Last year I had the chance to be a part of a new exhibition in my city called LOCAL. It was my first time showing off my work in a gallery. After having the first couple of short meetings the curator asked me: "Could you send over a selection of your work?" While answering the question with "oh yes sure, no problem!", my brain started thinking of every photo that could possibly fit. After the meeting, when I got home, the chaos began. I spent days and days going back and forth between loving my selection and hating every single photo I had ever taken. Pride and self-doubt swapped places so often, I couldn't keep up myself. The next time I had the chance to talk to the curator of the exhibition, I voiced my concerns about my work and the selection I had made. She told me to send over everything so she could make a selection. Hearing her opinion on my work from a professional point of view was amazing. It was the best thing I could have ever done and I'll tell you what I've learned from it in four steps.
1. Find a trend throughout your work
I usually look at my own work as separate pieces. That's the way I've always worked, creating a single photo at a time. Often a photo doesn't really have a specific meaning or a specific purpose. Cohesion is key in any portfolio selection, whatever the purpose. Finding an element that binds your photos together is difficult. Set aside your emotional connection to the photo as much as possible. Only then you'll be able to look at a photo for what it's worth. With a clear mind dissect your photos and find what binds them together, what makes them yours. This element can be anything from a visual element to stories that link together.
2. It's a process
Making a good selection is a process. The way I suggest working is storing all your somewhat decent photos in a folder on your computer. Go in every day and make a new folder inside of that one. Copy the selection you'd like to have at that very moment. It'll be different on different days. Unconsciously you'll end up with a better selection after a couple of weeks of going back and forth. You'll find yourself gravitating towards certain photos and you'll start to feel more comfortable with them. Putting together your portfolio doesn't happen in one day, it's a process. Finding an element that binds your work together should now be even simpler than before.
3. "Where do I want my work to go from now?"
That's a question I had to ask myself. After photographing for over 6 years I've gone through loads of different fases. I had a dark and emotional fase, I had a storytelling fase, I had a 'let's try every feature in photoshop' fase. But I had to figure out what I wanted to do after this. A portfolio should represent you at this very moment, not the artist you were a year ago. This doesn't mean you can't use old work. It just means that you should select your older work to fit with your newer work.
4. Ask for feedback
There is nothing more helpful than asking other people for their opinion. After you've figured out where you stand on your selection, how you feel about it and why it is the way it is. Having someone voice their honest opinion is very refreshing. By this time you've already spent a lot of time into putting together your portfolio. I know it's hard to accept a totally different view, but be honest with yourself. At this point it's not about defending your own stand, it's about listening and taking in what's being said. If you agree, act on it. If you still feel really strong about your selection, go for it!
When I saw the final selection on the walls, it struck me. They did together and I did actually have a style. Even on the screen I wasn't totally convinced about the selection. Seeing your photos in print is one of the most rewarding things I have ever experienced. Making the selection was hard, I learned a lot and I hope I am able to share my experience on the matter with you.
(photos from my exhibition by Karen Jules)
Some very useful links I used during my process: http://goo.gl/sp1M67, http://goo.gl/ORq1aB, http://goo.gl/HQntQX and http://goo.gl/MtmF6I