Sunday, April 12, 2009


The portfolio review.
I decided that this year I would seek out a gallerist to look at actual prints of mine and see what they thought of them. I e-mailed the only gallerist who was familiar with me and had actually made a little money off me last year in a juried show and I was pleasantly surprised that she agreed to meet with me. Though now I had to come up with more then 4 prints that I had some faith in. Portland does have a few galleries that do deal exclusively in photography and will accept digital submissions. This is a safe and non-confrontational way to test the market with your pictures. Another way is to look for juried shows seeking submissions. I've done this for the last few years with juried exhibits at Newspace and 23 Sandy Gallery. The nicest thing about a juried exhibit is that it's an open invitation so by sending in pictures you are simply being polite rather then pushy. The gallery gets your entrance fee along with a CD or a downloaded file and you know that some distinguished jurist is going to look at your pictures. It's a good way to find out quickly and not too painfully if anyone else cares about what you are doing. You don't get a nuanced opinion but a simple yes or no can say a lot about where you are at this moment in time in your photography. I remember the first rejection e-mail I received I tacked up to the bulletin board in my darkroom. I liked that it started out 'Dear Photographer'. Wow someone actually called me a photographer!
I wanted to avoid the digital submission. I wanted someone to look at actual prints. This is a more involved process and usually involves an exchange of cash for a professional opinion. Newspace usually includes a porfolio review every quarter where it brings in artists and gallerists for 15 minute portfolio reviews for a modest fee. This is a way for gallerists and established photographers and artists to bring in a little income. You can also participate in this event. Photographers from all over the country compete for a coveted slot and put down their 725.00. As you can see it's filled. There are a lot of things I could get for 725.00 (on craigslist right now it would be almost 50% down payment on a beautiful Leica M-2).
I just don't have a lot of faith in a paid for opinion. My guess is it would be something rather non-committal. Art is a very strange commodity and trying to place a price on it is difficult if not impossible. In a town like Portland where a lot of creative people have migrated there is a lot of product but not a lot of people wanting to buy it. I really had no idea how this city supported so many galleries and in the last few years I have learned that it doesn't and you can see that almost every week now when one or more is closing down.
So I went in to this process knowing a little bit of the cold hard reality of the local fine art photography market. If I was working digitally I wouldn't have even tried. It was only because I produce work in an actual darkroom that I felt the prints have some value in and of themselves. Silver gelatin prints have a proven record of lasting a long time, something digital work can only promise at this point. There are no 150 year old digital prints. Still how do you find out if there is a market for them even as potential cultural artifacts.

I confronted this issue in the most humiliating way in my portfolio review when after hearing a lot of good things about my images as I was getting ready to put them away I committed the faux pas of asking the gallerist if they wanted one of my pictures as compensation for their time and got a simple and polite "No thank you". It was an embarrassing experience for both of us and I regretted immediately having said it. I was grateful for their time but it was presumptious to think that I had anything of equal value to offer in exchange.

Still I wanted to exchange some small token of gratitude for her time. I couldn't afford to buy any of the work she had hanging in the gallery but she did have a small selection of monographs and one in particular caught my eye that was published by photolucida. It was a beautifully bound work of pictures by Hiroshi Watanabe. It was probably the only sale she made all day.

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