Review Santa Fe, part one: Reviewers

Me at Review Santa Fe, photograph © David Bram

Wooh boy, am I tired. Today I think I've finally come down a bit off my high. I know some of you (maybe) are awaiting an update from me on my Santa Fe experience--I still feel like I'm processing everything, but as I mentioned before I had an amazing time. I've decided the best way to approach writing about the review is to split my posts up into bite-sized categories. I may not keep up the format, but let's have a go with this first entry. I'll start with the reviewers, who gave so much of their time and energy in order to make this event as productive and fulfilling as it was.

Without further ado I'd like to thank (in the order in which I met them): Kate Bussard, Debra Klomp Ching, Kevin Miller, Susan Spiritus, Erin O'Toole, Laura Valenti, Paula Gillen, Joanna Hurley, Charlotte Cotton, Darren Ching and Maarten Schilt for looking at my work and offering their critiques.

One excellent thing about the review is how we as photographers were able to go about choosing who we wanted to meet with. It wasn't on a first-come, first-served basis but rather you had to rank your preferences from #1 all the way down to #43. According to their system you then would get 9 out of your top 15--I was lucky enough to get my first four choices, and then a pretty even ratio of people below that (I heard of one person who got all nine of his top choices, not bad at all). In addition, each reviewer had a bio you could look at, in some cases tailored toward the review itself. For example, some people noted they weren't interested in heavily photoshopped images, or would like to see social documentary. In this way the reviewees could narrow the field, shifting the list around until the order was just right.

I believe this is one of the main reasons I felt my reviews went so well--I was very careful to read all of the bios, as well as doing further research on my own, and I think as a result most of the people I met with seemed generally open to my work, and in a few cases downright enthusiastic. Did I have anyone offer me a solo show or to publish my next book? No, but for me that wasn't the purpose of being there. I think if you attend a review you have to have realistic expectations--as we were told at the orientation, it's like a first date, and people rarely elope the day they meet. It was enough for me to feel that even if a reviewer didn't straight-out love my work, they at least felt it was a strong body as a whole, and each of them was able to offer constructive criticism on how to improve the series, as well as conceptual advice on my project as well. I feel like I've come away with some really great tips on how to make my work stronger.

I'm also genuinely grateful for the passion each of the reviewers seemed to put into our meetings, and I'm not just saying this--trust me, if I'd had a not so good review you'd hear about it (as you did with my PowerHouse experience). This review versus PowerHouse was like night and day, and I'm sure that was largely due to having a good amount of control over who I got to see. Perhaps I'm lucky I didn't get raked over the coals, but this seemed rare--I only heard third-hand of two reviews that were downright brutal, and the rest of the photographers seemed to feel that at the very least their reviewers were respectful, even if some of their comments missed the mark. Granted, I did a count when I got home and I had met just about exactly half of the photographers who attended, and spent the majority of my time with a handful of those people. So this isn't a scientific sample, and I'd be interested to know what the people who I didn't have a chance to meet in Santa Fe thought of their experience.

One note, I had nine scheduled reviews, and then was able to sign up for an extra "green room" meeting, as well as having a publisher be kind enough to look at my work after hours, so to speak. So there are other opportunities to round out who sees your portfolio, in addition to an open portfolio night that I'll write more about later (to me the weakest part of the experience).

This may be more information than the average reader of my blog might want to know, but I thought for those considering submitting for 2010 that it might be helpful to map out, from an insider's point of view, how some of the process worked.

That's it for tonight, more tomorrow.


Darren Ching said…
Glad you came away with a good experience from Review Santa Fe. I'm really glad I had the opportunity to look at your work, and to give my feedback. One of the reason's that I attend such events is to become aware of photographic projects that I would not normally come across, and have a bit of face to face conversation about the work. And also to [hopefully] inspire the photographer I meet to take the project to the next level. You're also now on the radar of you've met with.
You're right in that it is like a "first date," and you'll inevitably receive opinions that vary. Sift through the comments, adhere to those gems of advice that ring true that fit in with your vision. Keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing how the project developes.
--Darren Ching
Nice job. It's hard to think clearly about the experience so soon, and I think you have. I had to journal on Monday for one and half hours straight (with a pee break) just to get my mind in order. Fyi, it was great to meet you. I admire your work.
Deborah Hamon said…
Hi Elizabeth,
Great to read your report from Santa Fe! It is always nice to read others comments about the same event. I am interested to read about your experiences at the Porfolio night (since I don't recall chatting to you much about that!) I actually really liked that experience because the people who really wanted to talk to you could, and those not so interested could simply pass by. Although it was rather crowded, and we were all exhausted after 3 hours, but I enjoyed the experience.
Anyway, if any of your blog readers want to read about my experiences, they can do so at:
Until next time,
Darren--Thank you for your comment. I'm also very glad you were one of my reviewers, you had extremely helpful feedback. I'll be happy to stay in touch.

Jonathan--I spent my many hours on the plane ride back processing my thoughts. You didn't have far to go so you had to do your thinking at home! It was great to meet you too, I think your work is going to go far (I only wish I'd gotten to see your prints in person).

Deborah--Yours as well; the portfolio review seems to be one of the things we didn't cover as much in our various lengthy conversations. I think my next post will be about that night, stay tuned.
Jane Tam said…
Great write-up, Elizabeth. I've thought about applying to Fotofest and Review Santa Fe but always feel the finances stress me out. It's good to know your perspective from this experience since it will definitely push me to apply for Santa Fe next year.
Hi Elizabeth--
I have really enjoyed reading all of your posts on The Review. Many people planning to attend in the future will benefit from your writing about your experiences. All the best, Eliz.
Jane--a large part of my impetus for writing these posts is to help other photographers, so it's great to hear that you my perspective was worthwhile. Being able to share information is one of my favorite things about blogging. Thanks.

Elizabeth--Thanks to you as well, see above :) I'm very glad to hear you think others will benefit!

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