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Can I Pay You to Look at My Pictures?

January 24, 2009

The current trend of marketing portfolio reviews to developing photographers is a suspicious one. Are we simply becoming an income generating commodity for arts organizations? Supporting non-profits is not a bad thing and I try to support them regularly. Being critiqued can also be valuable. I have a few problems when these two activities are merged and presented as a necessary step for fine art photographers.

There are a few artists for whom the pay-per-review model could be a success.

1. You are financially blessed.

2. You are aggressive with self-promotion.

3. You are at a very specific point in your portfolio development. Either with a very solid portfolio, or with very little opportunity to get feedback.

Ideally, one would have all of the above qualities to truly benefit.

Here are some other options for constructive feedback for those in any of the above categories.

1. If you are rich you can pay a publisher, such as Aperture, to publish your work. This assumes that your portfolio is decent. You would be amazed at how many well known photographic artists have to do major fundraising, or contribute $10-30 thousand themselves, to pay for publication.

2. If you are energetic with self-promotion you can show work to the MoMa and the Met in NYC, and lots of other museums and galleries almost anywhere. You can do this by simply showing up on a day the museum has alloted for that purpose, or by making an appointment. At a 20 minute pay review, if your work pleases the critic, you will be given some names or institutions to approach in this way.

3. A fully realized, truly great, portfolio will be helpful in getting you in the door of an organization that a well credentialed reviewer may represent. Maybe as many as one percent of attendees fall into this category.

If you are a newbie and have little experience in being critiqued you will find 20 minutes to be just a taste of what real portfolio development could mean to you.

You may suspect that I am writing from a “sour grapes” perspective. I have done many of these reviews and have made some connections. I have had the director of the Eastman House tell me he wanted to give me a show (dismissed after follow up communications). A photo editor from The New Yorker made much effort to include me in the magazine (to no avail, not her fault). One reviewer told me he wanted to personally mentor me and help my career (he never returned my follow-up emails). Another reviewer wanted to get me into her gallery (later refused, without a review of my portfolio, by the gallery owner). One reviewer, a gallery owner, started yelling at me berating my pictures and attitude. Several others have given me solid support.

As an example of a not-for-profit review situation, I once left my portfolio at the ICP in New York. When I returned a week later, I could immediately see by the unique way I had closed the portfolio that it had not even been opened. This was just after it was explained to me that the curator looked over my work and was not interested. Pay-for-reviews are not for every photo artist out there, but it is a guarantee that someone will see your work.

I would like to thank Conscientious and Marketing Photos with Mary Virginia Swanson for stimulating my rant.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2009 6:46 pm

    That Interesting, however I have always been of the opinion that we make our own luck and much of the so call doom and gloom of the market lives between our ears.
    Having said that it has become clear to me in my area most buyers (galleries) don’t know what they are buying and are ill informed.




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