I’ll write later about PhotoLucida’s effect on me personally, but in this post I’d like to attempt a summary for anyone considering attending PhotoLucida or a similar portfolio review convention.
The program’s target audience is mid-career photographers. If you already have gallery representation, your work is in museum collections, and you have had many individual exhibitions, this convention is designed for you. If you fall into that category, you know what gallery you want to be in, what curators you want to see, and what book publishers are likely prospects. PhotoLucida is perfect for you. There is no more time-efficient or cost-effective way to get your work before the gatekeepers of the photographic art community. For the price of a roundtrip plane ticket, a hotel room, and the not small, but certainly not exorbitant conference fee, you can get your work before at least 20 of your top prospects, assuming they are represented at the conference. Gallery owners who would normally review your work only in private after you have dropped it off will go through it with you and give you feedback.
It seemed to me that many, if not most, of the photographers at PhotoLucida were, on the photographic career ladder, a rung or two below the mid-career point; let’s call them early-career photographers. These people are looking for the first or second representing gallery, the fourth or fifth individual exhibition. They also want feedback on their work, as they are not completely confident of their artistic direction and completely committed to a style. For those people, and I put myself in that category, PhotoLucida is a good thing, but not the home run that it is for the mid-career folks.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the feedback that you’ll get on your work it is pretty gentle, at least compared to what you’d experience at an intensive workshop, or a portfolio review with the reviewers are teachers and other photographers. This is in keeping with the direction of PhotoLucida towards mid-career photographers, who don’t want or need to be raked over the figurative coals; they just want to know if the reviewer wants their work, and if not, why not.
There are some reviewers at PhotoLucida whose business or avocation is to give career counseling and marketing advice. They are not heavily represented in the reviewer roster, but are a great resource for the early-career people.
The best advice I can give early-career photographers seeking representation or shows is to heavily research your prospects. This is not rare advice—you’ll hear it from almost everybody—but hardly anybody does enough research. I certainly didn’t.
There was one systemic problem throughout the hotel where the PhotoLucida portfolio review was conducted. The lighting was terrible. It was spectrally spiky, preventing decent color rendition. It was dim. It came from all over the place, but the light sources weren’t diffused, causing specular reflections on the glossy prints no matter what angle you held them at. I sympathize with the organizers; they had to deal with the hotel as it was constructed. However, it made it hard for everybody to see what was really on the paper.
There is a great benefit of conventions like PhotoLucida to early-career photographers: contact with your fellow photographers. Although PhotoLucida is not juried, I found the quality of the work to be extremely high. There was plenty of opportunity for looking at other photographers’ work, and the photographers were uniformly generous in taking time to present their work in detail. They were happy to look at other people’s work too, although the comments were almost always complimentary. Looking at so much high quality work, and meeting so many creative, dedicated photographers is a wonderful experience, and one that can only increase your motivation to go home and do some great photography yourself.