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Photography by Gaz Williams

Portfolio Review 2 – Laura Noble

The course notes for SyP discuss portfolio reviews and one of the options detailed  is the gallerist Laura Noble. Noble established the Diemar/Noble Photography Gallery in London with photographic consultant Michael Diemar after working at the Photographers, Gallery.

She is quoted in the course notes for SyP :

The good thing about portfolio reviews is that it’s bespoke to each individual. Photographers’ backgrounds vary from MA/BA graduates or students to professionals wanting to alter their place within the industry, both self-taught and with academic qualifications. Often people ask for business advice or to advise on their editioning etc.

As a result I contacted her to arrange a portfolio review via Skype. In advance, I sent the updated portfolio PDF that I’d used in my earlier review with David Williams and prepared myself for some difficult feedback !

It was an interesting session and, much as she describes above, it was very individual – in fact it surprised me with its direction. I had expected a degree of analysis of the portfolio, much as I’d received from David Williams (see earlier post) but the only real comment that Laura made about the portfolio was: “They’re beautiful photographs”

Now that was not the feedback that I was expecting!

Instead, Laura focused on other critical issues such as networking, the exhibition itself and my website which made it a very complementary session to my other review.

The early part of the review addressed networking, following on from her quote in the SyP notes:

“Networking is everything – I wish I’d had Twitter, Facebook, etc., when I was a student. Connecting with other people is key. It’s amazing how quickly people connect. Everyone has a mutual friend in the photography world! Keep in touch with everyone – peers, colleagues. Everyone will keep crossing paths; this is also good for having group shows and collaborating to show you are active.”

She emphasised the benefits of Twitter and Instagram for this purpose, explaining how to make the best use of the tools to create a broad network of interested parties. In particular, she described the “politics” of following and liking related groups that might not be directly related to photography but overlapped. For instance, my portfolio describes the virtual boundaries of Windsor Great Park but a group of dog walkers would have overlapping interests as would a more philosophical group interested in boundaries of any kind. She recommended the app Crowdfire to help with this function. Tweetfire was another recommend app to help manage the Twitter environment.

A website is an obvious mechanism for promoting one’s work and Laura was dismayed at the fact that I had three fonts on my home page. Given that one was a logo rather than a font and the other two were very similar (I’d thought that they were the same as I hadn’t looked closely enough 🙁 )  I didn’t think that it was quite as bad as she described but, on the other hand, it’s something that I need to correct. The logo is going and the other two fonts are now the same. In addition, I’d included some background material to my portfolio which was too complicated so is now much simpler.

The third element of the discussion was the exhibition itself and this, for me, was the most interesting section. We discussed options for presentation such as Ink Jet vs C Type (must be Ink Jet in Laura’s opinion), framing and mounting (never use black frames), the location (seemed to be OK) but the interesting part was how to get the audience/viewers involved, how to create an extra layer to the experience to make it stand out.

Image result for Rein Jelle Terpstra in his project The People’s View A simple, but effective, example was the exhibition of “The People’s View” by Dutch artist Rein Jelle Terpstra that is part of the exhibit, “The Train: RFK’s Last Journey,”. In the image shown some of the images are arranged on the wall to show the location at which they were taken along the route.

We discussed how I might add a layer of interest and came up with a number of examples

1. display a map of the Park with pins available that could be stuck into the map to show people’s favourite location

2. invite visitors to upload their favourite “off the beaten path” image of the Park to an Instagram account that could be displayed at the exhibition

3. Simply label each image with the distance, in metres, from the popular Tourism Space

etc, etc, etc

Throughout the review Laura used other photographers or their websites to illustrate some of her points and the most relevant of these were

In summary, it was a useful exercise, particularly the ideas on viewer interaction, adding a layer to the display, that was so complementary to my other feedvack.

