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Review Santa Fe - Santa Fe, New Mexico
July 8-11, 2005
Report by Fred Baldwin

Collectively, Wendy Watriss and I reviewed 50 portfolios during the two days of portfolio reviews at Review Santa Fe. The portfolio review was held at the Hotel Santa Fe, a comfortable and convenient venue where both reviewers and photographers were staying. Before beginning the review process, it was helpful for reviewers to have the half hour orientation about the review, how photographers/artists were chosen and what was expected of us as reviewers as well as an overview for the three day event.

Photographs made with Leica Digilux 2

The photographers were similarly prepared for the review process by a carefully developed review guideline written by Mary Virginia Swanson and sent to artists prior to their arrival in Santa Fe. The four-page guideline covers a wide range of topics from physical details about the portfolio presentation to mental preparation for the daunting 20-minute sessions with each reviewer.

The 20-minute review session is something that we have worked out at FotoFest's Meeting Place over the years, and the process has been used by portfolio reviewers from Argentina, to England and Rumania, and many places in between. However, I had a chance to become the "spill over reviewer", seeing artists who were waiting for their assigned places. This gave me a chance to review outside of the tightly prescribed time limit. I was able to adjust contact time with each photographer in relation to what seemed appropriate to understanding the work. This was such an interesting experience that I have decided to write about it.

My style of reviewing depends a great deal on the word why? I use it like a toothpick, maybe sometimes like even a crowbar, trying to 'dig out' creative intentions and matching them to the images that I'm seeing. I'm probing for something in the artist's experience and what the artist says about her/his work that connects to the image. Since every person is different and comes with varied skills, talent, experience and intentions, no review is the same. But almost all are fascinating if you can reach into the veins of an artist's ideas. If this point is reached, the interchange can get to the next step - what is the way to gain creative clarity or what are ways to respond to the long-term aspirations of the photographer: publication, sales, representation, exhibits, etc. The breakthroughs are exhilarating and the extra energy from the feeling that you are making deep contact keeps you going.

The source of this energy is the possibility of making personal connections to people who are trying to say something that they think is important. What can be uncovered is almost always interesting, even though it may not be the case with the resulting art. The degree of connection between what is available visually in the work being shown and the artist's expressed intentions is very important. Photographers may know that the camera can capture extraneous information that subtracts from the intended effect or overloads it, obscuring the point they want to make, but they may not be able to 'read' that in their own images. An image-maker's memory can also play tricks, stimulated by many things that were taking place at the time the image was made -- ghosts that speak to the artist but are invisible to the viewer. These are small examples why so many whys? may be required, and why discussion can last a long time.

For this reason, reviewing work with the artist so that it becomes possible to 'dig' something out is particularly interesting. There is a recent trend toward Web-reviewing. The harvesting of photography in this way is clever in its efficiency, and it has the advantage of vacuuming up images inexpensively and accessibly on a worldwide scale. But, for me, such a portfolio review sucks the life out of the process. I would be tempted to shuffle the art like a deck of cards to speed things up and just look for what, to me, are Aces. The more personalized mode can be exhausting and slow, but the human puzzle is fascinating and keeps you keep working, hanging on.

Reviewers have a major responsibility to the brave artists who put themselves and their work in front of a reviewer. The artist is inviting, paying, a stranger to approach the delicate emotional sanctuary that may fuel their creative efforts. The reviewers' responses can range from devastating to delighted. My admiration goes out to, particularly, the first timers, who have the courage to brave top reviews like the ones at Santa Fe. Nevertheless, it's important to keep showing the work, to get different points of view, to get closer to the people who can help you in the demanding art world. I saw memorable portfolios and less successful works in Santa Fe. But all the meetings were stimulating for me and, I hope, for the artists. The self-preservation and amplification of the artist's creativity is the point of the review and why is the magic word, the tool -- the more why's the better. As photographer Keith Carter told me after his reviews at FotoFest's Meeting Place in 1986, "None of my reviewers agreed with any of the others so I came away a liberated man."

It's always a great pleasure to socialize with and discuss life, art, and business with so many bright and experienced photography professionals. The bar at the Hotel Santa Fe turned out to be an excellent place to do this.

The third day of the Santa Fe Center's program was about one of the potential, big payoffs of the art photography world - making it into a collection. Photographers, reviewers and the public were in attendance to hear four panels dealing with WHO IS COLLECTING WHOM, with subjects covering private, museum, corporate, and gallery collections. The Panels were organized by Alison Nordstrom, Curator of Photography at George Eastman House International Museum of Photographs and Mary Virginia Swanson, Chair, Programs Committee, Santa Fe Center for Photography.

The program flyer lead off with the question: "Why do photographers want to have their work in museum, corporate, or private collections?" This day-long program provided a number of prominent players from these different collecting categories who described the who, why and what's of photography collecting.

Review Santa Fe also entertained its reviewers well. Gay Block, a well-known photographer who has a house in Santa Fe, gave a sumptuous dinner for the entire collection of photographers and reviewers at her house on the first night we arrived. Andy Smith of Andrew Smith Gallery in Santa Fe also provided a large dinner for the photographic community at his house on Saturday night and provided evidence of why so many people (including photographers) seem to be moving to Santa Fe. Wendy and I were astonished to hear some people say that, after New York and Los Angeles, Santa Fe has the third largest art audience in the country.

Andy's house provided his guests with a magnificent view of the sun setting over the mountains. However, after a long day of reviewing, dinner had a competing urgency that was impossible to ignore.
Photographs taken with Leica Digilux 2