So this post is entirely overdue and for that I apologize. As you will see in a moment, the Meeting Place is insanely exhausting, and each day tends to leave you with barely enough energy to crawl home! Once I got back to Austin I had a stack of schoolwork to finish and another stack to grade. But better late than never! I’ll split these three days into two posts to better manage it. Here goes…
Day One was an overwhelming success in my eyes, and I was hoping that Day Two would be even half as good. I mentioned my business goals, but in truth my overall goal was simply to determine whether or not I am good enough to make this happen. Day One left me feeling pretty good on that end, and I still had three days to go!
Day Two’s scheduled reviews were: Tom Hinson (Cleveland Museum of Art), Joaquim Paiva (Private collector out of Rio de Janeiro), Rod Slemmons (Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), David Little (Minneapolis Institute of Arts), and Edward Osowski (Private collector out of Houston).
Sit down with Tom Hinson and get into my description. At this point I feel as though I’m starting to get the hang of cramming a description of my work into a small time frame. That said, I almost immediately make a mistake (which I did not even realize was a mistake) by telling him that I haven’t been a photographer for a very long period of time and that this is my first body of work. The review immediately switched from the work to how to be a student of photography: attending grad school, looking at photo books, etc. He honestly seemed to not pay much attention to the images and was more concerned with telling me these other things. I didn’t want to interrupt and say that grad school wasn’t what I needed. nor more books (I have some 250 now and tend to spend a ton of free time in the fine arts library as it is), but in hindsight maybe I should have. The twenty minute bell rang and it was over with no real thoughts on my work. Count that as the first real miss of the event.
Next up was Joaquim Paiva. Joaquim is an incredibly nice guy who put a lot of energy into reviewing my images. My images can be tough, and they certainly effected him, but he nonetheless gave me his honest opinion. Essentially his opinion was that my images were incredibly strong, very powerful, and that I use too much contrast. Outside of the contrast he didn’t feel there was anything negative to say, and we discussed the use of contrast as it was certainly no accident. In the end I think he respected my decision, but comes more from the full tonal range school of printing, which I as well can respect. Overall a good review with some important insights. One of the more important being that art collectors are not afraid of documentary work, but it needs to be something that doesn’t sadden you if on the wall!
Real quick, if anyone wants to know what the vibe of this kind of portfolio review feels like, feel free to check out this brief video:
On to Rod Slemmons. Now Rod is with the Museum of Contemporary Photography, which is also where Natasha Egan is, whom I had seen the day before. Ideally I would like to exhibit here, but can’t really tell if it’s something they would be interested in. Rod begins looking over my work and is constantly making good comments, such as wow, wonderful, very strong, etc. When finished he went into s discussion about how my work crosses the line between art of documentary, and that such work is often the toughest to find a place for. We start talking about Danny Lyon and how he had faced a similar problem. Interestingly enough, right as he was pretty much writing off the idea of working with me at all he came up with the idea of doing an exhibition featuring photographers such as myself, who straddle this line between art and documentary. He said “Maybe we should do an exhibition with people like you.”, to which I responded, “Yes, you should do an exhibition with people like me!” We’ll see, but regardless is was a great review and an interesting conversation. I got a lot out of it, and again got some further insight as to how to work in this genre.
While waiting on my next review I bumped into Rebecca Norris-Webb, wife of Magnum’s Alex Webb and noted photographer herself. I had briefly met her in Oslo, and it was great to see her again. She was showing more of her Violet Isle work that she did with Alex, and it is stunning…you should check it out. Basically this is how the session works. You get a review, then go out in the hall and sit with everyone else while others are being reviewed. During this time we mostly chat each other up and show each other our work. It was fascinating to me to see the wide variety of work out there. Some things that people do with a camera are pretty amazing…Most of the people I met were incredibly cool. In fact this stereotype of artists being arrogant and condescending was blown out of the water. In fact, there were 3 people that I met the entire week who were arrogant, condescending, and who could not get enough of themselves. They were all photojournalists. I made this comment on my Facebook page and some people were upset, thinking that I was saying that ALL photojournalists have this attitude. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of my friends, and all of my mentors are photojournalists, and I tend to think photojournalists are wonderful people. There were other photojournalists there who were cool as hell also, it just so happened that all of the arrogance I ran into came from photojournalists who spent an amazing amount of time telling everyone how great and important their work was while bragging about all the museums that had bought their work. Stuff it people, we don’t care.
Back to the reviews! Next was David Little, and our review was pleasant. It wasn’t great and it wasn’t bad. He mostly said good things about the work, but also got into the contrast. Sidenote real quick. I realize the contrast is pushed pretty far, and not everyone likes it. That’s fine and I’m cool with that, but for the record it was intentional! The reason I say this is that for the first ten minutes he kept telling me I needed to learn how to make a “good print”. I finally stopped him and asked what he meant by a “good print” as honestly I take a lot of pride in my printing! He told me that a good print has details in the shadows and highlights and that mine obviously did not accomplish this. So I explained to him that it was a conscious decision to lose details in some areas and that the reason is because I don’t look at my job as a photographer as being to record exact 2D images of what I see, but rather to capture the memory of the feeling I had while there. Pushing the contrast and losing some details more accurately reflects that feeling, which is why I did it. After I explained my logic he seemed to like it much better and we wrapped up.
