One of the things one has to endure as an “emerging” photographer is the ordeal known as the “portfolio review”. These are formal events where you open yourself and your work to criticism from the good and the great of the photographic art world: gallerists, museum curators, publishers, collectors …and even a few photographers. Some portfolio reviews select attendees by jury, some are open to anyone who will pay the entry fee. All of them result in a series of 20 minute time slots for you to pitch your work and get feedback.
There is none bigger than Fotofest, which takes place every two years in Houston, Texas. Fotofest is a truly international affair held over four four-day sessions in April. Most photographers attend just one of the sessions, but a few attend multiple sessions, as do some reviewers. This year I paid my fee and attended the first session of the Houston event — and quite the eye-opener it was, too!
Compared to the PhotoAlliance event I attended in San Francisco a couple of years ago, Fotofest was much more focused on “Art” than photography in “fine art photography” – reviewers were more interested in originality and concept than classic photographic or aesthetic qualities. The majority of attendees (so it seemed to me) were art school educated and had a language and world view that took a while to tune into. By the fourth day I was getting it and was able to approach my work – and others – with a new eye.
It was great to meet the other photographers, too. I look forward to meeting many them again soon.
In general, the reaction to my work was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone appreciated my use of composition, form and color, but the next question was always “what is this work about?” or “what are you trying to say?”. Several reviewers drew comparisons to work of other well known (although not known to me) photographers, but in the sense of “this type of work has already been done”, rather than as a complement! A couple of reviewers did express more interest though, so I’ll have to see where that leads (if anywhere).
The big take-away for me from the four day event was inspiration. Seeing the wide variety and high standard of work got me thinking about all kinds of new projects I would like to tackle over the next couple of years. Sure, I will have to acquire some new equipment and learn some new skills – but isn’t that the fun part?
Here are a few of the photos I took while I was there (click to embiggen):