Last week’s portfolio review at the Bronx Documentary Center was both informative and rewarding. In blocks of 15 minutes each, I met and showed samples of my work to five different photo editors from The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Getty Images. I joked with a few of them that the experience of moving from table to table after such rapid conversations reminded me of speed dating. All were very supportive of my photographic work on the Harlem River Valley. They agreed that I had a solid command of the fundamentals: composition, exposure, clarity, and use of light. A few commented that I was offering a view of the city that isn’t seen very much and that my passion for this subject was evident in the consistency and scope of my images.
At the same time, they each offered instructive criticism of specific images and my portfolio as a whole. Firstly, it would be wonderful to have more images closer to the waterfront itself. I have many bridge shots in which the spans are celebrated in a grand, romantic way, but few in which the focus is on the river itself, its banks, or activity around where the river and land meet. Secondly, people! It’s true I’ve largely avoided people in my work, but they – even a single individual (perhaps from a distance) – can really help to tell a story, I was told. Especially with photographs of the natural landscape, people can transform an ordinary image into a captivating and memorable moment. Finally, emotion! My photographs were described by one editor as “placid.” He recommended I try to imbue emotion into my images, which he admitted was challenging to achieve but would help to grab the viewer more easily. On the other hand, another photo editor seemed to like the calmness of my work. Thus, one important takeaway from last Saturday’s portfolio review is that among editors there can be a gambit of opinion. In fact, to help allay any concern that I may have had about some of the editors’ criticism, one of them warned me about this directly. There’s the opinion of the artist and then, there’s that of the reviewer, she went on to tell me. One should certainly seek and consider editors’ feedback but shouldn’t take it as gospel (unless they’re the employer or client).
I also befriended other photographers some of whom are full-time professionals and others, who like myself, are not professional but are aspiring to develop and improve their work. It was wonderful to make these contacts and to learn from people, who are so seasoned and knowledgeable. I used almost all of the business cards that I brought with me.