a firing squad. But let me tell you why it’s actually better for everyone.
For photographers, the first and best reason that a review committee is advantageous to you is that many more reviewers see your work than in an ordinary session or day. Because the NEPR committees of three are comprised not only of curators, publishers and writers, but also academics and established fine art photographers, you come away with significant new perspectives and, optimally, a stronger consensus on useful ways to bring your work to the next level. Another scheduling benefit, perhaps unintended, is that photographers have more time to network and share work with one another between review sessions.
Hands down, my favorite part of the new reviews is the spirit of collaboration that results from a group discussion. The potential for antagonism or frank disinterest in a photographer’s work is eliminated when three reviewers are cooperating to offer valuable suggestions. First of all, it encourages everyone to be respectful, something that should never be an issue but, sadly, has been. Secondly, the natural back and forth of a conversation allows everyone time to consider the work in a less rushed way. As a reviewer, it was a great luxury for me to listen and learn from my teammates, Bruce Myren, a photographer, educator and Board Member of the PRC, and Oscar Palacio, a photographer and Associate Professor of Photography at Lesley University. Their thoughts informed my own comments in a way that allowed me to make more cohesive, practical and helpful recommendations to photographers.
This year’s innovative format for the NEPR resulted in an avalanche of positive feedback from both photographers and reviewers. Will this become the new normal? I hope so. And if there weren’t already enough happy campers, Paula Tognarelli has polled the review teams to pick their three favorite artists with the intention of offering exhibits to those photographers. In my opinion, there is no better way to jump into the fine art photography world than to mine the local riches in Boston, especially before spending substantial time and money to attend national portfolio reviews in places like Houston and Portland, Oregon. The considerable passion and expertise of reviewers from the Boston photographic community has helped launch many careers. Take advantage and shoot for the moon!
For more information about the New England Portfolio Reviews, go to: http://www.griffinmuseum.org/blog/product/nepr-2016/
Feature Image: From the “Black Lives Matter” series by Ben Arnon (courtesy of the artist).