The floor of the studio while deciding what to include for a portfolio show.
I have a portfolio show with an advertising agency today. When I first set it up with the art director I assumed I'd be showing my work to him and maybe one or two more people. It was my intention to throw some work on the new iPad and sort it into galleries with an app called, "Portfolio" and then let them fingertip drag their way through. It's a nice, intimate way to show one's work and it doesn't require a bunch of physical work.
Of course there's always Murphy's Law. In the interim between setting up the portfolio show and the appointment this afternoon someone at the same agency called me up and asked me to bid on a fairly big project. Then, when I confirmed our portfolio show the art buyer let me know that eight of the creative people in the agency would be attending. Yikes! Eight people hovering around a (now) tiny iPad? Curses.
What to do and what to show? I decided I'd do the show with both a traditional 13 by 19 inch leather portfolio case, filled with prints, and the iPad. I might also bring along a beautiful little 8x8 inch leather book filled with black and white portraits.
The nerve racking part of the whole process is the question of what to put into the big print book. So I did what any crazy artist would do and immediately dumped the better part of 1200 large prints onto the floor of the studio and started sorting. And here's the sad reality: I'll be sorting and changing and sorting and changing right up until the time of my appointment, trying to fine tune the selection. Not an efficient way to spend the day.
My "brilliant" friends who are also professional photographers would laugh at me. They've got bound books (which removes all temptation to meddle) filled with their greatest hits. But I like to custom populate my portfolios with images that are aimed at the market I'm pitching. If an agency is heavy into healthcare I want to make sure that I've got a good sampling of the images I've done for hospitals, cardiology practices, cancer practices and oral surgeons. At the same time I don't want to come in so heavy in one category that I can't represent my interest in other kinds of industries in which they may have good clients.
My wife, a graphic designer of many years, tells me to put together a book of great portraits and just to show what I want to get. Nice advice. But it would really depress me to go in with a book of great portraits only to hear, "These are lovely but we were hoping to see some food as we just landed a big hotel account..." Or something along those lines.
While this may sound like something only commercial image sellers should have to worry about I think it's also germaine to amateur photographers as well. I think nothing is as ruthlessly, painfully instructive for every artist than the task of narrowing down your work to your top thirty to fifty pieces. In fact, I think we should all undertake the discipline of having to put together a big, printed portfolio (say 13 by 19 inches?) because it will make you really look at your work with a critical eye. Does the work hold together stylistically? How will handle the inevitable vertical and horizontal interplay between prints? Does your chosen subject matter hold up for 25 or 50 images? Do you have 25 to 50 keepers? (sometimes I feel like I have ten....)
Try it as an exercise. Put together a beautiful portfolio of 25 images. Don't put in anything that's not perfectly seen and well printed. Don't put in stuff that's so limited in appeal that only you would get the emotional appeal of the image. Don't stick it in a nappy plastic binder. Invest in a real portfolio case.
What will this buy you? Well, when people ask you about your photography work you will have a very impressive and comfortable way to present what you do. I think everyone would agree that seeing beautifully printed images writ large beats the heck out of watching your "friends" scroll through the screens of their cellphones, "Looking for that great shot..." Your audience will be impressed if only by the fact that they've probably never seen photographs well presented before.
It's a way of organizing your vision and your style. And the process will probably nail down, for you, what you really like to see and what's just the same kind of fluff everyone else is shooting and showing on the web. But the most important aspect of putting together the book is the solid feeling of having really done something with your work.
A company called Itoya makes some really nice, inexpensive portfolio books with leather-like covers and crystal clear insert pages. Do your own ink jet prints or send them to a lab that's well profiled like Costco. In Austin we have an additional embarrassment of riches in that we have good custom labs at Holland Photo Imaging and Precison Camera. I have a fair number of prints done at Holland Imaging because they run specials on large prints imaged onto C-print papers, including metallic finishes that look really cool.
Okay. I think I've got it. One big book, one small black and white book, and my greatest hits on the iPad. Now, what am I going to do for leave behinds?
I should stop coasting and do this (portfolio showing) more often. Practice makes perfect. Now where have I heard that before.....
Edit: After the show. I went with my plan of showing a book of square, black and white portraits (10 by 10 inches in a nicely book bound presentation), seven different galleries on an iPad and one big book of 13 by 19 inch color prints.
Of the eight people present several were intent on viewing everything on the iPad. The lead creative director loved the big color and everyone, universally, liked the black and white book. The reasons to bring both are ample. I think the big prints had the most impact but the iPad supplied depth for people whose brains are wired that way. In the end the iPad paid for itself because, in response to a spontaneous question from the creative director, I was able to play for the group some video projects on which I've been working. That opened up another line of potential business.
I took along ten copies of a postcard (5.5 by 8 inches) which has one of my favorite images of a weathered looking concrete contractor in a hard hat in front of a wall of incoming storm clouds. The group asked for contact information and was delighted with the cards.
After I update this I'll sit down and write each person a "thank you" note. And that completes my portfolio show. Thanks for your interest.