Importance of creating "Series" portfolio's of your photography...

Discussion in 'Presentation & Marketing' started by User Removed, May 14, 2005.

  1. User Removed

    User Removed Guest

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    It was not long ago that photographers such as Ansel Adams were making "Box set's" portfolios of their photography, when photographers would just put in their BEST photographs...regardless if they were all related ect. In todays photography market, it seems more fine art photographs are creating "series" of their work, that is made up of 10-20 (or more) prints that are all very similar and carry a message as a whole series, rather then the "Single image"

    Do you feel it is more important for a sucessful photographer to develop "Series" of similar work, or would it be too outdated to make a portfolio of only your best work? Is the idea of a "single image" gone, and now more galleries focus on a artist series?

    I can see that doing a series would be good for making a book, for example Michael and Paula's Tuscany books. You do not see many photography books today that are just tons of random photographys it seems.

    Well, all comments are welcome. Thanks for your help.
     
  2. Peter Schrager

    Peter Schrager Subscriber

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    Ryan-are you sure that some of the early guys/women did not have "themes" for their portfolio boxes? If you are new to photography you might just want to go along with the idea of culling your best work and presenting it as a portfolio. Galleries and Publishers like themes. Could be about Mickey Mouse but they like themes. Even though I take photographs in varied places I seem to return to some basic consistencies in my photos. Whether it be NYC; Coastal water; or a place I like to go upstate NY I see recurring themes in the work. Would love to fly off to Morrocco to do a body of work but am unable at present. So I have to work with the parameters I'm given.
    Anyone who attempts to put together a well defined portfolio of their best work is to be commended. I'm currently doing this in approx. 11x14 size and making enough prints to fill 10-12 portfolio boxes;with theme. I don't have a gallery or a book deal lined up but I will after I finish the project.I'm going to be able to take that box to galleries and present my work as it should be shown.They will know I'm serious enough to consider taking me on as one of their clients.
    Best, Peter
     
  3. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    I guess one has to determine what sucessful means to them. If it means gallery sales then I would take the advice of a respected gallery. If it means a collection of work of which you are proud, do whatever pleases you.
     
  4. Poco

    Poco Member

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    You bring up a question that's been turning around in my head for months.

    Last fall the local art museum mounted a major photo exhibition and I'd say 80% of those photographers represented by more than one work had a series or theme thing going: dumpsters, surfers, hotel atriums, seascapes, factories, etc... so much so that I left the exhibition wondering whether there's something so inherently weak about photography as to require a thematic crutch for justification. The possibility really set me back on my heals.

    A while back a student started a thread here asking how to put together a portfolio for school submission and someone who saw a lot of these things professionally said that consistency was more important than variety. The advice was to demonstrate a unique vision and thoroughly explore it. No - the word "series" wasn't used, but it almost might have been.
     
  5. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    A similar discussion was held at the Lenswork forum. My experience and that of people here that I trust with their opinion and knowledge, has been one that most galleries and museums will ask you for a theme or as they put it a "project."

    Someone at Lenswork wrote that they do this because they want to see a commitment from the photographer and want to make sure he/she is serious and will be around to produce new work. ALthough I dont agree, this seems to be a good point.

    I think this idea has been borne out of trying to make photography more "interesting" and so the term "art" can be applied to it. Unfortunatelly, and it is pervasive here in Mexico, many people think that all you need to be a photographer is to buy a camera.

    So, if your goal is show in museums, then you better start comming up with photo "projects"....Otherwise you will get tired of hearing "we would like to see a "body" of work"....OTOH galleries are not as particular if your work is exceptional, their goal is to sell prints, so if you have great shots and enough of them to mount an exhibition, then you might get a chance.
     
  6. George Papantoniou

    George Papantoniou Member

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    One of the things that makes photography seem inferior to painting (or other media) in the domain of artistic expression, is the "luck" factor in making one good image. You see, many people believe that one good photograph can be achieved by anyone, given enough time and trials (you may not agree, but it's how it goes).

