Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reflections on Photolucida

I was invited to be a reviewer at the recent incarnation of Photolucida in Portland, Oregon from April 23rd to April 26th. The event had over 64 reviewers looking at over 160 portfolios. I had been invited because my friend Barbara Tannenbaum of the Akron Art Museum recommended me to the organizers. I recently read her blog on the event and I realized that I had shirked my responsibility as a reviewer and a blogger by not posting some comments. I mean, part of why I was invited, I imagine, was so that I would write about the festival and post some thoughts about the artists I met.

Read Barbara's blog here.

First let me say that the review sessions were beautifully organized. Each reviewer was responsible to attend 2 of the 3 sessions each day. A schedule was available well before the event so I could do some preliminary research on the artists I would meet. During the festival, artists showed up every 20 minutes as promised, and no one was allowed to stray too far from the alotted time slots. While 12 portfolio reviews every day for 4 days isn't exactly easy, neither was it too much. I have reviewed other places with a much more demanding schedule where I could feel my brain melting into photo soup as the day wore on. In Portland, I was always fresh enough to be alert and positive about each portfolio I saw. Kudos to all the dedicated pros who work to make Photolucida work.

My philosophy as a reviewer is simple: how can I help this artist? I don't dwell too much on whether I like the work or not. I'm looking to see what the artist is trying to accomplish by attending this review. If I can be of help, I'm happy. Some artists feel that their work is still in process and want comments, others are looking for representation or a book deal. Of course, I can't wave a magic wand and make their wishes come true, but I always look to open doors or show them doors they didn't know about. I'm keenly aware that they paid a fee to hear my opinion, so I want to offer some kind of value that goes beyond my simple likes and dislikes. It's not perfect -- some artists will find me more helpful than others -- but I hope that overall I was a productive visit for the majority of artists who met me.

It's also a bit of a roulette wheel which artists you meet. Reading Barbara's blog, I saw that of the artists she wrote about, I had only met one. But a few that I didn't meet sounded intriguing and made me wish I had had the opportunity to see their work. I did see more work than on my official schedule. Some artists ask for extra time, which I gladly did to the degree that my schedule allowed, but it wasn't always possible. So a promising artist like Ryan Zoghlin asked for time, and I never got a chance to meet him. My loss.

One practice that Photolucida implements would be a welcome addition to the NYC photo scene if someone were to organize it. It's called a portfolio walk. The way Lucida does it is to set up tables in a large room big enough to hold 60-80 portfolios and a crowd to view them. The public is invited in to walk around and view what's on the tables, talk with the artists, take a business card, or schedule a more private view. After an hour, the artists pack up and a new set of 60-80 artists come in to take their place. Rinse and repeat until all of the scheduled artists have had a turn. It's a wonderfully interactive, unjudgemental, and social way for a relatively large number of artists to have their work seen by a relatively large amount of people. It's sort of a hybrid portfolio view/one day art fair. Cool.

Following Barbara's lead, here are a few artists whose work I found noteworthy. In alphabetical order with a short comment:

Mary Farmilant had a series devoted to what she called "ghost hospitals" -- hospitals which have been closed due to lack of funding or support. She had an innovative portfolio presentation which combined photos with vials of hospital smells and a CD of hospital sounds. I loved her concept of an immersive photo environment.

Jane S. Noel showed me work from a project called "First Impressions". She distributed hundreds of questionnaires based on a photo of herself. While she allowed each responder to see only one photo, she actually used many different ones that only changed her hair color. She then collated the responses according to hair color and displayed them with the photo. I found it to be an intriguing exploration of prejudice and preconception based on appearance.

Brian Parkin showed me a typology of signs from industrial sites in the southwest. Solid work

Christopher Rauschenberg is working on a series from the flea markets in the north of Paris. As he freely admits, it's a work in progress. There were a number of very strong photographs, and the project knits together beautifully. I'm eager to see the finished book and exhibition. I think it'll be great.

I had seen Austrian photographer Reiner Riedler's series about fantasy theme parks when it was part of the Month of Photography in Bratislava last November. The series is called "Fake Holidays". This is very mature work just waiting to be pounced on by a good US dealer. As of the date of my review with him, he did not have US representation. Check it out.

Photolucida was a fabulous experience for me. Seeing work, meeting artists, networking with professional from the gallery and museum worlds, investigating local museums, galleries and shops (see post below on Ampersand) -- it all added up to a satisfying and stimulating trip. I hope I'll be invited back.


  1. Evan, it was a pleasure to have my work reviewed by you at Photolucida. You were thoughtful and focused!

  2. Thank you, Willson. I look forward to seeing your work again. Be well.

  3. Hello, Evan,
    I wanted to thank you very much for our brief meeting at Photolucida last April. You shared names of artists I had not looked at as potential "mentors" for the ideas I had: Ghada Amer, Lesley Dill, Ulla Joklsalo, Kiki Smith. They all proved tremendously helpful. Your willingness to help me in the middle of my process was a real gift.
    Charles Grogg

  4. Thank you, Charles. It means a lot to me that my comments were useful and contributed to a thoughtful session. The review sessions are so short, it's hard to know how often one's comments find their mark. Best wishes for continued success.