CAPIC’s 2nd Annual Portfolio Speed Review Event

It was an opportunity to have 5 minute face-to-face speed feedback from art & creative directors from renowned art companies & design firms in Vancouver. It was my first portfolio review out of Emily Carr ever… Oh no..It’s the 1st one in Vancouver, the 2nd one in Canada, coz I had a portfolio review in Toronto under Magnum New York 2 years ago 😛 I have so much going on right now juggling my day job as an assistant extraordinaire for 3 neurotic (they all know they’re neurotic) & quirky (their quirkyness has some awesomeness in it, depending on the kind of day.. I guess) ladies, my yoga teacher trainer course and the readings/projects/homework required to be accomplished before the next yoga ttc weekend next month, print designs for my roomate’s burlesque business, getting ready for my very first solo exhibit at the Bees Garden at Kitsilano, editing/creating/collaborating some float mounted prints for the newly renovated Blenz Coffee Shop at Granville St & Davie St  aaand the on and off fight with the darn flu and conjunctivitis whose stubborn insistence of blooming their hideous existence in the worse possible times and scenarios is close to waning me to the closest mental ward, if there is ever one left available in Vancouver. It led to the unfortunate result on the lack of preparation for the important and educational event that I was hoping will help further my career pursuit to fashion/fine art/engagement photography. I did learn a lot though, while shrinking on my seat whenever I have to seat across one of them big guys in the art/design industry in the city at this event.

I was told by most of the art & creative director panel that (as I already anticipated), I could have done better with my book presentation. It would have been better if my work was in a polished and bigger book. I placed my postcard sized underwater photographs in a hand-made book I did at Emily Carr 2 years ago. I already knew how hideous it was, but due to lack of time and…cash flow for the time being (from investing on prints..where I still owe money to my printer..lots of em and the bottomless pit of monthly bills and debts  with student loan included). I felt obliged to toss in my work where it doesn’t fit in. Totally bad move. I really wanted to shrink. I couldn’t get myself to buy another portfolio and didn’t have the chance to make a book coz I already have a whole bunch of usable archival portfolio books at my mom’s place that I haven’t had the chance to pick up just yet, and I was once again too broke to create and print a book. I Hate it when I find myself falling head forward into that starving artist mode, except I wasn’t as starving as I was way back when, since I’m doing a work trade deal in my art mansion commune where the deal involves providing me free food.

My underwater photography, I felt got criticized a lot, especially since my kind of work lacks the polish crisp look art directors are usually eyeing. There was a diverse of feedback. Some spoke a whole lot about presentation, some where giving suggestions on how to frame the people in my photographs, some were very technical while others were just about the look and feel of the work.

Halfway through the proceeding, I literally wanted to leave.. take off from all the overwhelming constructive feedback I’ve received, mostly negative. I was convinced I heard all I had to hear especially since I felt like a squished up cockroach under the feet of the big guys. I stuck up for the next 30 minutes with wrinkly nose (in the subconscious of my mind). I got commended for exploring/experimenting the self taught process of underwater people photography. I was told that the collage aspect of the photographs was not done well & that the images were tooo super imposed, since you can super impose images to a degree, but my work had sooOoo much layers going on, too much elements they’re not done well, since it seemed like I used photoshop as a crutch…apparently. I was told that the style of photography I’m aiming for is a niche, in an art director perspective, a challenging one to market in the Vancouver art/design scene.

Dean Ponto a freelance senior art director who works regularly with some of Canada’s top ad agencies such as Palmer Jarvis DDB, like the others, criticized my super imposing/layering work, but suggested that I investigate water and ways I could do on camera manipulations and coming up with ways to play around it in the natural setting. I know that already though. I have the imagination for that. I just don’t have the right pool to do that (I’m usually doing the shoots in public pools and private pools where the swimming pool is shared with tenants in a townhouse/condo setting). Within the landscape of my conceptual ideas, I would play with food coloring and floating water proof disco lights I have. There is the unlimited possibilities of beautiful flowy fabrics that I oh-so-love and props! Lots of them! There is also using strobes above water & in the water… waterproof make up on my models… I know that. I don’t have resources just yet. I can’t afford the resources, just yet. I think that for the limited resource I have and for someone really new with this sort of photography, I did a good job.

James Bateman, a creative director for Karacters Design Group suggested that I dont focus on the staging too much and develop a way of thinking when it comes to my photography. He said that the underwater images is a very defined path, that I have to blow up my horizons in different photographic work. To explore different styles of photography. I did that already, and for the longest time I’ve been tapping on different genres of photography from studio photography, to architectural photography, to street photography, to photo tableaux, to portraiture. I tried different camera formats too from medium format, to 35 mm, to 4×5 bellow cameras. I haven’t tried them all, but I’m convinced I’ve tried a lot of approaches to photography to have a feel and to make the decision that I want to focus on portraiture, photo tableaux, fashion and engagement photography underwater… the question now is how do I make the market come to the little art town of Vancouver for my services? Especially since the film industry boom had seemed to have dropped down here in Vancouver, and a lot of film/photography affiliated industries are heading to L.A.