    If a photographer can produce a consistent series of good images on a theme, he therefore proves that his achievement is not by pure chance, but a result of his true artistic and creative skills...

    You can see similar patterns of behaviour in other cases where the artist's skills could be questioned. In abstract / minimal painting, no artist has ever produced one single piece of work, but always lots of examples where (for example) he / she throws the paint bucket on the canvas or paints the whole surface a single colour. This is meant to make the public understand that the artist REALLY believes in what he/she's doing and that he/she is commited to his art, and not just playing around with paint buckets.

    Photographers can choose other ways to shake the "easy technique" burden off their work, and these are usually by adopting special (alternative) techniques for creating their final images. These techniques are usually hard to apply, so this makes the image difficult to achieve "by accident". In this case, the product can stand alone, without it having to be part of a series...
     
  7. jp80874

    jp80874 Subscriber

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    The local university for me, Akron University, seems to have the most analog photography courses in northern Ohio. They offer a Batchelor’s degree in Photography, but we are not talking world renown. They require four advanced courses after Photo 1 and 2. In each of the advanced courses a student puts ten related (to a series) 11x14 pictures up on the board for class critique every two weeks of the term. At the end of the term the student presents at least twenty related 11x14s in window mats, reads his Artist’s statement, after having submitted a thesis proposal and gotten approval about the series. Akron U offers color, digital, advertising related professional courses with a 4x5, History of Photography, Photogravure, Professional Practices, but the core is B&W, series related. In the Advanced courses the first time advanced student works next to the fourth time. Part of the learning experience is the interaction with peers in the darkroom and in the critique. It is all about quality work in related series.

    At age 65 it is such a joy to be working with all those young ideas. The twenty year old girls are also a lot cuter than the ones playing senior bingo down at the home.

    John Powers
     
  8. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I agree that the trend with galleries is to show a series of prints that are related to a theme, especially if the photographer is not a household name. The gallery is really banking on someone being interested in a particular theme rather than the name of the artist. And the themes that a gallery may be intersted in quite often will have something to do with the region of the country the gallery is in. Especially in smaller markets.

    I don't know if I recall seeing a showing of work for several years that is not either based on a theme or series selected by the photographer or a show that contains works by multiple artists sharing the same concept or theme (all photography or mixed media) unless it is a major retrospective covering a specific period or total body of work by very well known photographer.

    As far as what to present to a gallery for consideration, I would still include a few examples of your best work even if it does not relate to your series or theme. Give the gallery owner the opportunity to see the range of work you can produce. This can also provide an opportunity. You may have a series of work that is landscapes, but one of your extra images is a floral still life. If he is interested in the still life you can discuss the possibility of providing work based on that theme.
     
  9. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    Actually I would say almost all art regardless of medium is produced as part of a series or theme. With painting it often involves the same ideas or subject matter. Edward Hopper basically used the same underlying theme of isolation and seperation in all his work. Andrew Wyeth was celebrated for his series of paintings of Helga. Picasso had his nudes. Pollack and Rothko basically produced series of work based on technique. Besides individuals, common themes run between artists. Pickup any text covering post impressionism and you will find that everyone made a single work or multiple works having to do with women bathing from Monet to Harry Callahan up to today. Sculptors work in series of specific materials or scale, pop-artists, well what ever is popular at the time.

    The only time yo do not see it is if you are in MOMA or the Metropolitan or AIC or any city's major museum. There you see the selected bits and pieces of specific themes. The body of work that consists of a specific series or theme is divided between collectors, galleries museums etc.
     
  10. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    I tend to agree with Jim on this. Did not Adams "break in" to the NYC art scene with a portfolio of landscapes sent to Steiglitz? And I would bet most of them were taken in Yosemite. Steiglitz most likely selected a small few to exhibit and sell. The boxed sets came later in Adams' career when he was famous.

    I'm certainly no expert on galleries, but it stands to reason that they work as Steiglitz did - see a theme in a body of work to demonstrate commitment and constancy, select a small few for exhibit/sale based upon market experience. After an artist is an established seller, in demand, the "others" become marketable too.
     