 

 

Going Public

As I mentioned in the previous post I firmly believe that he main aim of SyP is to prepare the student for life in the real, commercial world outside the protected environment of the OCA. Key to this is the development of a network within the photographic community and getting one’s work “out there”.

With that in mind it seems worth mentioning a couple of things. In the previous post, Caroline mentioned that she has personally used one of my images as a main focus on a national advertising campaign.

The image to which Caroline was referring was this one

and was published in :-

  • full-page in Country Life magazine
  • half-page in Guardian Weekend
  • half-page in Observer Magazine
  • full-page in Amateur Photographer magazine
  • full-page in The Simple Things magazine

and, possibly, in a number of other publications. It does, of course, allow me to claim that I’ve been published in a number of national publications 🙂

The final adverts, as they were published, looked like

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, the two images following have each been displayed in the Joe Cornish gallery in Northallerton through Inntravel.

 

 

 

I appreciate that it is not great art but, to me, it does align perfectly with the objectives of the module in that it gets both my name and my work out into the wide world and helps build up a network of contacts. In addition, the door to the commercial world of travel photography is, at the very least, ajar.

Gaz

 

Travel Portfolio Review – 1

The main purpose of Sustaining Your Practice seems to be the development of the student’s commercial and professional skills, preparing him or her for the outside world after the protected environment of the College. In many ways the structure of SyP is overly rigid for this and I’m sure that it’s not the intention of the College that the student sticks rigidly to the constraints of the course so long as they demonstrate the requisite skills and, at the very least, use SyP as a guideline structure.

With this in mind I fully intend to have two exhibitions, one on my mainstream BoW work and a second on my wildlife images but I’ll cover this elsewhere. One of the aims of SyP is to enable the student to build up a network of contacts and I’m doing that through my BoW reviews, the exhibition and the publicity for that exhibition. In addition, I’m getting my wildlife portfolio reviewed but this post covers the third strand of my burgeoning network, that of travel photography.

I enjoy travelling and I’m fortunate in that I’m able to travel fairly frequently so, it seemed a natural progression to merge two of my interests, travel and photography, to further develop my “network” and find other outlets for my work.

Throughout the years of my degree course I’ve tried to avoid being buttonholed into one genre or field but it could be said that I’m diluting my skills and my efforts. Howver, I can see plenty of overlap between landscape (BoY), wildlife and travel photography so why not make use of all three?

With this in mind I turned to a contact of mine, Caroline Dickinson, the Marketing Planning manager at Inntravel. For those that have not come across the company they facilitate walking and cycling holidays where the traveller walks or cycles between hotels, following a planned route, while the luggage is transferred to the next hotel. I’ve been on 8 or 9 of their holidays and cannot fault them at all.

I created a PDF, similar to the BoW Review PDF and asked Caroline if she’d mind reviewing them with a critical view from the travel industry.

A grid of the images can be seen above but the Travel PDF which links to the fullsize images can be viewed here.

Caroline was happy to oblige and provided me with extensive feedback for which I’m extremely grateful. Her overall review follows and is exactly the response that I was looking for in entering the very competitive, travel market. Obviously it is a difficult market to break into but Caroline’s comments, particularly coming from somebody in her role, are extremely encouraging.

OVERVIEW –

The selection of images shows a real talent for capturing people and a ‘moment’ in time.  I don’t know the timeframe on when the images were shot but there is certainly more skill shown in some than others which would lead me to believe that the photographer has learnt new skills during their time taking them. 

In terms of using them for travel they are excellent examples of travel related photography be it places or people and inspire you to go to the location and experience the sights for yourself.  I have personally used one as a main focus on an advertising campaign and would certainly use others that are relevant to the destinations we go to.

She kindly gave me detailed feedback on the individual images and a couple in particular are worth mentioning here ( I would include them all as she was very complimentary but …)

Image 6 – lone man walking up the road

The scale of the landscape behind the man is fabulous, he is captured and you instantly see him then look beyond to the winding road, the mountains, the small homesteads.  Beautifully captured and great composition.  A moment in time certainly and you want to see this/encounter it for yourself.

