2.08.2013

This post is for the pros and aspiring pros. If you don't need to show a portfolio then reading this is optional.

A shot from Esther's Follies. Funny, silly, essential Austin Entertainment.

Golly Jeepers! Photographers are from Uranus and Art Buyers are from Venus...

Belinda and I got invited to a nice dinner at Lambert's last night. An fun, upscale BBQ restaurant right next to city hall in downtown Austin. We were guests of the Austin Center for Photography and the local chapter of the ASMP. The occasion was the kick off of the Texas Photographic Round-up which will feature presentations by photo stars like Dan Winter, Andrew Hetherington, Adam Voorhees and others. 

For a lot of professional (advertising and commercial) photographers one of the big draws of the show is the opportunity to sit down with an art buyer, photographer's rep or magazine editor and show a portfolio of your work. The Photo Review.  The idea is to get a critique that will help move your career forward.  You sign up for the review, pay your money and take your lumps (or get well deserved strokes from a tough industry insider = you win).

I'm sure portfolio reviews have value but I feel like I learned a lot by having dinner and drinks with five of the women who flew in from places like New York and San Francisco to do the reviews. And I'd like to summarize what they told Belinda and me last night in an hour and half's worth of wine fueled honesty and good food.

These are not my local-yokel opinions. They are the nuanced opinions from the top facilitators and gate keepers of the industry we all work in or want to work in. I'm going to paraphrase but I'm trying to be very accurate about the content of what they said (and unanimously agreed upon).

1. "We do not care about what camera or brand of lights you used. We never ask. We never want to know. We don't care. All that matters on that front is how the image looks and how it's presented. (and I would infer from their collective body language that you supplying a running inventory pisses them off. Big time. And it makes them understand that you really don't get that the subject is more important than the toys...)."

2. "We do not want to know what technique you used; either when shooting or when post processing. If it works for us we'll like it without you having to give it a name. If we don't like it we also don't need to know what you call it or how you do it. Period. The discussion of how the sausage was made seems to always curb the appetite."

3.  We don't...... mind.....iPad presentations but they (iPads, physically) are so unpersonalized. Quote: "Flick, Flick....now who's book am I looking at again???" If you show work on an iPad there are two things they (the buyers and reps) want you to know: 1. The work better stand out. 2. They feel as though the image inventory on the average photographer's iPad presentation is.....endless. And not in a good way.  Many sighs around the table and unified nostalgia for big, beautiful, printed portfolios....

4. "The impression of the photographer's fun quotient and fun to be around quotient is at least as important as the work. One magazine art buyer said, "If they are wonderful, happy personalities and easy to work with I don't care what their book looks like." (interpretation: if you are a self-centered ass you probably will lose more jobs than you'll gain with a personal portfolio show)."

5. "We've all seen thousands of presentations that are copies of really good photographers and we've seen lots of commercial work. If we want a famous person's style we'll try to hire them. What we want to see in a book is what makes you, the photographer, excited to shoot. Personal work. Wonderful personal work."

So, by having dinner with the reviewers we were entertained and learned what the big fish are really thinking. It all boils down to this:

We don't care about cameras
We do care about personalities
We want the presentation and the work to be memorable
We don't want to hear how the sausage was made
The thing you are selling us is your style. That's it.

Sounds like good advice to me. And the brisket at Lambert's was really good. None of the guests did anything embarrassing and everyone seemed to be having a really good time.

Now, you'll have to excuse me, I'm frantically trying to narrow down the images I have on my iPad, print a new, sexy portfolio and review my dog eared copy of "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.  Good luck out there.