Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Northwest Reviews Review

Well, Photolucida NW Reviews has finally come and gone, and I've had a day for decompression and thought. It will be difficult to sum up the whole experience in one post so I'll make a stab at it today and add more thoughts in upcoming posts.

Since the core of Photolucida is the review experience, that's where I'll begin. For the reviews I printed up two portfolios. The first was a tightly edited sequence of b/w street shots taken from my In-Public portfolio. The second was a more current portfolio of medium format color work showing suburban fencing in the Willamette Valley (not on my website yet but stay tuned). With these two radically different portfolios I thought I could cover most bases.

Over the course of the weekend I had 9 twenty minute meetings with various photo luminaries, and a few less luminous. It was a bit like speed dating. You meet, have a conversation, and at the end of twenty minutes you decide if the relationship might work out and if you want to go on another date. Although I exchanged plenty of handshakes and business cards, no one wanted to keep dating me. Oh well. At least now that I've gotten my work out there I can feel better about storing it back in the closet.

Twenty minutes may seem like a short time to bring someone up to speed on your work, but it was actually sufficient. Speaking personally, within five minutes of first looking through someone's work I know whether or not I want to see more of it. The reviewers were even more experienced. By and large they've seen it all, and within five minutes of seeing my work I got the sense they'd come to a decision about it. Which left fifteen minutes for platitudes and generalities.

"You should edit this down more."
"What do you hope to do with this work, a book, a show, a magazine?"
"How long have you been shooting? Where did you go to school? What shows have you had?"
"You should make small work prints and play with them on a table to work out the sequencing."
"There are a lot of folks out there doing this type of work."
"Who have you shown this work to?"
"Why in the world are you still shooting film?"

These are all valid comments, but they didn't have much to do with the work itself. They might apply to any reviewee. I didn't get many specific comments like, "I really respond to this image because of x" or "These ones work because they have x in common whereas this one doesn't do y." One person said she liked my photos that were more mysterious but when I asked which ones those were my question became an unsolved mystery. By and large, the focus was much more career based, much more about how my photography might fit into the broader world than about the process of making it. Which is about what I'd expected.

The exception came from the one reviewer I saw who was an active photographer, Raymond Meeks. Thinking he liked landscapes, I showed Meeks the color first. He wasn't impressed. I showed him the b/w which he seemed to like better. But it wasn't until I showed him a small notebook of family shots that he made the most perceptive comment of the weekend, "I get the sense you're excited when you take these. These show passion. Your color work feels much less risky, much safer." Damn, had he nailed it! I said, yes, I felt the same way. What did I give a shit about fences for? I didn't at all! It was merely a thematic construct applied after shooting. But the family shots...The family shots aren't made with any future intent. If something interesting is happening I'll whip through a roll in five minutes. I said that with the color work I was much more precise. I thought long and hard about making each photo before exposing it. He physically winced at that comment. I said surely you must run into that shooting sheet film? You don't think about whether the exposure is worth it after going to the hassle of loading your 4 x 5? He said he never ever thought about the film. He ran off as many shots as necessary until he captured what he wanted. He said I'm a photographer. I do whatever I need to to get photographs. I might have to run through box of film to get a shot but if I get one shot --one-- from the day I have done what I set out to do.

That review was definitely the most worthwhile of the entire weekend. More comments in future days...

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