Ben Hulse a principal designer of his own design firm said that my photography is very art-based. It seems to be the kind of photography that will probably only appeal to the artsy sort of people. He also suggested to do  more of a play of light on subject rather than super imposing too much. He encouraged me to try to get close to my subject, maybe tighten the frame, do a close up or play around with cropping. It was mentioned to me over and over again too throughout the duration of the portfolio review, to play around with cropping and framing.

In fine art photography, it’s okay to have your signature in the image, as long as it’s in an appropriate location. In commercial photography, it’s a Big NoNo to have your signature on an image. My photographs had signatures on them, so I repeatedly distraught the big guys with this fact, this is next to the fact that I super imposed my images and had so many layers going on. lol.

I was told by one director that it was unfortunate that I came after another photographer who apparently did a waaAay better job with the underwater shoot than me Yes it’s true, his was polished, not as super imposed as my images. His model had full make up on and posing for the clothing line underwater, a fashion shoot for the clothing line Plenty. What if I don’t like the ultra clean polished look? I like the painterly, organic, expired film print sort of look. I was told over and over again that there has to be application for my work too. It had to have a purpose. A use. *Sigh* There’s millions of art that is made everyday and not all of them have any purpose at all. Just something that is a conceptual expression or a beautiful piece to decorate the house, office or establishment of some sort.

Chris Peacock, an art buyer and account manager for Cossette, an advertising agency in Vancouver exclaimed when he saw my photography “This is FREAKING BEAUTIFUL…It’s cool styling…it’s to inspire. What’s my use for it? I dont know” *Sigh* There goes the word again. Use. I cant help start questioning my photography’s use in this world at large.

Matt Warburton, a principal designer said that my photographic niche is pretty limiting. If I want to shoot people in the fashion industry and get clients in the engagement industry, he suggested that I shoot people in different ways. How I should shoot them in different environment, like the woods, in the skate park, and in the middle of the street. He thinks that the collage style I implemented was not done well, since it had so much elements going on, unless I was really good at it, I should pursuit it.

I was having migraines from all these overwhelming feedbacks when a beautiful red  rose fell from the sky with the words from Vida Jurcic, a principle designer of a design group Hangar 18. She was the 4th to the last of the jury and I dont know if it was pretty transparent on my face that I look like a crushed cockroach. She acknowledged at 1st that she knows that I received a lot of feedback on my work, probably most of them not so good, but she really thought that my photography was unique and how she really liked my photography. She thought the images were beautiful. Instead of telling me that my book sucked, she gave me suggestions on how I could present it better in the future. She envisioned me keeping the images the postcard size that they are now. These images are in a bigger book with huge white borders or white background and the book is a landscape sized book or a square portfolio. She thinks that the photographs are better on a matte finish, so that the images look classier. Of course like the rest, she told me to take out my signature. She thinks I have a beautiful signature and it will look better embossed or dye cut in the very front of my book/portofolio. She suggested that I should save up the money for it, and embossing it on white vinyl or a leather cover will give it a nice touch with the Victorian feel that my images have.

The last gentleman in the jury Mark Busse thought my photographs were beautiful too. He asked me if I’ve ever worked for the fashion industry. I said No. He asked why? Because I dont know how to market myself. He told me to check out his blog on How to sell your work as a photographer. I checked it out. It gave me a couple of good pointers. Im glad that like Vida, he encouraged me to my underwater photography pursuit. He told me that I was a beautiful girl with a niche and a talent that I should just go for it, since it’s an idea that works.


2 Responses to “CAPIC’s 2nd Annual Portfolio Speed Review Event”

  1. Josan, it was a joy to meet you at the CAPIC event last week. And I’m glad you honestly shared your experiences and feelings from the event publicly like this.

    Remember that many of those art and creative directors you met with are used to hiring commercial photographers and working on corporate advertising campaigns, so your highly personal work would have seemed out of place to them, leaving them struggling for words of feedback for you.

    It sounds like you were on the receiving end of some pretty harsh critiques, but the whole purpose of those events is to hear multiple opinions and points of view on your own work and how it’s presented in your portfolio.

    Of the dozens of people who took the time and made the effort to engage in that process, there wasn’t a single illustrator and I would argue you were the truest artist, willing to take the risk and expose yourself like that. There were some experienced older professional photographers who had outdated, poorly constructed portfolios filled with typical work that I wouldn’t consider hiring or recommending to others, but you’re work was honest and visceral.

    The key now is to decide what to do next. How much of the feedback will you incorporate into your work? What improvements will you make to your photos and the portfolio you use to promote yourself? How will you get “top of mind” with those willing to take a risk and hire a young, relatively inexperienced fine art photographer?

    I’ll say this in closing. While you’re English (acknowledging that you are ESL) could be improved, few of those who were in that event last week have personal online spaces like this blog where they express their thoughts and opinions as eloquently as you have here. This is an expression of your personality and will ultimately become a place that positions you as a thought-leader in your industry—ultimately adding credibility and creating some mystique to your personal and professional brand. For this you should be commended.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Mark Busse,

      Thank you very much for sending me this lovely long response.
      I would very much like to be able to get your expert advice about how best to market my passion for photography not in just North America, but worldwide. I respect your opinion in the industry and would appreciate 15 minutes of your time.


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