For me the key phrase was “moment in time … you want encounter it for yourself” – exactly what I was trying to achieve and that I assume is the crux of travel photography.

Just to show that Caroline was critical as well.

Image 9 – Coastline

The different colours from the very dark sea to the brighter blue sky really contrast each other while your eye is drawn to the brilliant white of the light reflection along the body of land sticking out into the sea.  It just is lacking slightly in a main focal point as the body of land is very strong but there is also a strong cloud line in the sky and something within the sea so it just distracts from the overall image a little

I’ll also include this element of her feedback simply because of her comment about the “story within the shot“. I love it when somebody sees such a story in an image that I’ve made. I too, can see a story here but what intrigues me is how many different stories the different viewers have made up, are they all the same, is the story real?

Image 3 – buddists in temple

Very striking image – the three older men in discussion while the young boy is looking in wonder at something that we can only guess at – a great story within this shot certainly.  This has captured a wonderful moment within the image and also the old and the new when you see within the image the old stone steps then the new wooden steps by the adult men.  The clarity of the image is amazing.

Anyway, many thanks to Caroline (and to Inntravel) for her help – it was much appreciated.

Gaz

Portfolio Feedback – 1

The time came to get some external feedback on my work, not a step that I was looking forward to. It was all very well getting feedback from tutors, peers and friends, or even the assessors, but going out into the real world seemed a dangerous and potentially demoralising step 🙁

I really liked the look of Laura Noble’s portfolio reviews which can be done in person or via Skype but first it seemed worth going to a cousin of mine, David Williams, who just so happened to teach photography atA Level. In my mind that makes him an ideal reviewer, especially as I can be sure that he won’t pull any punches. Incidentally,  I recommend a quick view of the school’s twitter feed at @ryephotos  where some of the students’ work can be seen – some of it is hugely impressive.

I sent David the PDF that I intend sending to Laura though the version on the link has subsequently been changed in response to David’s feedback. I think that David understood the concept very well and as a result was able to critique the portfolio with my intentions in mind – always a good start. In general, his comments were very encouraging (exactly as I’d hope from a teacher) with some useful suggestions and comments.

Overall I think it’s a lovely portfolio, speaking well to your brief. Some of the images do this stronger than others though, as far as I can see. I think it’s a shame maybe that there seems to be only one season and therefore only one set of colours present. A winter series in snow showing using footprints as evidence of boundaries would have been something I might have pushed you towards (I appreciate this is of no help now!) I also wonder whether one or two might work better in monochrome, and how you might feel about presented a mixture of that and full colour. It could be argued both ways and it is down to your preference of course but I sense poignancy in some of the images and B/W might enhance that. I like the way that you have avoided cliche – too much limited depth of field or as it is trendily now call bokkeh for example would all be a bit obvious for me.

The issue of winter images was something that I’d wrestled with and did have some but, when included, they stood out too much from the other images and I lost the coherency which I liked. If I could exhibit in a gallery where I could separate the images to some extent then I’d definitely do as David suggested.

On to the detailed feedback …

1 I think this is a super choice for the first image, with the actual boundary broken down and asking questions, and the light area leading the eye and creating a desire path for the viewer. The foreground trees could perhaps be darker – they were until I adjusted my laptop screen angle and I think I preferred it. Might be worth a play.

2 OK this is a tiny bit cliched but it’s too fabulous to care. Again, to my mind I’d drop the brightness and up the contrast to reduce the detail on the foreground trees, but I can be a bit depressive in my approach.

3 This is just lovely. Great composition, interesting colours, the little splashes of blue/purple on each side balance so nicely, very Mondrian. Maybe lighten the trunks slightly – see 6.

4 I think this is one of the strongest given the brief. The promised land of the almost luminescent brackens beckoning forward versus the barrier of the fallen tree from the Stygian undercover – great creation of tension.