  11. micek

    micek Member

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    A theme is what you see in your mind, not in your viewfinder. A single exposure is unlikely to capture the full potential of a certain motif. If you are able to see beyond the image framed by your viewfinder or GG on a given occasion, and you strive to portray what you have seen in your mind in its completeness, a body of work will emerge with a common theme.
     
  12. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    The question that arises in my mind is, "What is the difference between "Style" and "Theme". A 'serial' body of work may well exhibit interests in a particular subject, and stability in the approach toward that subject; but that is at the immediate cost of of the perception of the lack of flexibility.

    It is a good idea to take a moment and decided whether you want to stress stability, constancy, and the skill associated with a particular "theme", of If you want to exhibit a wide versatility at the cost of being seen as "mercurial".

    If the gallery mandates or accepts a body of work as a theme, all well and good. This is common: Name of Artist in the Exhibition titled "The Geysers of Iceland".
     
  13. rhphoto

    rhphoto Member

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    One other place to notice this trend is in bookstores on the photography shelf. Most of the books are about a single subject. The most well-thumbed ones are the books of nudes, whether in the "erotic" vein or in the "artistic" vein. And there are a lot of them now by women about women. There's the usual place-theme books, based on geographic location. And a spate of books by famous and not-so-famous photographers of celebrity pics. Hey, if you're connected in the world of glitz and want to make some fast money, put out an artsy sartsy series of black and white shots of famous people. Be sure to include one of Madonna, as I think she's considered "de riguer" these days.

    OK, I'm done with that rant. But it's true that well-known photographers can publish (or it's published posthumously) a range of work, while the up and comers, so to speak, publish theme books. Personally, if I'm cruising the photo shelf at the Barnes and Noble, I'd be very interested in some totally unknown photg's work, even if the subject matter was all over the map. But I'm a photographer, and I enjoy the medium no matter what (if it's what I consider well done - my opinion only!) and the average book-buyer most likely doesn't have an educated eye, and leans more toward WHAT is being presented than how, or in which medium or style.
     
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  15. Dave Wooten

    Dave Wooten Subscriber

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    Of interest, a very well written article-Sandra S. Phillips is senior curator of photography at SFMOMA

    Jan. 2005 Art in America...

    Adams and Stieglitz: A Friendship by Sandra S. Phillips, includes info on the prints sent to Stieglitz by Adams for his first New York show at "An American Place"

    Also documents his first portfolios and first public shows....
     
  16. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    Don't forget that the series could cover quite a wide range of subjects. I have a beautiful Taschen book in my collection called "Paris Mon Amour" where the series is basically all images shot in Paris. It describes itself as a "Homage to the worlds most beautiful city", so don't think of your series too narrowly.
     
  17. User Removed

    User Removed Guest

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    Do you think it would be okay to create a portfolio series on a process, rather then a theme? For example, a series of all 8x10 azo contact prints.
     
  18. Richard Boutwell

    Richard Boutwell Subscriber

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    Ryan, are you are thinking of what is referred to as a "museum set" which is representative of the broad spectrum of the artist's career--- Something like E. Weston's 50th anniversary portfolio? Since the individual pictures represent the photographer’s cohesive vision, they would not be considered random pictures.

    Generally, no one really cares about the process when viewing a portfolio. They care about the importance of each picture and the relationship between the pictures. I think that the process should be consistent throughout the portfolio for the sake of unity. But, I don’t think process should be the basis of a portfolio.

    Like a portfolio, a book should be more than a collection of random pictures.

    I can assure you that the Tuscany books were born from finished photographs that were intended to simply be seen as individual pictures. They did not “do a series to make a book.”

    So, just what does make a series? I can only think that a series is summed from individually made pictures. The series comes into being as the pictures are made.

    A series can sometimes be nothing more than a body of work that was made in the same place or with the same subject (be that a single window or Route 66). Sometimes a series can simply be as few as five or six pictures that, in some way, “go together”. From a series, single images can, and should, be able to stand alone. That, however, does not remove them from the whole. Within the series certain pictures might not be “as strong” as some of the others but they might remain in existence to help unify the series.

