I was fortunate enough to be asked to be a reviewer for PhotoNOLA’s portfolio review weekend before last. Because this was my first time as a reviewer (in an official capacity – Ryan and I regularly review at the gallery), they went easy on me and gave me two half days instead of full. And because we had a lot to do to get Lori Vrba’s show ready for Sunday night (and because it’s New Orleans, so an afternoon nap is key), the half days were perfect.
Before I left, I asked a few people for some tips on reviewing. Amy Miller, ever my goddess in all things photo, was really helpful with tips on things to discuss when you feel you have nothing to discuss. The reviews are 20 minutes long, which can go by very quickly, or, as you can imagine, can feel like time is moving backwards. I may have forgotten this advice here and there, because I’m pretty sure at one point I said, “cute cat”.
I also turned to my counseling background and decided to put the question to them – “What are you looking to get out of this review?” Well, that backfired a little, since they almost all said, “To be represented by your gallery”. Oh.
My reviewing table was next to Greg Wakabayashi, the artistic director for Welcome Books. He wrote a wonderful write-up of his weekend at PhotoNOLA on the Welcome Books blog (including a great description of Lori’s show). Whenever I felt like I was losing steam, I would look over at Greg who was so earnestly and enthusiastically speaking to someone, that it kicked me back into gear. I also looked at Vanessa (of Louviere + Vanessa – oh, that Vanessa!) who was volunteering at the reviews, and she would bring me an ice cold diet coke. That helped too. (Before you judge and say, “Hey, I thought you quit diet coke,” let’s remember a few things. It’s tough to be on you’re A-game at 9am after a night out in New Orleans. And come on people – I don’t eat gluten or wheat or sugar. I exercise and I’m a good person. A girl’s got to have a vice!)
The reviewers were given their schedule of reviewees a few days ahead of time, so there was an opportunity to look at their portfolios online before we met them. I decided not to, opting to be surprised. I also barely had time to kiss my kids goodbye before I left, so I may just be saying that as a cop-out. I felt better knowing that many reviewers preferred to be surprised as well. I know Greg did look ahead of time, and I would love to follow-up with him to see if he thought that was beneficial or not.
In any event, each person that sat in front of me was a total surprise. And surprised I was. Pleasantly. I couldn’t believe what a diverse group of people and work I was seeing. Truly, it was all over the map. But each photographer had a great passion and love for what they were doing. There is a book reviewer I love who doesn’t comment on whether a book is “good” or not. His feeling is that if a book is published, someone found something special in it. Instead, he tells you what to look for and think about if you happen to read a particular book. I feel photography is similar. If you are compelled to shoot something, then you have to do it. I don’t have to like it or understand it, but I can help guide you to make it the best body of work it can be.
And that’s not to say I saw a lot of work I didn’t like. Quite the opposite. Here is the list of people I reviewed with links to their websites. I hope you will take a look and enjoy.