Photographers frequently ask me about the value of attending portfolio review events, which events to attend and why. The offerings are vast and the investment of time and money varies. Deadlines loom for several of these opportunities so I am taking the opportunity on a long travel day to give you an overview of my opinions on the subject portfolio review events, as well as upcoming dates that are essential to mark on your calendar if you would like to attend any of the 2008-2009 offerings.

Do I think attending a portfolio review event has value? Absolutely.

Will each and every photographer benefit from sharing their work at these events, no matter how resolved their body of work is at that time? YES. Reviewers can provide creative guidance for works in progress, as well as marketing advice for completed projects.

Can participating in these events help move your career to the next level? Without question. But to do so effectively you must continue the dialogue you have started at the event.

Will every single appointment be a match made in heaven? NO. But responsible Reviewers will find much to share with you about your work, regardless of whether it fits their gallery, their collection, their publication program, and know too that you can ask them questions about their industry, from market trends to pricing and editioning to whom they might suggest would be interested in your project.

From my perspective, there are three main reasons you should bring your work to a portfolio review event:

First: The process of applying and preparing to attend is a valuable experience. Writing about your work, editing your work for a 20-minute reviews session, and preparing a printed piece or CD-Rom sample with your imagery to share with others attending are activities that in themselves will lend clarity to your work.

Second: presenting your work to industry professionals and peers alike. This is an experience that can’t be matched. The standard model is a 20 minute session with each Reviewer; the number of sessions you have dependes on the length of the event. The number of times you will share your work goes beyond these formal sessions as you will share work with other photographers too. Through having a dialogue about your work your clarity about and commitment to your bodies of work, your presentation to your target audience, your explorations toward desired final print(s) and in what format to display the work – all this and more comes from attending a portfolio review event.

Third: Beginning relationships. Portfolio review events provide an opportunity for you to to share your work and ideas with your peers and industry professionals, be it discussing craft or intention/audience that you devote your twenty minutes session to. It is of course your responsibility to follow up with those Reviewers who encourage you to keep them posted on the evolution of your project.

We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss from FotoFest for bringing the Portfolio Review to our community; 2009 will be the Thirteenth International Bienniel of Photography and Photo-Related Art which continues to be a catalytst to creativity and a conduit to international dialogue for Reviewers and photographers alike. Hats off to FotoFest! You and your colleagues have set a strong example for which we thank you, and know that we look forward to being in Houston during the spring 2010 Bienniel, most certainly.  Sign up for the FF2010 newsletter here(Be sure to check out www.festivaloflight.net, a website FotoFest has developed that brings together information on photography festivals internationally.)

As the number of portfolio review event offerings has increased, occurring now in every season and in nearly every region of the world, some organizations have decided to require submission for consideration by a jury before allowing acceptance. I believe Review Santa Fe was the earliest to transition to be a juried event with PhotoAlliance’s OUR WORLD: A National Juried Portfolio Review requiring acceptance by jury from its inception in 2007; the 2008 co-Sponsor was Orion Magazine. This year the portfolio review component of Atlanta Celebrates Photography required submission of a portfolio for the first time in the ten-year history of programming.

If an organization declares that it will require entrance determined by a judging process, I am admittedly happiest when you, the applicant, have full knowledge of the names of members of that all-important pre-screening team; this, combined with some thoughtful research on your part can aid in your decision as to invest your time and money in applying for that event. Personally I feel there are enough of you ready to participate in these events that are aware of deadlines who fill the roster, and find the level of work very high regardless of any jurying process in place.

The next step in your decision to apply is to look carefully at the Reviewers that have been asked to participate. An increasing number of events are inviting a diverse group of reviewers, going beyond professionals from the fine art arena to include influential photo editors, photo researchers, graphic designers, corporate art consultants and others who bring opportunities for your work to be seen in multiple markets. I applaud this effort and encourage you to try to schedule a session with an individual whom you are not as likely to secure an in-person meeting outside of an event such as this. Among those from related professions whom I applaud for serving as Reviewers are photo editors Kira Pollack of the New York Times Magazine, Paul Moakley from Newsweek and Whitney Johnson from the New Yorker, photo researcher Mary McClean from Random House, corporate art consultant Julie Kinzelman from Kinzelman Art Consulting and corporate curator H. Scott Westover from The Progressive Art Collection. If you are interested in learning more about marketing opportunities in areas other than simply fine art, I encourage you to seek our reviews offering a diversity of industry professionals. Note: depending on the event, you may be allowed to make a “wish list” of participating Reviews to meet with, and in some cases, learn your schedule in advance of the start of the event furthering your ability to prepare.

