Michael Foley, School of Visual Arts, MPS Digital Photography Critique Class
Everyone knows it’s all about who you know. But how do you facilitate meeting people, outside of personal contacts and chance encounters at industry events? The answer is: You attend portfolio reviews. I continued my conversation with Michael Foley, owner of Foley Gallery in New York City, to get his advice on how to get the most out of the portfolio review experience.
Amy Touchette: How should photographers prepare to meet with you at a portfolio review?
Michael Foley: Research. Know who I am and what I’ve done. Start off by talking about me! I know, that sounds like an ego explosion, but that type of engagement will lock me into our conversation, and I will be more than likely to want to reciprocate. It may just be my attention or a recommendation, but I will definitely remember you. Also, keep it simple. Don’t make me work. Prep your prints, their ease of display, and practice speaking about your work. I will have a lot of questions, so be fluid and not on the defensive. Be open to a critical eye and the possibility of improvement in your work. Ask for what you want. “Is this work something you would consider representing?” Be bold.
AT: What mistakes do you commonly see photographers make during portfolio reviews?
MF: I have been attending portfolio reviews since 2001 and photographers have gotten so much better from start to finish. But, I mentioned that research ahead of time is paramount. I can’t stress that enough. Another thing to reiterate is to ask the questions you really want to ask. You may not hear the answers you want to hear, but if you think it helps, ask for recommendations from the reviewer as to who might be a good fit for your work if they are not. No need to spend too much money on your leave-behinds, as most of them will become toss-aways. A simple card with all of your contact details on one side; the other side should be an image, of course. There are several printers that will let you do small batch printing with different images. It’s great when I can select from three different images. Keeps me engaged and perks my curatorial tendencies. If you make large prints, make one large print to size and the rest of the images can be printed smaller. We get the idea with just one big print. Don’t talk too much and don’t be alarmed if we don’t say much. We are taking it in. If I’m silent, pepper the review with a few comments or anecdotes.
AT: Tell me about the extension of educational services you’re starting for photographers. What are you offering? And what compelled you to start this extension?
MF: From the beginning, I’ve been really interested in career and personal development for artists. This started at my first job at Fraenkel Gallery in 1989 when I worked with some of the giants of the medium. I saw the discipline they had to create their work and bring in the results. I was an artist at the time so this informed my own practice, not only in creating a strong work ethic, but also seeing how work can be talked about and eventually exhibited and sold. To be on both sides of the equation was incredibly valuable at the time.
Although I stopped making work in 1997, I went on to work with other contemporary galleries, continuing to gain knowledge in how to talk about work as well as collaborate directly with artists. In 2002, I started teaching at the School of Visual Arts and the International Center of Photography. I decided to launch my own critique program and co-founded the Exhibition Lab. The ExLab is a six-month program that culminates in an exhibition at my gallery. I have five group critique sessions where I and a host of other photographers that have included Matthew Pillsbury, Elinor Carucci, Phil Toledano, Martine Fougeron, Andrew Moore, and Julie Grahame, guide the students in the development of their work. We get out of the classroom and host this class at the gallery.
I also have a series of private coaching programs that I have been doing for several years. This involves everything from a personal one-on-one critique of your work to longer programs in career and portfolio development. I will soon be launching online accountability and strategy groups as a way to build community by tapping into my own and other photographer’s knowledge and experience navigating their career and the fine art sales and exhibition world.
I know that there are photographers out there that have been working very hard and are trying hard to get their work seen, exhibited, and appreciated. They need to know what else they can do to maximize their efforts. I hear from these photographers every day and I want to help. I know what they’re going through! But, it’s not all about navigating social media or a spiffy website. Sometimes the work itself needs to be polished or their statement and dialogue around their work needs clarification and fine tuning. I help with that, too. You know, it took me a while to figure this all out. If I can make it easier and more fun for a photographer, that makes me quite happy.
Foley Gallery brings together fine line and obsessive precision in the disciplines of drawing, cut paper, painting, and photography. It is located at 59 Orchard Street in New York City’s Lower East Side.