We met analogue photographer Bibiana Omar Zajtai at a portfolio review at Belfast Photo Festival. It was Bibiana’s first portfolio review, and she got a lot from it – so we asked her to share her experience, letting you know what you might expect from a portfolio review, and what the benefits are to photographers at any stage in their career…
If anyone told me they were considering going to a portfolio review I would tell them straight away to do it. My first portfolio review was last month at Belfast Photo Festival and the main thing I take from it is that it was both inspiring and exhilarating. Maybe it was more so for me because I so rarely talk about my work with people other than friends and family, but I do believe it can be a valuable experience for any aspiring, or even veteran photographers. I think if you are ready to hear about what professionals think of your work it is a genuinely fun experience filled with interesting views, opinions and suggestions. But I do believe it is important to be ready for it, one needs to go into them with an open mind and a clear idea of the project/s being shared.
I am glad that as a main focus I took the project I have been working on over the last couple of years. I worried that one project wouldn’t be enough for 20 minutes (I took 21 prints) but the time flew by. I did also take a tablet with a different portfolio in case the reviewer wanted to see other type of material, so I had the chance to talk about different types of projects with some of the reviewers. This format worked well for me, as an analogue photographer I prefer tangible material, having said that I found that swapping ways of presenting the work gave a little break in the flow. Of course it is a very personal decision how to present your work, so I would say just go with what feels right.
The reason I wanted to take part in a portfolio review was that I found I needed to see the reaction it brought out in people that see work, good work, every day. To be frank I was probably mainly seeking validation from the reviews. Not so much for someone to tell me how great, or bad, my work is, but to see if it had any value in the art world and was worth pursuing and sharing; as a self taught photographer maybe the doubts about technical ability are stronger, regardless of this I think artists in general find it difficult to believe in themselves which tends to make you want to tuck yourself away in a vacuum of lonely safety. When you go so deep into a project you can’t help but fluctuate between hate and love, excitement and boredom, confidence and incapacitating doubt, and to edit your own work can be an excruciating experience you end up getting lost in. Because of all this it is important to share ongoing projects and talk about it or else it runs the risk of never being completed. Although I have mainly gotten past a long bout of creative shyness, and over last couple of years I found the nerve to take part in competitions and exhibitions, I still never had had the chance to talk one on one with an expert in the field, so I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to express myself and talk about my work without passing out from the nerves. To be honest I wasn’t sure what to say and I didn’t have much of a plan about that but everyone was so lovely and fun to chat with that, despite slight shakes and sweaty palms, I got through it and took a lot from it.
Having said that, it was a shame that I had 7 reviews all within 2.5 hours, it meant that I had no time in between to take notes of the reviewer’s comments or to take a breather and process what was said. Because of this I definitely recommend, to spread them out more if possible and if a first timer to not book more than maybe 4-5 reviews. By the time I finished my second to last meeting I was reeling and actually walked out thinking I had seen everyone but realised my mistake before I left the building and went back in for my last review, which happened to be Karen Harvey from Shutter Hub! It would have been such a shame to miss this meeting, I took a lot of important mental notes from all the other reviewers but she brought something new to the table. Super chatty and friendly she seemed to see right through me and could tell that where I was lacking the most was on how to shape and present my work, how to explain it and bring it closer to the viewer and the community. This is something I always struggle with, particularly with my current project which is abstract macro photography. I would rather say nothing about it, partly because my feelings and intentions keep changing, although the main point is always about perception; partly because I don’t want to say too much to in this way not shape the viewer’s mind. In the end what I want to accomplish is to provide the viewer with an open playground to let the imagination go wild, to become kids again for a minute and play at figuring out what we are looking at. This meeting in particular brought closer to home the need to improve in this area and why it is important to do so.
I am just going to finish by saying that I can’t wait to go to my next photography review and see what it is like having already gone through the experience once.
See more of Bibiana’s portfolio here.
All images © Bibiana Omar Zajtai
COMING SOON: Exciting news about portfolio reviews for Shutter Hub members – watch this space!
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