04 June, 2009
Back in the day, this was it. This was your life. Your career, your impression.
The single page.
Your portfolio. Your chance to show those few that you were legit.
Now, we have all means. Electronic, still, static, fluid, email, text, blog, site, book, magazine, etc, but as early as a few short years ago, all we had was this.
"Put twenty slides in a single sheet and send it along," was the order of the day.
My first trip to New York, it was all I took. I had my Leica and a page of slides. And I got work. I also had a really bad necktie and hair past my shoulders. I think the hair and the tie were so bad it actually worked in my favor.
I remember people staring at me on the streets of Chinatown.
I like the idea of a portfolio like this. 99% of the time this page was never projected. Even then people thought, "I'm too busy, I can't project these," so they held them up to window light, desk lamps, anything that provided a backlit glow. It was a lousy way to look at work.
But, just like today, people, for their time, were moving too fast. Maybe this was a good thing. It gave you a chance. Maybe if people went slower they wouldn't like your work, but a quick glance, even at the entire page, not even as individual slides, just might work.
My first photography job, the editor never even looked up, or at my prints, just nodded through the haze of a four pack a day room and said, "Your hired."
Back then there was more spirit to portfolios. I don't mean they were better, but people were more real I think. I think people now chase the market, showing only what work they think will get them more work, and not perhaps what they truly want to shoot, or what style they actually prefer. We are specialized now, and there are far, far more of us, all jockeying for less jobs.
Back then you would see people on a limb, pages of pure nonsense, or pages of pure genius, but thrust about with casual concern, as if to say, "You don't like me, that's cool, someone else will."
Now our presentations are slick, and are perhaps judged more than the photography itself. I've seen incredibly complex, fancy portfolio designs, made of wood, metal, plastic, paper. I've seen boxes, cases, trunks and all designs that make the ultra-hip look flawed, and yet hold images that aren't as interesting as their packaging.
I think what I like about a page of slides is that you can't hide from it. They all look the same. Until the time when the cold metal of the loup is pressed against the clear, plastic sheen and your photographic soul has its guts put on display. There is nothing cute, nothing but the work to do all the talking for you.
I love great promo pieces, love, love , love books, as you know, and will continue to make more of those as promotion than anything else, but I have to say, there is a part of me that cherishes the day of being slammed by some old photo editor as he tossed my slides in the trash can and said, "I don't want to hear your war stories." His thick glasses fogged by rancid breath, overheating as he ranted about this "punk kid." I thought it just might come to blows.
As we move forward I'm realizing more and more how much I can learn from the past, and just how good we had it. I'm hoping to do this same thing, years from now, looking back on days like today, but I have to say, I've got some doubt I will feel the same. We live in a different time, not better or worse, just different, and those formative years are nearly impossible to replace, retrace or relive.
So, I'll leave you with this page, a page of random stuff, not a portfolio, but if I can find one of my old portfolios, intact, I'll scan it and send it as well. Peace.