Registration has opened up for the Houston Fotofest portfolio reviews, March 12 – 30 2016. I thought about whether I’d be attending after a friend of mine got in touch to say he was flying from the Czech Republic to take part again. We met in March 2014 when I headed to Houston to promote my Empire work. The last time I was in the States I was an 11 year old dragging my parents around Universal Studios, so I thought I’d make the most of it and tag in a quick trip to New Orleans, then fly up to New York for the NY Times Lens Blog portfolio reviews that followed in April.
The review procedure, something I have taken part in before in the UK and France, was quite an experience. It was such a well-oiled machine; coffee pots, name badges, staff with clip-boards and a stopwatch, brightly patterned hotel carpet, symmetrically laid tables for two, extra tables for those who brought enormous portfolios (My work had to sit on a plane, so I opted for the minimal approach), and an air of anticipation. I’m not suggesting, by the way, the reviews I’ve taken part in before weren’t well organized – it was merely the scale of the operation in Houston. Supersized. What followed was four days of repeated 20-minute bursts of selling yourself and your work – it was frequently likened to speed dating over the course of the week, which I assume to be pretty accurate. It’s quite exhausting, I imagine more so for the reviewers, but it is, however, a lot of fun. Put on your thick skin and have an open minded and it will be a great experience. Some people are there for advice and nurturing, some people want to build connections and others want to sell work – I was there with my book, I wanted to see how it would be received in the US, and to also discuss my new project work. I made some good connections and started a few interesting conversations, one of which led to an exhibition later that year at Pictura Gallery, Indiana. I also sold a few prints.
I’m writing about this because it’s quite often a conversation I have as to whether the experience was worth it – and my answer would be yes, but only if you can afford the trip. What I mean by that is, if you are expecting/relying on your investment to instantly provide career-changing opportunities then perhaps it’s not for you; I imagine the air of desperation will most probably show through, and it’s pointless to put so much expectation on yourself. Some of the reviewers will connect with your work, others less so, therefore best to not hope that because you’ve flown a long way it will be the answer to everything – having said that, it certainly could be. You’re buying into the chance to present your work to people you may not otherwise get to meet, and it’s best to view the procedure as sewing seeds for the future. Conversations can start that may continue for a couple of years, and you never quite know when it might pay off.
The reviews that followed in New York were also well worth the trip. A slightly different vessel in that they are free, your work is vetted and you are selected to take part, which means smaller numbers of people, and the reviewers have a more refined selection of work to view.
I would highly recommend New Orleans. There’s also a portfolio review there later this year – so if you want an excuse to go, here it is.