Even though I am now quite close to being able to submit Assignment 1 (the PDF to send to professional reviewers), I have decided to submit to two portfolio review open calls before sending in the assignment and getting tutor feedback. The reason is purely practical: some photography organisations are offering online portfolio reviews during the current lockdown period, and two of them in particular had short deadlines.

This is a good example of turning what is an otherwise highly disruptive global situation into an unexpected positive: whilst real-life portfolio review events are being cancelled, there are currently more opportunities for online portfolio reviews than I have ever seen.

The first two portfolio reviews I have applied for are with Revolv and Zealous.

Intro and context

A word on why I chose these two (apart from their short deadlines, I mean): I want to make sure I target my review requests at appropriate people or organisations. As these opportunities arose in the last week or so gave me reason to think about and articulate more clearly: what kind of reviewer do I think should comment on my work?

The short answer is that I want my work to be reviewed by people who understand and appreciate conceptual photography. Reviewers (individuals / organisations / magazines etc) who are primarily interested in one particular photographic genre would not be best placed to give me feedback; I know some good photographers and collectives who work in landscape, abstract and social documentary photography – but this body of work is none of those. I want my work to be seen and commented on by people who understand how photography can be used to express ideas. This might sound vague but I have a strong sense of which reviewers would or would not be useful to me in this respect.

I looked at the work generally published or promoted through Revolv and Zealous and was reassured that their reviewers would meet my criteria.

Revolv

Revolv had the shortest deadline (8th April) and so was the first one I applied for. They are a collective of like-minded photographers. The best description is from their own website:

Revolv was founded in 2017 by the artists Krasimira Butseva and Lina Ivanova, later on joined by Ibrahim Azab, Lucas Gabellini-Fava, Victoria Louise Doyle, Alexander Mourant and Laura Bivolaru. The collective was established around the idea of collaboration and collective working in photography.

– (Revolv 2020)

Revolv offered free 20-30 minute online (video) portfolio reviews with MA and final year BA photography students.  They announced their portfolio open call at the end of March and gave interested photographers a week to express interest. My understanding is that all applicants will be given portfolio reviews, so it is not a contest format. Each applicant will be assigned to one of the above named members of the collective.

As noted above, before applying I familiarised myself with the kind of work that Revolv generally publishes. They have put on a number of exhibitions and events featuring the work of their own members and selected other artists.

Revolv

They are very ideas-driven and experimental. More than I consider myself to be, if anything. But I still think it’s a reasonable fit so I went for it.

Submission format

They requested either a website or a PDF. Although I do have a website focusing on this work I took this as an an opportunity to have a go at making a PDF portfolio.

I decided on a landscape document format to best display the images which are all in horizontal ratio. I had originally planned one image per page (preceded by an intro to the work, and concluded with an artist’s statement) but Revolv’s only restriction on the PDF to upload was maximum file size of 5MB. My version with full-page images was never less than 6MB without significant image degradation, so I made the pragmatic decision to open with four full-page images, followed by two pages of four smaller images in a grid, followed by three closing full-page images. It came down to 3.4MB.

Screenshot 2020-04-15 at 14.56.38

The full PDF is available here.

Applicants were also asked to summarise questions or discussion points. I suggested the following (a lack of imagination on my part, maybe):

  1. To what extent does the work meets my intent, i.e. successfully evoke sensations or thoughts of forgetfulness?
  2. Does the edit and sequence support or hinder my intent? Do any images jar or seem out of place?

Response

I got a pretty quick response to say that I have been assigned to Alexander Mourant. He has an impressive CV and some really interesting works in an ethereal, borderline abstract style concentrating on single colours.

We have arranged the online review for Friday 24th April.


Zealous

Rather than being a creative organisation in its own right, Zealous is actually an online platform for creative submissions i.e. they run submissions systems for competitions, open calls, residencies, commissions, awards, portfolio reviews etc for other organisations.

Their offer is slightly different to Revolv’s in that Zealous are running a competitive format where four applicants will be selected for online (video) portfolio reviews with one named reviewer: Jayne Lloyd from Shutter Hub. There is also an interesting bonus offer, however – participants can elect to be peer-reviewed by another photographer (and return the favour and review someone else’s work). I ticked both boxes.

As they are a platform provider rather than an exhibitor or publisher, it is not possible to easily see what kind of work Zealous generally carries, or if indeed there are any particular genres or themes at all. So instead I looked at Shutter Hub as the organisational ‘home’ of the individual reviewer. I am already familiar with their work and know that they run themed open calls and exhibitions in various locations all year round. A couple of photographer friends are already members and have had work shown through Shutter Hub. I should maybe join myself…

Submission format

Their instructions, verbatim:

  • Please include between 7-15 photographs within your submission
  • Your submission should present work that reflects a unified theme or artistic vision
  • Upload high quality images – judges can zoom in to view the glorious details of your work

The maximum of 15 is perfect – my latest stable edit is 15 images and I haven’t yet had to cut it down. I’m sure that might have to happen at some point, for someone.

They also reassured me that I keep all copyright to the work uploaded to their platform.

Rather than a website link or a PDF, Zealous wanted applicants to upload to its own system (of course!) so this provided a slightly different challenge to the Revolv submission. On the plus side, I could now upload larger, higher quality image files without worrying about maximum file sizes. On the downside, the words I wanted to use for the intro contextualisation and my personal artist’s statement were subject to word count limits and so needed to be carefully edited. Swings and roundabouts!

Response

Within a few days I was informed that I have reached the Shortlist Round and so one step away from being in the ‘winning’ four. I am one of nine in the Shortlist Round. I can’t confirm exactly how many people applied in total but from the numbering system used on the Shortlist page there seems to have been at least 31 entries.

Screenshot 2020-04-15 at 15.29.36

I will find out if I am in the final four on 21st April.

EDIT: I made it to the final four so will have my portfolio review with Jayne Lloyd next Wednesday, 29th April.


What I’ve learned

I found this a useful and satisfying exercise, albeit one I was planning to delay until I had had my Assignment 1 feedback. But as a wise person once said – if you wait until you’re “ready” you’ll never do anything!

I found the difference between the application processes and requirements interesting and it taught me that I need to be able to tweak and edit how I contextualise the work, and sometimes edit the actual work itself, to fit the requirements of the reviewer organisation.

Finally, it taught me to have more faith in the work, more confidence in myself. Assembling the work into application submissions reminds me that I do indeed have a robust body of work that is worth sharing.

I will of course blog about the portfolio review (or reviews) after it (or they) occurs.