Having one’s work evaluated and read by an insider is always a decisive moment in the growth path of a photographer: it is like handing over one’s child to the world or, even better, laying bare and letting someone express his or her assessment of something to which one has devoted a lot of time, passion and effort and which one is convinced no one will be able to fully understand. Yet, facing the world, stepping out of one’s “comfort zone” and confronting an outside eye, is only the beginning of one of the most important challenges: that of approaching one’s work in a professional and conscious way.
We asked Claudio Composti, one of the most in-demand Folio Reviewers in Italy, to give us some tips on how to handle the phase before, during and after the portfolio reading takes place.
Claudio Composti lives and works in Milan. He is founder and art director of mc2gallery and Art Advisor of private collections and independent curator of exhibitions in institutional, gallery or private spaces.
For years he has been Folio Reviewer for the most important Italian and international Photography Festivals and is Guest Professor at Leica Akademie and Raffles Milano, Institute of Fashion Design and Photography, for the Master of Photography. Since 2023 he has been director of the Ragusa Foto Festival in Ibla – Ragusa and artistic director of White Carrara.
Portfolio readings provide a time for a professional in the world of photography (e.g., a photographer, photo editor, gallery owner, or critic) to discuss a photographer’s work. Why should photographers, especially emerging ones, choose to have their portfolios read?
The portfolio reading is an essential time for photographers both to present their work and to meet with curators, photo editors, or collectors who can correct their aim and give some pointers and suggestions to improve their work. Confrontation-constructive and intelligent-is always good when it is there, but you have to know how to handle it and how to accept it. This, too, is part of an artist’s training.
A photographer’s greatest anxiety is probably the preparatory one in which you need to put your production in order and then submit it to the gaze of a professional. So can you tell us how you prepare and present a portfolio?
Usually portfolio readings take place at festivals and so time is limited, usually you have about 20 minutes: knowing how to present your work clearly and concisely is therefore crucial. And presenting it as well as possible-assuming there is something to discuss-is already a very good calling card. The experienced eye does not miss the quality of the materials chosen for printing and how a portfolio is presented. Better to present not too many nor too few photos. Sometimes, even a book that has already been published can be very helpful in giving an idea of one’s work, or a mock-up of a book in fieri can help to get a sense of goals and visions. I would say that the key thing is never to inundate with randomly chosen images or, for example, those belonging to several projects and presented in different formats: presenting a single concept or project-though incomplete-is always better than providing many incomplete cues.
After reading one thinks that everything is concluded, that it is only necessary, perhaps, to listen to the suggestions received and apply them to one’s own work. But this is actually not the case: what should a photographer constantly do to see his or her work grow?
Keep working, see exhibitions, compare with other artists. See See See: films, exhibitions, read books and feed on anything that will feed visual and imaginative culture. And then seek out both portfolio readers and galleries that may have an interest in one’s work. There is no point in approaching those who do anything else; it means not having self-awareness and what you want and do.
When approaching a portfolio reading, one must start with the awareness that one may also receive strong opinions or otherwise capable of shaking the author’s certainties. In other cases, however, the portfolio reading can confirm the validity of the path taken. What advice do you feel like giving photographers to keep in touch with reviewers? What to take home from the positive/negative judgment received?
Definitely, if the review is positive, you should try to maintain contact and hope that it will result in a collaboration of some kind. In truth, I assure you that if the artist is interesting to the reader, he or she will be the one to make sure that relationships are maintained: in this sense, the interest in contact is mutual. Should the reading have a negative outcome, it would be good to focus on what was not appreciated. First of all, it is necessary to understand and accept constructive criticism, but without giving in to judgment: remember, however, that every opinion can also be subjective. The line between objective and personal judgment is always very difficult to identify, both for the giver and the receiver. In exchange we always grow in two.