Portfolio review, Bradford.

It must have been the busiest week of my year so far:

19th November, put up the OCA SW exhibition in Bristol – leave home at 7am & get back at 11pm.

21st November, 3 – 6pm: go back to the exhibition to steward, replace the projector showing Sue’s work and see how it’s going, fix things that don’t work, make sure the stewards are ok.

24th November, wake up 3.30am, catch a 6.40 flight to Manchester and then several trains to Bradford (dealing with the Northern Rail strikes) for a portfolio review = it’s a Photography SYP requirement to have a portfolio review.  Get a train back to Bristol to stay with fellow student, Dorothy, so that I can steward Sunday afternoon and take down the exhibition, fill in the holes, repaint the affected areas, wait for my husband to get back from Algeria so that he can take me and all the paraphernalia back home – fetch the car at Exeter airport & get back home at 11pm.

26th November, pack up projector & OCA banner and arrange for a courier to collect them at some point; write up a blog for the portfolio review!

Of course, that is the objective, factual account of what happened.  The lived reality was quite different but to relive it by writing about it would be too stressful and counter-productive.  What is far more pleasant is to write about the portfolio review and then about the exhibition.

It was great that Andrew Fitzgibbon had sent us text, video links and lots of other useful information beforehand.  There had been a lot of preparation work by Andrew which ensured that the day went smoothly.

In search of Frankenstein by Chloe Dewe-Matthews at Impressions Gallery Bradford.

What I got out of the day:

It was great meeting another OCA tutor, Garry Clarkson, and 3 other OCA photography students whose work was so different and so fascinating.  Everybody was really encouraging and at no time did anybody make me feel that I did not belong there or that my work was irrelevant or lacking.  I loved the fact that those present felt that they could handle the images:    

© Garry Clarkson
© Garry Clarkson

It was a privilege to meet and hear Anne McNeill, who has been the director there since 2000, and Dr Pippa Oldfield who has been there since 2003 and who is Head of Programme.  I wanted to hear all about their way of curating because not only am I really interested in curating, but also because I am in the process of writing an essay on it for assignment 3.  Anne and Pippa work together as curators with several others who constitute their team.

© Garry Clarkson
  • From a curatorial standpoint, I was intrigued to see how the two separate strands of Dewe-Matthews’ work: the Alpine landscape and the nuclear bunkers, were put together.  This is because I too have several strands of my project to curate into a meaningful whole for my July exhibition.  Had I not seen the exhibition, I would have thought that having one strand in a painted wooden frame & behind glass while printing the other on aluminium in a deep, aluminium frame, would have marked too severe a distinction between the 2 strands of work.
  • Feedback from Anne & Pippa: I think that this is what they said or intimated: a)  they liked most of it.    b)  They thought that there were many layers to it and that I should cut out the tracing paper element over the images as that confused the message.  Initially I hated the idea of the cut because I love my place-in-time splodges and really feel that they should play a part in the exhibition, but I have come to terms with it because I value A’s and P’s  experience and judgement.   c)  I really appreciated Garry’s thumbs-up on my quilt cyanotypes on which A & P didn’t comment much if at all.  When they saw the layout of my proposed gallery curation with a place for the quilt, I think they saw the justification for having it.   The quilt is a major part of my exhibition because it exemplifies one of the two conceptual strands of my project – see my reworked Assignment 2 regarding the 2 conceptual strands.  d) they suggested that I develop the splodge idea for another exhibition.  At this point I said that I am putting all this material into this exhibition because I don’t think I will have another exhibition because I don’t think anybody would be interested.  As it is, I have a captive audience in the current OCA students with whom I work.  
  • I found it very difficult to listen to the comments and remember them after having looked at other students’ work and participated in the discussions around them.   It makes me question whether or not my conclusions about the reactions to the work are correct???  It was so difficult to isolate that objective response to my subjective attachment to my work.
Anne McNeill and I are discussing an aspect of my work. © Garry Clarkson

What I have taken from the exhibition  In search of Frankenstein which relates to my work:

First impressions of the Impressions gallery: superb space, clean, lots of physical space for visitors to dance around the images thereby getting involved with them; a good mix of small and large images.  Excellent use of wall space giving a balanced, cohesive visual; lots of space around the items in the vitrines; as a demonstration of the ‘interpretation’ of the exhibition, the minimal signage and explanations invite the viewer to ‘read’ the items for themselves to a large extent.   This is an optimal space which is often difficult to find.