To be honest I was feeling a bit deflated at this point. Each of the reviews was so-so, and while I gained knowledge I didn’t really get anything to be excited about (Unless Chicago goes through with the group exhibition). So I walked up to Ed Osowski not knowing what to expect. To be honest I had heard so many questions about the contrast I thought I would get it again! Sat down and Ed first of all asked me not to show my images, but rather to tell him about myself. So I did and we went into the images. Ed was clearly moved by my work, and had nothing but extraordinary things to say. He mentioned that he may purchase a print, and that he wanted me to meet several other people. He also wanted me applying for the Center for Documentary Studies first book prize. I couldn’t have been any happier and left feeling as though the day and the session as a whole was an overwhelming success. I say this not because of anything Ed offered to do for me, but rather because he was an amazing review. He clearly put his heart and soul into examining each image, and in general was a supremely cool guy. I honestly walked out of that room feeling as though I had made a new friend, which is more important than any sale. Cheesy? Yes, but true, no?
By this time I was completely drained of energy and simply went home to crash. Day Two done, another success.
Day Three was a day I thought would either kill or bomb…nothing in the middle. Reviewing me that day were Frazier King (Houston Center of Photography), Juan Curto (Camera Osuro), Harry Hardie (HOST Gallery), and Benedict Burbridge (Photoworks).
Started off with Frazier and got a bonus as the executive director of HCP, Bevin, joined us. This review was stunning as they loved everything I was doing and were legitimately interested in everything going on in my career and with the project. As I got up to leave they wrote down a list of other people I “had to see”, and told me they would be talking to their exhibition committee about me. I have since spoken with 2 of the people they told me to talk to, and I have the potential for 2 exhibitions from this one meeting. Being from Houston, this could not have been any better for me. Frazier and Bevin both were a joy to talk to, and it would honestly be the coolest thing ever to exhibit in my home town. I’ve got my fingers crossed!
Next was Juan Curto, the second worst review of my time there. It wasn’t bad because he ripped me, it was bad simply because his bio said he doesn’t want to see documentary and that’s what I had (although it should be noted I didn’t select him, just got assigned to him). He looked at my images for five minutes, said they’re good, then started talking about parenting. Mark that as 20 minutes of my life I wish I had back!
Next up was Harry Hardie, who runs HOST Gallery in London, as well as Foto8.com, and 8 magazine. I was excited to see him because I had heard he loved doc work and thought we might get on well. Damn right we did! Harry was a cool cat, and we had a great chat. He said great things about my work, and asked if I would like my work on the website, magazine, and a special multimedia presentation that he does. Yes, please! He also said he would keep me in mind for the gallery, but that my work needed to fit in with something going on. Very cool guy and very productive! I need to buy that guy a beer…
Last review of the day was Ben Burbridge, also from the UK. Ben doesn’t like doc work, but he gave me some great insights into my images. I say he doesn’t like doc work which isn’t entirely true. He likes the images, but feels there is an ethical dilemma as documentarians use other peoples suffering to raise up their name. I explained that in addition to advancing my name that I try to have the work do good directly for my subjects, which he respected but said he wasn’t sure it was enough. I get it, but I also told him that if we don’t put our name and the work out there then no one will support it and the stories don’t get told, which I feel it is imperative that many of these get told. Great guy (despite the philosophical difference), and another one I should buy a beer…
Finally was an off the books review that I had scheduled with noted book publisher Dewi Lewis. By scheduled I mean I chased and pestered him until he gave me a time! So we sat down after the reviews were finished and I told him that I knew he wouldn’t want to publish my book, but that I really wanted his opinion of my sequencing and layout. He looked through my book layout and blew my mind. He immediately asked me to submit it to the Leica European Publishers Award, and while he didn’t feel it would win, he felt I might be able to “get another country to publish it as well”. He said Spain for sure wouldn’t vote for me…wonder why Spain doesn’t like me?!!?!? Anyway, he then started to discuss the distribution issues we were going to face, and how did I think could get around them? I told him I wasn’t sure as I honestly hadn’t thought he would be interested. He then told me that when he looked at my work he felt like he feels when he looks at W. Eugene Smith’s work. I told him I knew it looked somewhat like Minamata, and he cut my off saying “No, no. I don’t mean the look. I mean I feel the same way as when I look at his work and I hope you know that’s a compliment”. He then gave me his card and asked that I get in touch when I’ve thought about the distribution issues. Just. Wow. I still don’t expect him to publish it, but the fact that someone like him took an interest in my work is humbling.
Day three wrapped up with a surprise. Anne Tucker of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston was doing her only day of reviews for that session. She came over and gave me a hug and asked about things (She had bought a few of my prints a few months back). The minute she walked away, people were staring at me like I was a rock star. Score today in the win column…Here’s a parting shot of me and Anne…will give the open artist night, day four, and my discoveries of the meeting place updates in the next post..coming tonight I promise!
Bill and Anne