    What is most important for a photographer is to work for the sake of working. I would not go out photographing with the intention of making a book, or a portfolio, or anything other than making a picture. Then, when each picture is made just for the sake of that picture, personal visual characteristics will begin to emerge and a cohesive vision will be recognized by the person viewing your finished photographs.

    When showing your work to someone, especially if you want them to buy or give you a show, it is important that they see you are serious and that they remember you. If you do a lot of work that is consistently good the viewer will pick up your coherent vision and will simply see that you are serious. Most photographers who are remembered are remembered for doing something, which is usually thought of, or referred to as a “project” (try thinking of a photographer that just made a bunch of random pictures.) The “something”for which they are remembered could be many things or projects. But, think of Carl Chiarenza and you think of abstract photographs of foil and paper assemblages. Think of Emmit Gowan or William Garnett and you will think of photographs made from the air. Think of Ansel Adams and you will think of the grand landscape. This could go on and on, but there is something they all have in common. The photographers made each picture just for the sake of making it and their body of work naturally evolved and developed into a whole.

    There is a considerable difference in doing work within a "theme" and concentrating on a specific subject. A theme is something that can be seen and reflected on after a good deal of work has been done by the artist, usually after many years of working spontaneously and organically . I believe “style” can be thought of as something similar to “vision”. “Style” though, seems to sound superficial. Whereas “vision” is something that is looked upon as a naturally-developed visual and conceptual concern. Those could more accurately be called aesthetic concerns.

    Brett Weston can be remembered by his work in San Francisco or New York City. Or, he could more easily be remembered for his landscape and close-up work. Those four things previously mentioned are simply areas or subjects with which he worked and should not be confused with the common “theme” of his work, abstraction.
     
  19. David Henderson

    David Henderson Member

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    I think your understanding seems pretty good. The issue here is not what's right or wrong; or even what's best, but what works for what purpose. I think you'd find it really tough to break into the gallery market or get a first monograph published today without demonstrating a style/look as well as some form of unifying theme behind the images. Whether that's right or wrong, simple observation will confirm its veracity, and I even think that approach would help a lot in submissions to stock libraries; and the better magazines. I don't even think you'd get a higher level RPS distinction in the UK with an eclectic panel.

    Of course if none of these things interest you then it won't matter whether your own work follows these patterns or not. But it is a potentially interesting creative dimension and for me it beats wandering round the world making disparate images that I happen to like at the time. It means that part of the creative process is beyond cameras and printing. That's a good thing and signifies a broadening, not a paucity of imagination.
     
  20. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    Seems like all the relevant points have been covered on this topic. Good discussion. I have a show coming up this August. It will be a series of photographs made in a specific location (see the Carpenter Portfolio on my website).

    I have found projects the easiest way to work for me because my career and education (engineering) are based on projects. The concepts of planning and execution are the same in both professional and artistic lives. It's just the subject matter that changes.

    I have assembled a "greatest hits" project ("Fifty" - also on the web site), but basically I am not ready for a career retrospective - yet...
     
  21. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Except for retrospectives of established artists or vanity micropublishers, I don't think you ever have seen such books -- even as far back as Fox-Talbot.
     
  22. sparx

    sparx Member

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    I suspect galleries like 'series' of work as much for publicitiy than anything else. An advertising campaign based around a title that encapsulates an entire exhibition would surely pique interest?
     
  23. Peter Schrager

    Peter Schrager Subscriber

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    random photos

    I have several books of "random" photos by various artists published by aperture and the Center for Photographic Art; and The Friends of Photography. All softcover and all wonderful little titles.
    Best, Peter
     
  24. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

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    My theme? They were all taken by Neal Williams and, of course, they are all analog.
     
  25. John McCallum

    John McCallum Member

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    All mine were taken while wearing a hat. :smile:
     
  26. Graeme Hird

    Graeme Hird Member

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    All mine were shot on film .....