View Full Version : Portfolios: Nuts, Bolts, and Strategies

John W. Randall
22-Dec-2004, 08:35
I am thinking of assembling my Fiji Crystal Archive prints into two bound books - ten prints in horizontal format, ten prints in vertical format, to be used as a gallery presentation tool.


(1). Are gallery owners more receptive to books of images, or to boxed collections of matted prints? It strikes me that a book is easier to handle: everything stays in one place from start to finish, for one thing.

(2). Since the back of one print will, by the nature of the book, be resting against the face of the next print, will abrasion become a problem from rubbing as the pages are repeatedly turned? Vellum - interleaving - seems cumbersome - awkward. Covering each print with Light Impressions-supplied polyethylene won't work for me because of the excessive gloss.

(3). Whether matted or bound into a book, is it a plus - is it necessary - to provide an image name as part of the lower print border? Identifying each print would eliminate confusion when discussing prints via phone or e-mail - but it might detract from the focus of the presentation. Might it seem an unnecessary embellishment to a viewer?

Thank you all in advance for your responses.

Best regards,

chris jordan
22-Dec-2004, 11:14
Hello John. In my experience, gallerists don't care nearly as much about the presentation as they do about the images. If the images are good, the gallerists will be interested regardless of whether your prints are bound into a $250 leather book or just a pile of loose prints in a cardboard box. Gallerists are good at envisioning prints in mats and frames, so the prints don't need to be matted and framed either. I would suggest just getting a black portfolio box (Century boxes are what I use) and putting the prints in there loose, without interleaving paper. They will get dinged and scratched over time, but that's what work prints are for. Glue a sheet of heavy paper to the inside of the top, as a pocket to put your artist statement in, and you are good to go. That way you can pick and choose the images, and add or substract as your work evolves, which you wouldn't be able to do with a book. Presuming that you are continuing to photograph all the time, a book would become out of date soon because it wouldn't contain your newest work, which is what the galleries will be most interested in. And I guarantee you would find something you want to change about your artist statement as soon as it was permanently bound into a book.

Also, a looser presentation can look less slick. There are lots of photographers with professionally printed brochures, logos, perfectly designed letterhead and business cards, leather-bound portfolios with their logo stamped in black foil, custom linen portfolio boxes with their logo, etc. Some even have their work in limited editions, with signed and numbered prints and a whole escalating price structure that goes into the thousands of dollars, and they have never had a show or sold a print. None of that stuff makes any difference, in fact it's a turnoff for most galleries because it suggests that the photographer's ego has gotten ahead of reality. If the gallery likes your work, all that other stuff can be worked out later; so just bring them good images and everything else will fall into place.

And one other thing (this took me years of heartbreak to understand): when you show your work to a gallerist or anyone else for that matter, try to remember that they are not God (or your parents) looking down from the throne passing judgment on whether you are good or bad. There is you and your work, and somewhere out there is your audience. Your job is just to find your audience. If a gallery rejects your work, that doesn't mean anything about whether you are a good or bad photographer; it just means that this gallery is not part of your audience. Think of the music world and the concept is easier to grasp-- some people didn't like Miles Davis, and some people do like Kenny G, and other people don't like the Beatles, and other people like heavy metal, and other people don't like dixieland jazz, and other people like Mozart, and others prefer Brahms, and so on. That doesn't mean that Miles was bad or Kenny G. is good or heavy metal is bad or dixieland jazz is good, or Mozart was better than Brahms; each of those kind of musicians just have a different audience, and that's all there is to it. So go out there looking for your audience, wherever it might be, and try to remember that when your work gets rejected, it's only because that person wasn't part of your audience. Then keep right on going.

best of luck,



John W. Randall
22-Dec-2004, 11:55
Hi, Chris,

Good info - I'll accept it in total as an informed viewpoint. You also brought up something that I might have expressed as "Question #4: Could you or other participating respondents show an example of an 'Artist's Statement'?" It is often mentioned, but rarely articulated.

Regarding my post, I want to make sure that I have all my ducks in a row - that as many of the obstacles and impediments to a clean presentation are removed beforehand. If that means dancing on my head while counting backwards, then by all means I'll do that.

