I had my first portfolio review the other day, at the Photo Academy in Amsterdam. They invited me and I signed up for it. Although I had no intention to apply for an education, I thought it might be interesting to have someone with expertise in the field look at my pictures. I was ridiculously nervous about it. These photographs are pretty much all over the internet, and yet I felt like I was about to show them for the very first time. My reviewer introduced himself by saying that photographing people was his main interest, and he wasn’t much into landscapes. So that was a good start.
I had to bring 20 singles and a small series of 5. While making the selection, I was in a continuous state of self doubt. Going from being totally confident about it (finely composed pictures, showing consistency and character in both form and content) to wanting to blow the whole thing off (pictures are boring, simplistic, lacking originality and creativity). In the end, I was sick of all of them.
It was a peculiar conversation. He said some positive things about my photos and I scored enough points on technique, content and signature to be admitted to the academy, but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that this body of work was not his cup of tea. I don’t know what kind of people’s photographer he is, but I suspect he found my photos distant, clean and static. I can easily see why, but to me, they are not. Or they are, but their emotional value lies exactly there, in them being distant.
I think he was right about one thing, and very wrong about another.
Right, when he argued that part of me being ‘consistent’ or ‘having a signature’ comes from a limited use of different photographic techniques and idioms. I do what I do, partly because it’s what I want to do, partly because I don’t know how else to do it. I tend to agree that creating one’s own voice, should come from a solid knowledge of different photographic languages. Not from one that happens to feel comfortable. I think this is exactly what my current discomfort with my own photography is about.
Wrong, when he said that the natural landscapes (I brought 5 of them) didn’t have the same idiosyncracy as the other pictures. That anyone who had stood in that place at that particular time could have taken them. I think that is never true for any picture. I suspect he meant to underline the difference with those pictures that expressed a more explicit choice for a certain perspective, like this one, or this one, and I suppose it was a slip of the tongue, but not one without significance (I guess they never are).
I don’t know if I want to spend four years and pretty much all of my savings to become a professional photographer. I don’t know if I want to add another 25 hours to my 40 hours working week. I don’t know if I’m motivated enough. But I do know that I want to be better at this. And I feel that I have reached the limitations of what I’m able to accomplish on my own.
Picture taken in Valdivia, Chile, 2012. The one that made me want to do interiors.