By Stephanie Robb, PRC Intern, Fall 2011

The task of creating a memorable and comprehensive portfolio that depicts our strengths and abilities is challenging and a little daunting. Larry Volk and Danielle Currier, authors of the new book, No Plastic Sleeves: The Complete Guide for Photographers and Designers, and presenters at the PRC workshop on November 12, showed us a new way to approach this project. They suggest we stick with our artistic impulses and be creative. Go figure – experts explaining to artists they need to be creative. It sounds preposterous, but ultimately, we are faced with the undeniable truth: conservative presentations always prove to be less memorable, less marketable. Perhaps we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but let’s face it, we do.

Volk and Currier emphasize the importance of remembering the potential customer/curator perspective. Another cloth-bound book neatly composed and devoid of personal voice can easily go unnoticed on a busy desk, forgotten among stacks of other books, also full of excellent photography. The workshop included a presentation with many examples of portfolios that stand out and make a statement even before they are open.

Some of the portfolios are especially memorable. The photographers’ work has the appearance of well-established professional photographers with a comfortable budget. I was surprised to learn that Reena Newman, who photographs food, has just recently finished school. Her presentation is playful, cheerful, and homey; it is wrapped in deli paper, served with saltwater taffy, and topped with a personalized sticker. Anybody sitting at a desk waiting anxiously for the lunch hour would notice her portfolio.

I admit it: I am new to this. My feet are just starting to get wet as I tiptoe into the world of professional photography. The trick, I learned, is to put on my favorite rubber boots and splash in the puddles. Volk and Currier insist on jumping in with both feet, to consistently put work out. The more paths we lay, the more opportunities people have to find us. For example, Tiffany Brown sends out print mail, e-mail, and she’s on the web. Volk and Currier say she “presented a cohesive marketing effort which communicated a professional attitude and commitment.”

I feel waves of intimidation when I consider all the options now. I try to distract myself from that stress by looking for inspiration in the world around me, not only as a photographer, but master of visual attention-getting. Dan Busta’s portfolio is another “out-of-the-box portfolio” (according to the No Plastic Sleeves website) that made a big impression. It gets wrapped in bundles with string and tossed onto the sidewalk. Just like newspaper, it is easily accessible, inexpensive, and it confidently states, “I am good enough to be in a newspaper. Look at my work.” Many such examples were shown at the workshop and more are depicted in the Volk and Currier book and are highlighted on their website.

For those of us who were not sure what to expect, the workshop was personal and insightful. Ten photographers were present, ranging in expertise from amateur to professional and in style from fine art to documentary. The intimacy allowed for individual attention and guidance. After discussing how to be conspicuous, demonstrate exceptional skill, and to convey a clear message, Volk and Currier asked us to write a list of words that best describe ourselves – not specifically our work. We then narrowed down these long lists to three words. From those words, it is assumed we can create a comprehensive tag line for our own brand. We had the time to go through everyone’s compilation of words. We gave a little summary of who we are and what we enjoy photographing. Using our own words and without seeing any of our work, Volk and Currier were able to hone those descriptions even more finely. Their accuracy is boggling. The impact of the personalized attention and their intuition impressed everyone in attendance.

Psychologists say it takes work to discover our own identity. The process of creating a successful brand and portfolio is reminiscent of this kind of self-reflection. Hopefully, with a new sense of empowerment, we can create something exceptional for ourselves; replace tears and tissues with pleasure and fulfillment. One of the photographers at the workshop responded at the end of the day, “I didn’t know this could be fun!” Check out their website and book – hopefully, you will agree.

One Response to “WORKSHOP COMMENTARY: Brand and Portfolio Development: Intensive Seminar with Larry Volk and Danielle Currier”
  1. felony check says:

    Ok, I love this site but the design style is a bit outdated. Very good content though. Anyways, hope you have a great Christmas!

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