14 May, 2017

Portfolio Brainstormin'

As I've been working to update my portfolio for the first time since 2013 (when I took this picture), it's again occurring to me that the traditional sense of a portfolio as a collection of images-that-stand-alone doesn't really fit the kind of work I do. I feel like my dedication to storytelling and my focus on everyday moments are two distinguishing traits of my work. I try to get the aesthetics and style down as well, but I feel like they're less central to what I do.

But presenting those characteristics as part of an online portfolio still seems challenging. Among other things, phone screen aspect ratios make it challenging to lay out images and text together, such that the text is legible and the details of the image are still visible.
I was trying to capture a concise description of my photographic style, and L drew a parallel between my work and street photography. But I don't think it quite fits, even though the images may be similar at times. I feel like a lot of street photography is, in a sense, empty. It focuses on moments and aesthetics, and it often provides a framework that draws a story out of the viewer's imagination. But the story is essentially a fantasy, even though it may be a fantasy that teaches us lessons about reality.

The photo above would be a mediocre street photo, but if it were one, it would focus on the act of firing a t-shirt cannon. It would celebrate the timing needed to capture the flying t-shirt in midair. And it would invite viewers to speculate about what it all might mean.

But I don't want my work to be fantasy. When someone looks at the photo above, I want any lasting impression to include the actual story behind the image. I want them to realize that it's a picture of a pole vault pioneer, celebrating with a community that she did so much to create and to foster. I want them to understand that the women's pole vault was not an Olympic sport until 2000, and that it took tireless efforts by Dragila and others to garner respect for women's participation in the sport. I want those viewers to remember that the current generation of female vaulters are standing on the shoulders of giants, and that one of those giants is the subject of this picture.

But the question, for me, is how the portfolio should convey that distinction. How do I emphasize that the stories I tell with the images aren't a crutch for images that should stand alone, but rather, that the stories are the point, and that the nuance in those stories is more valuable than the cleanliness of an image by itself? How do I explain that I am not a photographer who can tell stories, but rather, that I am equal parts storyteller and photographer?
I've also been trying to find ways to get back into producing physical media. Newspaper was my first love, and I started Doppler Photo with an eye toward being able to do things like prints. Nine years on, the blog continues to pick up steam, but the physical media goal hasn't really budged.

Which begs the question: what's a good way to couple the story of an image with a print of that image? Include a museum-like placard with every print? Cut a second hole in the mat and put the story behind the glass? Something else?

I've had multiple people tell me that they appreciate my images so much more after I tell them the story of the image, and what I see in each one. And I'd love to find a way to replicate that in a way that works without me being physically present. Because even in the physical world, those stories are part of what makes my work special.

If you have thoughts, comments, or ideas, I'd love to hear them.

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