Presenting Your Photographs
Views of a portfolio review at the Griffin Museum of Photography
After months, even years, of developing and producing a body of photographs, it becomes essential and necessary to introduce and present the work to an audience, whether it be in a fine art and/or commercial context, so as to bring it to their attention for a range possible professional opportunities, including editorial and advertising/commercial assignments, exhibitions and book publishing. While receiving criticism and recognition is important to the work, the photographer’s psyche and working process, the essential purpose in presenting your photographs is to further develop, nurture and establish a professional career.
While most of the time and attention is spent on the conceptual, aesthetic and technical aspects of photography and the development of a personal vision, it is vital the photographer give particular attention into how the work will be presented to a photo editor, art buyer, gallery director and/or museum curator. In consideration of the intellectual, financial and emotional investment that has been made in the creation of the work, how the presentation of the work is handled can go a long way in achieving both short- and long-term professional goals.
For whatever reason, whether it be artistic anxiety and/or the uncertainty of what is said and what will happen, those moments and opportunities when you can present your photographs should be enlightening, meaningful and hopefully, professionally successful. Presenting and sharing your photographs to an audience is one of the reasons the work is made in the first place. You have something you want to show and you’ll want to be excited to have others share in what you’ve created.
In addition to the guidelines and professional practices outlined in The Photographic Portfolio, here are some additional thoughts to take into consideration:
Who are you showing your work to and why
- What is the context in which you’ll be presenting the work? As there are many ways in which a portfolio may be reviewed, whether it be a drop-off without any type of discussion or a one-to-one meeting, it will be important to know the context and circumstances so as to better prepare the portfolio as well as your own presentation.
- Do research on the places and people who will be looking at your portfolio. It is important to be as knowledgeable as possible about who you are showing your work to and the kind of work they have used and/or exhibited in the past, depending on whether the work is in a commercial or fine art context, or most likely navigating in both areas.
- Determine and define the goals and objectives for presenting the portfolio. Are you presenting the portfolio to gain additional insight and criticism? Or to develop and facilitate professional opportunities, such as an assignment or exhibition? It is important to clarify this for yourself in preparation of meeting with someone. While it may seem obvious on the surface why you’re showing your work to someone, don’t take any of it for granted. If there is something you want from the experience, then bring it up.
Preparing the portfolio
- Show only the best works that reflect a cohesive series. It is important that the work in the portfolio demonstrates your sense of personal vision and craft. While the project you’re preparing the portfolio for may include a significant number of images, an initial portfolio of 15 – 20 images is not uncommon to show given the amount of time someone may spend with you and/or just the work. If they’re interested in the first 20, then there will most likely be opportunities to show the other images. It may be beneficial to have 4 – 6 additional images from another body of work that is currently being developed if there is an opportunity to showcase these efforts after presenting the initial body of work.
- The photographic portfolio should be prepared and presented so that the work is accessible for ease of viewing in consideration of your audience.
- For those presenting work within a commercial context, the spiral bound portfolio book with prints inside mylar pages allows a picture editor or art buyer to review the work in a timely manner, particularly in consideration of their time schedules.
- Within a fine art context, a clamshell portfolio box or museum case will work best in showcasing the work.
- The most common sizes in presenting work can range from 11″ x 14″ up to 20″ x 24″. In considering the size of the prints to present, you’ll want to have the portfolio be a size and weight that is manageable to carry and allows for the reviewer to look at the work easily. The prints can be either loose or matted. While interleaving paper, and storage bags are beneficial to protecting work, they can become problematic when showing the work, particularly if there is a short amount of time in which to present. It is beneficial to have the prints be of the same size so that can be easily be stacked in the portfolio. Basically, you want to be able to show the work in such a manner that showcases your efforts and can be presented in an efficient manner.
Presenting the work
- In consideration of your goals and objectives, you’re presenting your photographs as a means of furthering your professional career as a photographer. As such, it is important to keep in mind that you’re developing professional relationships with the people you are meeting with. Keep in mind that first impressions will set the stage for these relationships and it is important to present yourself and your work in a professional and courteous manner as if you’re on a job interview, which in fact in may very well be.
- Be realistic about your goals, objectives and expectations. Remember you’re developing a professional relationship with the people you’re meeting and this is an opportunity to network. It’s probably best not to expect to be offered an assignment or exhibition immediately, though if the nature of the discussion goes in that direction, it doesn’t hurt to pursue those possibilities. What is important is to establish a dialog that provides for follow-up opportunities.
- Regardless of the outcome, always thank the person for taking the time to review your work either in person and/or a thank you note as a means of follow-up. Ask for their business card or contact information so you can keep them updated on your work in a respectful manner.
- As presenting your photographs is a means of introducing yourself and your work to an audience within a professional context (commercial and/or fine art), it will be beneficial to prepare additional materials to supplement your portfolio as part of an overall marketing effort.
- These additional materials that can be used as a “leave-behind package” include any combination of the following:
- Business card with contact information, including mailing address, telephone number, email address and website URL
- CD-ROM image portfolio
- Small prints (with pertinent contact information on a label on the back of the print)
- Announcement or promotional card such as those made by Modern Postcard
- Soft- or hard-bound photo book utilizing on-demand printing
- Resume, also known as a curriculum vitae – CV, with pertinent information including contact information and professional experience (education, exhibition record, publication/bibliography record, client list, and professional recognition such as grants and awards)
If the work demonstrates refined conceptual engagement, aesthetic sensibility and technical craftsmanship and you’re well-prepared, presenting your photographs should be enlightening, meaningful and hopefully, professionally successful. Make the most of these opportunities and enjoy the process of sharing and showcasing your work.