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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Portfolio versus Project: A Dilemma?

Last week, I listened to the latest Candid Frame interview...excellent as usual. William Neill was being interviewed, and the discussion turned to assembling a photographic portfolio. There was an aspect of this conversation that intrigued me and, to a certain extent, confused me. I have been thinking about it since (the mark of a good interview….raising as many questions as it answers!)

When assembling a ‘portfolio’, intensive editing is needed to ensure that only one’s best work is used. The concept which was mentioned, and which I wholeheartedly agree with, is that it is better to have too few images that are outstanding than more images which include average photographs. In the latter case, the average ones will lower the overall quality, bringing the outstanding ones down as well.

But how does the idea of a portfolio interact with a defined project? For example, I have been on several workshops across the country and could assemble a portfolio of what I consider to be my best images from these trips. But, one might say, there would be no common theme pulling it all together. Fair enough. Instead, I could assemble separate portfolios with, say, 10-20 of my favorite images from each trip. That way I could have an “Oregon Portfolio”, a “Michigan Portfolio” etc. But to me, this is somewhat problematic because during a one week workshop there is no way to capture the many faces and moods of an area in enough depth to call it a ‘portfiolio’. What about all the seasons, the different weather, different times of day..…can’t do it in a week. I could choose the best shots from each of several trips, but then I am back to lacking a common thread.

Which brings me to the dilemma that I have been thinking about. As I have mentioned before, I am currently working on a project photographing a local state park. This allows me the opportunity to capture an area during different seasons, in different weather, at different times of day and in different light. It allows for a deep exploration of an area. But, I have to face it, while Western Pennsylvania has a good deal of natural beauty, it is a beauty that is very different from the grand vistas. There are no majestic rugged mountains with long fields of poppies, only small mountains that have been smoothed by weather over the millennia. No raging rivers carved into deep canyons, only small ones. No oceans crashing into sea stacks, only….well, no oceans at all.

So, as I work on my project and choose images to go into that portfolio, I realize that while they do belong grouped together as part of the project, the majority of them would not ‘stand alone’ as beautiful landscape images. It may be the best that this particular park has to offer, but, nonetheless, the majority of the images would not be included as part of a ‘greatest hits’ portfolio.

Questions run through my mind. Are there different ‘reasons’ for different types of portfolios? How does a ‘project’ portfolio differ from a ‘greatest hits’ portfolio? To whom should each be shown? Should they be ‘used’ differently? Throughout photographic history the great photographers have made many moving portfolios in areas that are not ‘stupendous’……. is it just that I am not ‘good enough’ to portray the mundane in a special light?

I am not sure of the answers to all these questions. I do think there is something to be gained by thinking about them. And I do think that by working my way through this project I will have also have begun to at least approach some of these issues. I also feel, rather strongly, that it will help me to grow as a photographer.