5 Doesn’t stand out, as in it’s a similar approach to 4 but not as well done. That said the dappling on the diagonal trunk is most effective and you have again used the beckoning light 

6 This is just glorious. The birches look like a gang of strutting teenagers daring you to access their territory. I am minded of a number of Ansel Adams’s pieces with which I am sure you are familiar, and that of course leads me to wonder about this one in B/W. Adams would dodge the birch bark out or increase the contrast too I think.

7 I’m not a fan of this. It looks out of focus throughout to my eye, unless the bracken is moving. The composition is great, although it seems to me that it reverses the metaphor a bit – it looks like we’re in the forbidden it looking towards the path. The hidden boundary yes, but not from the side of the argument that the rest occupy?

8 is a beautiful autumnal shot, but I am less sure that it addresses the brief. It’s absolutely lovely, but doesn’t earn its place under this title as far as I can see.

9 I feel in a similar way about this one. It’s a gorgeous shot but where’s the boundary? The different stages of tree life represented are really interesting, and the composition is strong – especially like the downward sloping line of ground –  but I’m not sure it fits. 

10 This is back on track and really strong. It’s not so pretty. The foreboding and forbidding trees in the background are great. I don’t think you need the barrier branches at the front, you could have let the colour do its work alone, but they were there so no harm in belt and braces.

11 This calls Macbeth to mind for me, they’re indicating the way forward but preventing movement at the same time. Really strong image. The largest tree just left of centre has a distracting blueish curve below the first branch though which looks manmade and I find distracting. Now I’ve seen it I can’t unsee it. If you agree you could just burn that out or desaturate it a bit.

12 I think this one is a little weak. It’s just a bit too busy, with no particularly interesting composition. I think it also suffers from the lack of a clear ground level. It just doesn’t really speak of the project or fit in terms of beauty. I see the promised land beyond, but the image itself is very flat in terms of response I think.

I’m really grateful to David for the extensive critique, it was so useful as I’d reached the stage where, when looking at the portfolio, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees <pun intended>.

In particular his critique of Image 7, now lo longer in the PDF, was useful as it brought me back to my intent. Looking at the image after David comments I realised that I was exactly as he described, looking back to the tourist areas from the more remote area.

His comment on Image 11 (still in the PDF) was interesting as well. There was a piece of bright blue rope on one of the trees which really stood out, though I hadn’t noticed it. As a single image it would have been interesting wit the mark of humans being seen in the remoter areas of the Park but, in a portfolio where it would be the only man-made element, it had to go once I’d seen it.

Image 12 (still in the PDF) is a strange one, it is the image that polarises viewers with some loving it and others hating it. I’m leaving it in, despite David’s comments, albeit having modified the colours slightly, because I feel it is a fitting final image but also, in my mind at least, it gives a nod towards Jem Southam’s wok which heavily influenced me in the latter stages of this course.

Thanks again to David who has set me up well for further critiques

Gaz

Feedback to Date

As mentioned before this section of the course is entitled Networking and Feedback and the objective is to create a network of contacts with the intention, at this stage, of obtaining feedback on my main portfolio. The recommendation is to start this module before completing the Body of Work so that the feedback will “improve” the portfolio before assessment. For various reasons I didn’t get the opportunity to get to that stage of this module before the portfolio assessment so I’ll be using this module to improve the portfolio before my final exhibition or publication.

However, I was aware of the purpose of this module, or at least this section, of the module so I created a group or “coterie” of friends and colleagues and solicited critique from them in the same way. This “coterie” consisted of artists and photographers though none are full-time professionals.

One benefit of using this group in this fashion was that they were helpful in selecting the final images, ensuring that they worked well together. This is something that I would not be able to obtain via the profession network being created in this module.