Best regards,

Darin Cozine
22-Dec-2004, 15:18
Wow, Chris, that was very informative. Thank you so much.

CP Goerz
22-Dec-2004, 15:42
Have someone other than yourself pick the pictures for the portfolio.

CP Goerz

Jim Rice
22-Dec-2004, 16:49
Forgive me, I can't resist:
There was this sax player between gigs, so he checks into a hotel. He start practising, and on a particularly soulful riff, leans back, and falls three stories out of the window onto the sidewalk below. He gets up, picks up his sax and resumes playing. A guy on the street has seen all of this and can't help himself. He walks up to the sax player and says, "Man, you just fell three stories onto the pavement, and not only are you okay, but your axe is too and you're here paying it. You have got to be the luckist sax player alive!" The sax player ponders this for a moment and says, "Nah, man......that's still got to be Kenny G."

Frank Petronio
22-Dec-2004, 18:24
I'd present the same prints that you expect them to sell to the public. Put info on a card on the backside if you want.

A portfolio book that is simple - just inkjets set into sleeves - is very handy to show people in order to quickly establish your credentials and qualifications, but it doesn't demonstrate how well you make saleable prints. Until you have a grand reputation, most commercial gallery owners are going to want to know if you can deliver a product they can sell.

Portfolios for advertising work are a different matter - you probably want to put more effort into your book, but it's not as important to have fancy prints - again, good inkjets are fine, even for the best photographers. It's a book that 90% of the people will flip through really fast.

I also keep a small 5x7 portfolio in my case, so that when I'm shooting I can show guards, owners, etc. what it is that I'm doing, and that I am not a threat. It's right next my Glock ;-)

adrian tyler
24-Dec-2004, 08:55
you've got some good insights here, chris's box throught to frank's inkjets, the inkjets, spiral bound with acitate covers on the front and back are very practical, you can put a little index and a statement all in there too, in many cases you'll have to leave the work to get it seen by the right person, and with this system you can pull off multiple copies and work on sequencing and editing on screen.

if you do find a place where you and your work fit you'll need to be clear about how you would produce that work, size, frames, edition, so it may be worth "producing" and framing a couple of your favorites, so you don't get any nasty suprises if you do have to mount a show.

have patience and good luck.

29-Dec-2004, 12:38
Chris' thoughts are right on. As is the Kenny G. story.

Here are some other things to consider:

-a bound book screams "commercial." I wouldn't do it. Every serious artist I know carries a box of matted prints. This has the added benefit of allowing you to edit on the fly. It's important to do research and to edit your portfolio to suit particular galleries/collections/publications and their leanings. Not only aren't gallery directors God, as someone pointed out, but they're often not even very insightful or wise about artwork. In many cases you can think of a gallery owner as a salesman. Maybe he knows his product, maybe not--his success has more to do with knowing his clientelle. This is based on 10 years in New York, where I've shown work to just about everyone, and found little correlation between the size of people's reputations and the depth of their vision. Fotofest is also an amazing laboratory for figuring these things out. In general, I've found curators of major collections to have much better eyes than the directors of galleries. But sadly, they tend to not have any money.

-I've never seen anyone write any identifying text anywhere on a print or mat. Even signing prints in a visible place is considered extremely cheesy.

-If you are looking for something inexpensive to mail, then sending a bunch of inkjet prints works fine. Just make sure it's clear to the person what they're looking at (nothing is ever as obvious as you might think). Again, binding is a hindrance. People like to be able to spread your work out on a table and shuffle it around, take prints out, put them back in, etc.

-Consistency of presentation is important. Do anything you can do to make it clear you are showing examples from a coherent body of work. My prints are in a few different sizes, and I found this confused a lot of people. I solved the problem by making the mats the same external diameter. This solved the problem. It also helped send the signal that the little prints were the equals of the larger ones.

-Less is more. The ideal portfolio is 15 to 20 prints. Better to leave them hungry than bored. One trick I've done is to bring a few extra prints, but leave them upside down at the bottom of the portfolio box. I only show them if the person wants more.

-Sequencing is extremely important, even if the person you show to ends up obliterating your sequence. This (and the overall edit) is a place to get the advice of a lot of people you trust.