Greg Hobson is Curator of Photographs at the National Media Museum. Following his Magnum Professional Practice talk, he tells us how he selects photographers to exhibit and what would wow him at a portfolio review…
In addition to exhibitions from the museum’s archives, you also curate issue-based projects, which include work by emerging photographers. Where do you find photographers to be involved in shows such as these?
At portfolio viewings, through various awards that we run and from being on judging panels for other awards. I was on the judging panel for the photography awards in Santa Fe. You get to see something like 250 photography projects, so you get a sense of exactly what’s going on and where really strong work’s being made. Then there are recommendations that come from peers in other institutions and so on.
What impresses you in a portfolio review?
People who have a clear idea about where their work is going and what the ‘carrier’ for that work is going to be. Someone who comes along wanting an exhibition, a book, website, the whole thing, is probably not thinking clearly enough about where they want the work to be realised.
What should photographers be taking into consideration when deciding how to present their work at a portfolio review?
One of the most difficult things, after you’re out of the education system, is keeping in contact with people who are going to be relevant in terms of moving your practice forward. So it’s [useful to] set up loose groups where people continually, honestly and openly review how one another are doing and what their strongest pictures are.
For the reviewer - who is sitting there doing a review every 20 minutes, often for a whole day - to have somebody present a loosely put-together book dummy and a series of prints is disheartening because you don’t know where to begin in terms of advising somebody how to move forward. But if someone has 10 prints in a box and a well-put-together book dummy and they say, “What I want is to find a publisher for this book” or alternatively they have 20 small prints and one example of what an exhibition print might look like - even framed, potentially - and say, “What I’m looking for is an exhibition and this is how I see it working”, that can immediately connect with the right kind of reviewer.
It’s also about doing research beforehand to make sure you see the right people, who are either going to be interested in doing something tangible with the work or will give you good advice about how to move forward.
What mistakes do people often make in their statements?
Over-describing the work and going beyond a side of A4. If it needs that much explanation, or it’s deeply rooted in academic thesis, then it’s just not going to connect immediately. People tend to make quick judgments when they’re looking at work in portfolio reviews, so the clearer and more succinct the statement can be [the better]. Saying what the project is about, what you’re hoping to achieve, they’re the key things, not how it might connect with Lacan or Barthes, because it’s a bit tired apart from anything else.
Do you have any advice for emerging photographers or collectives thinking of putting on their own shows?
Make sure that people know it’s there, though websites and marketing. Then try to get on the radar of some of the key photography websites that curators and publishers are looking at. Find out who’s doing the editing and how to send things in. Photo magazines are still good; they’re shrinking in terms of the number of editions but some do open calls, so it is worth persevering. Check the websites of galleries selling photography and look out for commissions. Don’t underestimate how much hard work and networking outside of the actual picture-taking there is to do.
Image: Business card design mini portfolio by maaikeflis on a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.
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