I attended my first portfolio review at Powerhouse Books in Dumbo this past Sunday, and overall I have to say it was a very positive experience. I almost missed the the event altogether, because despite my dedication and days of preparation, I somehow missed the news about the 5 borough bike race that went right through Dumbo. Needless to say my 12 minute car service ride, became an hour and 10 minute ride. But I made it and I am glad I did. I have Amy Stein to thank, she encouraged me to go at the Humble Arts panel.
Portfolio Reviews are funny things, especially un-curated ones, like Fotofest and the Powerhouse Review. There is such a large mix of work, I imagine the reviewers are at a loss sometimes as to what to say to people. But for me, it was just what I needed. To be 100% honest I think I have been avoiding showing my work to people after my very first experience 2 & 1/2 years ago at a gallery. But the assignment method at the powerhouse review was sort of like a blind date. So the stakes were not as high, it was more likely you were not going to be right for each other than to fall in love under those circumstances. So when I got criticism from one reviewer, I took what was useful from it and let the rest slide off my back. A very new experience for me. The rest of my encounters were very positive and I got some really concrete and useful feedback. The reviewers were all very generous with their insight and very engaged in the process. I left feeling really great about my work. Now, this is not to say I left with a scheduled show and a signed book deal, I think that is an unrealistic expectation for a review. I am starting to see that there is no overnight success in this, but rather a culmination of lots of little steps some in the right direction and some not. But getting the confirmation I needed on the quality and message of my project is an incredible gift. I am well aware that my imagery is a challenging sell for a gallery. But so is a lot of other great art. There is a lot of not too interesting fluff on the walls of galleries because they have New York rents too. If they do not show work that sells, they can never take a chance on anyone.
The bottom line is that most fine-art photography gets made for other photographers, museums curators and a select group of collectors. The average person, and I mean smart media savvy New Yorker, does not like most of what is lauded in the art world. I recently had this experience after inviting some friends to come to an opening. They are very intelligent people, but they were totally left cold by the photos. The imagery just did not translate. As a photo person, I loved them. It is not Robert Frank, Walker Evans or Diane Arbus that people buy posters and reprints of, but Weston nudes & flowers or Ansel Adams. The bottom line is that shows that make money are Sante D’Orazio’s Pamela Anderson nudes and Martin Scholler’s George Clooney Head portraits. But if buying those images makes people happy or allows the gallery to show other artists, so what? There reality of life is that a gallery is not a museum, it is a business. And artists will always have to balance their visions with that reality. The best piece of advice I got at the review, was to just keep doing what I am doing, and be patient. And that it is better to have the galleries come to you when all the pieces fall into place.