An example comment was

 I suggest dropping 15 and 7 for thematic reasons. I. don’t feel they fit  with the theme of a walk progressing from one image to the next.  In all of the other pictures you can see a path that could take you to the next step of the walk. There is no clear path forward from these 2. They are more illustrative of dead ends.

another was

when I see a collection of shots such as these, I always look at the overall colour tone so for me I would take out 14 and 15 as they look tonally different from the others. I know it is probably due to a seasonal difference but that’s how I view it. And maybe also no. 12 as whilst it is a lovely image it is strikingly different from the others. Coincidentally the remaining images also adhere to the theme of a passage through a barrier which comes out well in the portfolio.

There were too many critiques, some of them in depth, to include here but it was a very useful exercise. For me an interesting aspect of the replies was the fact that the artists (i.e. painters) and photographers approached it very differently. The former would look at individual images and, in some cases only, look to see if they worked as a whole. The photographers took the opposing view and began by looking at the theme, then the sequencing and only at the end did they really study the individual images. I have no idea if this is typical but it was very marked in the group that I created.

Obviously, having finished the previous module, Body of Work, my final portfolio from that course was assessed and I received comments from the assessors. Given that this section is all about feedback it seems sensible to address any issues from the comments here. They were generally positive as you’d hope with a 2:1. An example is:

Very competent technical and visual skills. Competent realisation of ideas, presented well, showing consistency in judgement. Effective grasp of ideas and communication of visual ideas.

Given that the whole point of the portfolio is to get an idea across and communicate an idea I was obviously pleased with that. Also:

Good synthesis of analytical thinking, integrating some significant independent judgements and articulating a personal creative voice.

and finishing with

a professional and committed attitude towards building a strong and personal body of work

Again perfect for what I was trying to do so I was happy with that. Conversely I was criticised for no evidence of risk-taking but I was comfortable with that. I’d taken risks in previous modules and in this one I knew what I wanted, how I wanted to get the message across.

The biggest problem that I have, not with the comments but how to address the issue, comes with:

Your submission shows the decisions you made between assignment 4 and your final assignment, cropping and editing your selection of images. The most successful images are not always in the final selection, and in several cases the smaller scale, aspect ratio and composition, and lustre of the print are stronger.

Firstly the issue of aspect ratio. I made a conscious decision to follow up on my tutor’s suggestion that a 5×4 ratio might work better than a 3×2. When I tried it I felt that the first ratio created more of a portal effect whereas the original, wider ratio created a panorama which was contrary to my intentions. Obviously the assessors disagreed, at least in part.

More annoyingly I deliberately had the final images printed professionally at a larger size to show off the detail but again the assessors preferred, in some cases, the smaller size. The final comment about the lustre is the one that really hurts. The professional prints were not cheap and the assessors preferred the lustre of my own prints!!! Oh well, I need to think about my exhibition but at the moment I think that I’m making my own prints at A3 and getting them professionally mounted.

On a final note, I’d continually tried to ensure that my Contextual Studies work complemented my Body of Work portfolio and the assessors’ comments with regards to this were:

You have produced an engaging and original piece of work which runs parallel to your BoW project in a productive and inquiring way…….You are careful to continually pull your CS research back to the specific focus of your BoW (Windsor Great Park) and this has resulted in a reflective and critical piece of written work which complements, extends and enhances your practical project. (my emphasis)

That’s exactly what I was intending and I’m glad that it worked. I always intended keeping my essay or thesis alongside my portfolio, to the extent of making sure that it was available in some form from the exhibition and this has convinced me that I was right to think along those lines.

Anyway, that’s a summary of the feedback to date. Now to pull a PDF together and solicit more, external feedback as part of the module.

One final addition, I showed my assessment prints together with my Assignment 5 images to a group of people who came round for a long lunch. The interesting aspect was that they agreed with the assessors that the assessment images lacked lustre compared to my prints …. or at least they did until the sun came out. At that point the assessment images came to life so that’s something tat I need to be very aware of in my exhibition.