Geographic location too could be the reason you register (or apply) to one event over another. I want you to know your local community, and to introduce your work to others beyond your local area. Every event will do its best to invite professionals from all parts of the country however most invite a strong contingency of regionally-based reviewers for ease of and cost of bringing those professionals to their event. If your work is well know in the east, you might consider attending a review event in the west.

Educational component – another plus from my perspective. If you are committing time and resources to travel to an industry gathering such as these I wish for you to gain insights from professionals and peers in attendance in the form of lectures, panel discussions, and more. When weighing your options, educational offerings may be a factor for you in putting an event in your “plus” column.

Introducing your work to individuals from multiple markets is a growing focus of some events, while others invite a majority of reviewers from the fine art community. Many publishers seek invitations to attend JURIED events. Study the list of the reviewers who have been invited to all events, and this should be a strong factor in weighing the value of your attending that particular event.

My enthusiasm for your investing in portfolio review events grows as I become increasingly frustrated and in fact pessimistic about the value of entering many exhibition and/or publication competitions. The reproduction rights demanded from the winners, and more often now from those who simply apply, are frustrating, unnecessary and unfair. The physical space and the circumstances at the actual judging of the work can vary, within a physically environment that may not lend itself to optimum viewing of your work, or judges working remotely without a dialogue, or so few examples of your work presented that we can barely get to know your work. (My most interesting judging experiences of late have been being part of a team judging the 2008 Photography Annual for Communication Arts Magazine, and reviewing entries for Critical Mass in the solitude of airplanes (more on these competitions in upcoming blog entries).

So I encourage you to review the offerings, join their e-mailing list, mark these dates on your calendar and know that they (and the host hotels) will sell out within a few days of opening registration. Being aware of cancellation policies is always wise.



International House Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana

Registration opens AUGUST 15;

Event dates: Portfolio Reviews December 6 & 7; overall event including workshops for photographers runs December 4th – 13th

Info: http://neworleansphotoalliance.blogspot.com/

REVIEW LA (concurrent with Photo LA)

Doubletree Guest Suites Santa Monica, California

Registration opens mid-September.

Event dates: January 9-11

Info: Http: http://www.visitcenter.org/programs.cfm?p=ReviewLA


Benson Hotel, Portland, Oregon

Registration opens August 27th

Event dates: April 23-26th, 2009

Info: http://www.photolucida.org/critique.aspx

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Registration: Submit twenty images and artists statement by January 23, 2009; notification of acceptance/registration anticipated by early March.

Info: http://www.visitcenter.org/programs.cfm?p=Review

OUR WORLD from PhotoAlliance

San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA

Registration dates not yet posted.

Event dates: March 6/7/8, 2009

Info: http://www.photoalliance.org

ATLANTA CELEBRATES PHOTOGRAPHY’s portfolio reviews are closed; event will be October 11th. (Juried)
Info: www.acpinfo.org


The Center for Photography at Woodstock offer’s two separate days of reviews in NYC for a limited number of participants on a first-come, first-served basis; information is contained in their annual Workshop brochure. Earlier this year they offered the first Regional Review which I hope will become an annual event.

Both the Griffin Museum and the Photographic Resource Center in the Boston area offer reviews in the spring.

Other regional organizations like The Print Center (Philadelphia), En Foco (Bronx, NY), SF Camerawork and many other regional centers offer portfolio reviews, primarily as a benefit of membership. Support your local organizations!

Additional opportunities to share your work with your peers:

The network of Fall Regional Conferences of the Society for Photographic Education offer portfolio reviews as well at the upcoming National Meeting at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas on March 26-29, 2009.

Other events will be posted as details are available.

Harris Fogel of Mac Edition Radio conducted an Interview with me on this subject; click this button to

HEAR. We cover the value of these events, how to prepare and follow up in my marketing workshops.

I will continue to comment on this blog on making the most of your portfolio review investment, and refer you as well to a chapter on this subject in my business book. I look forward to seeing your work at these upcoming events!


