Dawn Watson, dnj Gallery, Santa Monica, CA copyright 2017 Douglas Stockdale
This last month I was a guest portfolio reviewer for the LACP (Los Angeles Center of Photography) EXPOSURE 2017 portfolio reviews at the dnj Gallery in Santa Monica’s Bergamont (Arts) Station.
Overall it was a great experience as a portfolio reviewer as I was introduced to some very intriguing and well thought out photographic projects. It should probably come as no surprise that many of the photographers and artists were interested in spending time with me regarding my assessment about these projects being published.
One of the most frequent questions I am asked before one of these events; how does one prepare for a portfolio review? Since the review is scheduled for only 20 minutes, everyone is always surprised in how quickly this time slips by. First just about everyone brings too many photographs and supporting materials probably in the hopes that a reviewer will be able to see it all and still have time to provide some wise advice. Nope that usually does NOT happen.
Second, as a portfolio reviewer I start each discussion with three requests: tell me about yourself, tell me about the portfolio we are going to review and what is it you would like to obtain feedback from me about your project that might help you to move it forward?
Reviewers would like to know a little bit about who they are talking to; not your life story, but a quick 2 minute bio, which I call an elevator speech. Same for the portfolio (maybe a photographic project), for the photographer/artist to provide some context as to what is going to be reviewed, again perhaps 1-2 minutes, another elevator speech. Last, what is it you need from the review? Some examples: feedback on the editing of the photographs, are the images technically acceptable, could this sequence or series work in a book layout, are the photographs consistent with the artistic statement, etc.
Third, plan on reviewing only one portfolio with each reviewer, you can bring more portfolios, but you will only have real quality time to spend on one with each reviewer. In most portfolio reviews the artist/photographer might be meeting with a series of different portfolio reviewers and it is appropriate to select a portfolio that is relevant to a specific reviewer. In my case, most wanted me to review their book dummy’s or portfolios that they were thinking about having published.
Fourth, plan on having less than 15 prints in the portfolio to have reviewed. In many cases we did not get through all 15 prints during our 20 minute session. You should want quality time/discussion for each image and how these images relate to each other. This exchange takes time when it results in a give and take discussion.
Bring something to take notes and one photographer recorded our review session. Each portfolio reviewer is an individual with a point of view, which may be very different from yours, so don’t become defensive if the reviewer does not see or understand what you are trying to communicate with your photographic prints. One key purpose of coming to a portfolio review is to get a broader exposure to your work and have others talk about what they see. If you are doing more talking than listening, then you are not going to obtain the full benefit of this occasion.
Last, leave something behind, perhaps as simple as a business card (yes, one person left me with one of their books) to help the reviewer remember who you are (I did 12 portfolio reviews on Saturday and names and projects began to blur at the end of the day) and then follow up with a nice email note a couple of days after the event.
Reviewers are there to help you and if they can point you in a direction or make an follow on introduction, they usually will. I had a short list of introductions and follow-up items that I had promised and these are just about completed, as it takes a few days to get organized. Also realized that these are good events to network with the other photographers and artist who are participating in the reviews as you never can tell what might come up during a side discussion.
Note: I had not realized at the time I took the photograph of Dawn Watson, above, that the large red photograph behind me was going to reflect so much pink color on Watson’s self-published book. Below is a better representation of her book “Trees” ( & thanks to Watson for providing a better photograph) and a nice follow-up email regarding our review time together. well done.
Douglas Stockdale, Publisher