The information sheet for the Dewe-Matthews exhibition.

I can present my work differently:

I can go ahead and present my paper submissions using bulldog clips to encourage people to handle them.

I could present my place-in-time tracing paper print images behind glass in wooden frames to indicate the separation of the 2 concepts informing my work. 

The Interpretation or the framework which presents the project, needs to be minimal in order to allow the viewers to interpret the work themselves.  As in D-M’s project, there would be only the synopsis of the exhibition at the entrance.  For my exhibition, the recordings of the extracts  of the letters are there if people want to listen to them.

They clarified the difference between a display and an exhibition: a display is a collection of disparate items whereas an exhibition is on a theme;  they emphasised that the accumulation of all the details in the exhibition is important; that the space becomes the artist’s place; that there should be different points of entry for different viewers coming to the exhibition.  

When selecting work to exhibit, their selection criteria were : is the work visually engaging? Is it of its time? Does it engage diverse audiences?

The parameters which affect what  they select to go in the work are determined by the triangle of audience, gallery and photography.  Their question of how I extend my work and therefore present it in the future gave me the impression that my work is worth exhibiting – or did they assume that I would be exhibiting more work without any inferences that I would be making good work?.

The value, difficulty and challenges of portfolio/exhibition visit days such as this.

Value of portfolio reviews:

At this point, it’s difficult to assess the ramifications of what I have learned from the day. What Anne & Pippa described as their work of curation, will affect how I choose to present my work in future because it made a lot of sense and it comes from years of curating 10 shows per year in their early years but now only 4 per year as funding is reduced year-on-year.  

Difficulties of portfolio reviews

I found myself questioning if what I thought they said was in fact what they had said.  What would be good is if another person not involved in my project, could take notes for me & I could do it for someone else.

Challenges of portfolio reviews:

Is what I have selected a good representation of my work?  How will I present it – in terms of size and paper  – will it be as it will be presented in my exhibition?

How will I handle the criticism / the praise  and how will I know which is which because those presenting their findings will know how to couch their sentiments in words which won’t offend. 

We were all there for different reasons and this had its problems and advantages.  Problems for me: I had the impression that the others had high expectations of my work and I was afraid of disappointing them; I thought that they thought that because I am at the end of my studies,  they felt they had to say positive things about my work.  Advantages: it was refreshing to see such different work which was no better and no worse than mine; I felt that A & P gave very encouraging, critical-friend reviews.

Andrew F’s work being appraised.

What are the value, difficulties and challenges of exhibition study days?

Seeing an exhibition ‘in the flesh’ is very different from seeing a virtual one which you look at from one position and only as it is viewed by the person filming and framing it, so I prefer a live exhibition in which we can exchange ideas about it in terms of contents and hanging.

As I have attended many exhibition study days along my OCA journey, I know how intimidating it is to think that everybody else knows so much more about the work than you do & to feel that what you have observed / thought is going to sound puerile/irrelevant.  I have also found, however, that if the tutor leading the group has allowed for a discussion time, that the experience is very positive.

You also get to meet other students and sometimes swap blog sites and get to know and trust other students really well.

There is a book I would like to get on curating: Adrian George: The curator’s handbook which looks very dry in comparison with H.U.Obrist’s Ways of curating.

4 thoughts on “Portfolio review, Bradford.

  1. Anna when we had the review in Brighton Gina made the comment that you should aask someone else to take notes if possible.


    1. That was exactly my opinion too! It is so difficult to know if you have heard things correctly – it’s like being at the doctors for a serious consultation – what did s/he actually say?


  2. Your energy is amazing Anna – I don’t how you do it!

    It looked a really good opportunity for some face-to-face interaction with experienced curators as well as the portfolio review. I like the idea of a ‘critical-friend’ review.


    1. I love doing it all, Catherine. If I didn’t enjoy it then it would be a drag on my reserves! It was quite astounding how quickly the time passed and how involved I became in the events of the day. The Northern Trains strike really put a spanner in the works. I could have stayed to hear Alan’s feedback but I had to leave. Loved it.


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