  1. […] blog lately, and it’s full of good stuff. Today I came across this post about the value of attending portfolio reviews, much like several of us will be attending in just… 8 SHORT […]

  2. kasumovic said

    As always, very helpful information. I wasn’t aware that there were so many portfolio review events around. For your readers from Canada, or those interested in visiting Toronto, the Contact Photography Festival (www.contactphoto.com) also has a good review event held every year in May during the month long festival – and almost every gallery in town has a photography exhibit at the time making it a great time to visit. Cheers and thanks again for the update.

    Mark Kasumovic

  3. […] I begin to build my portfolio, I found this article interesting. It is a discussion on the value of portfolio review […]

  4. fmward said

    This relatively new trend of marketing photo reviews is potentially a disturbing one. We could be giving up our value as photographic artists to become one more income generating commodity for non profits. This is not necessarily a bad thing. These reviews can be valuable — 1. If you are rich. 2. If you are aggressive with self-promotion. 3. If you are at a very specific point in your portfolio development. Either with a very solid portfolio, or with very little opportunity to get feedback.

    Here are some other options for those in the above categories.

    1. If you are rich you can pay a publisher, such as Aperture, to publish your work. This assumes that your portfolio isn’t awful.

    2. If you are interested in self-promotion you can show work to the MoMa, the Met, and lots of other places in NYC by simply showing up on a certain day or making an appointment. In most cases at a 20 minute pay review, you will be given some names to approach in this way.

    3. If you have a fully realized, great portfolio, this may be helpful in getting you in the door of an organization that a reviewer may represent. Maybe as many as one percent of attendees fall into this category.

    If you are a newbie and have little experience in being critiqued you will find 20 minutes to be just a taste of what real portfolio development could mean to you.

    You may read this and think I’m coming form a “sour grapes” perspective. Yes, I have done many of these reviews and have made some connections. I have had the director of the Eastman House tell me he wanted to give me a show (cancelled later). A photo editor from The New Yorker made much effort to include me in the magazine (to no avail, not her fault). One reviewer told me he wanted to personally mentor me and help my career (he never returned my follow-up emails). Another reviewer wanted to get me into her gallery (later refused without a review of my portfolio by the gallery owner). Several others have given me solid support.

    All I am saying is that these reviews are not for every photo artist out there.

  5. […] review festivals Posted on August 23, 2008 by uscphoto MV Swanson recently discussed the benefits Portfolio Review events on her blog.  The issue of whether or not […]

  6. […] To read my recent blog entry on attending portfolio reviews, click here […]

  7. […] colleagues. If you are participating in the reviews, I’d refer you back to my blog of 8/13/08; my preparation advice is posted at this […]

  8. […] Mary Virgina Swanson thinks the portfolio reviews are a better way to go than the contests (here): […]

  9. […] Meeting Place” during FotoFest 2010 Biennial, I wanted to take this opportunity to expand on that article, and contrast and compare the upcoming  portfolio review events and I am aware that many of you […]

  10. […] preparing your portfolio for a review, Swanson recommends editing your work down around twenty images. Print them at the size you would like to exhibit them, […]

  11. […] the conference also offers portfolio reviews from a variety of great reviewers. Some information about the conference is below. hope some COD […]

  12. aymenbnr said

    hi,this is really nice post,keep up

  13. I’m in agreement with fmward. While I can see how the preparation process could be valuable in forcing an artist to think through the purpose of their work, and the review process may help one become more confident about presenting their work, overall this sounds like a system for pushing artists into conformity while enriching and elevating the status of a hand full of so-called experts.

  14. […] a Meeting Place guide to Portfolio Reviews: Mary Virginia Swanson Posted in Art Fair, Black and White Photography, Photographer | Leave a Comment »Tags: Black […]

  15. […] she posted a commentary on the review process, why it works and what you can get out of it. Take a look. Leave a […]

  16. […] можно узнать: Заметки фотографа с портфолио-ревю Мэри Вирджиния Свонсон о портфолио-ревю […]

  17. […] to attend one or would like to find out more about them I would like to recommend reading Mary Virginia Swanson’s notes on reviews and Jörg M. Colberg on portfolio reviews. Mary Virginia also has a list of reviews at the end of […]

  18. […] 22 W. 22nd Street, 2nd fl Suggestions for photographers to read before the portfolio review: Mary Virginia Swanson A participant in the Student Program at FotoFest […]

  19. This is very inspiring. Great write up. Thanks for sharing. Chapter 7 bankruptcy

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