the finished portfolio
A couple of weeks ago I showed you the final selection for my portfolio. I handed it in today and thought I would tell you a bit about my process.
The selection was probably the hardest thing. I needed to come up with series that fit together in some way. I was quite surprised to see that I actually have a few unintentional themes running through my pictures, but still it was difficult. I spent several days going through my archives and refining the selection. I started off somewhere entirely different from where I ended up finally. This process of selection was actually really helpful. Not only did it show me that there was a thread running through my work, but I also had the opportunity to revisit a lot of old pictures that I forgot about. It was maybe even the most rewarding part of the entire process of making my portfolio.
The second part of the process was to find a good printing service. I tried one of the cheap labs and was horrified about the results, because they actually ran image optimisation over all my already enhanced pictures. The result was ugly! At that point I was already willing to pay 6 times the price of the cheap lab with a local specialised and professional lab here in Berlin, although their prices made me gasp for air. Before I had the opportunity to order some test prints though I stumbled over a fantastic printing service: Saal Digital. This is a German service that is not only fast and cheap – cheaper even than the first lab I tried -, but it also has excellent printing quality and colour management. As the test print of the 20×30 print I ordered a really difficult picture, black and white with lots of tonality and contrast, all on professional matte paper. Together with the 20×30 print I also ordered a set of 10×15 prints on the same paper to see whether the pictures needed some colour changes. The results were stunning! The 20×30 print was brilliant and only one other picture needed a crop change. The colours and tonality were all fine! I ordered the rest of the prints on the same day on which I got my test prints in the mail and had the rest of the prints 2 days later. Fast turn around with excellent quality, that’s my kind of lab!
From an arts supply store I also ordered 50 sheets of black cardboard 450g/m² to mount the pictures, some gum based glue that can be removed easily and a simple black portfolio with straps around the corners. I read online that some art schools don’t really like the black cardboard, but I didn’t really care, because I knew it would look great to me. Since the whole art school application process is more of a lottery anyway, I just wanted to make something that I would like without much consideration for the preferences of this or that art school. Of course the portfolio fit their requirements, but on the details I was just doing the kind of thing I like myself.
Glueing the pictures onto the cardboard was a bit of a mess, I got dizzy from the slightly toxic fumes of the glue and it sure was a good choice to use gum based glue. I got the glue on the front of one of the pictures by accident, I used too much, I put it on my fingers instead of the paper and it also ended up on my desk. That glue is fantastic though. Once it’s dry you can just rub it off and it leaves no stains. This also means that once I get the portfolio back I can take the pictures off the cardboard and put them in frames to hang them somewhere.
I had to mark the back of all the pictures with my name, so I wrote it on sticky labels together with the running number of the picture. On the first page of the portfolio I listed all the pictures with technical details (camera, exposure settings or film type) and titles. Most of the pictures don’t have titles, but the series do and with the numbers it is easy to look up the technical details as well.
Last night everything was ready, so I took these quick pictures of my work and packed it all together with the documents that I needed for the application. They wanted a CV, some transcripts and I had to fill in their application form as well. As usual with forms I had the problem that my life story is a bit too strange to fit the available choices. For example: “Did you study in Germany or abroad?”, well, both, but there was no such option. “What were your subjects of study?” meant that there was no option for either of my previous study programmes. As forms go this one was quite reasonable though. I remember filling in the employment form of my old German university years back and that was so much more difficult! (Working for the university in Germany also means that you’re employed by the state, which in turn means that you have to sign a standard statement that you won’t free any prisoners. Random!)
So, this morning I put the portfolio in a slightly too small plastic bag and made my way to Charlottenburg. The UdK building where I had to hand in the portfolio is between Ernst-Reuter-Platz and Zoologischer Garten and so I had to walk quite a bit in the icy cold out there. My hands were freezing from carrying the bag with the portfolio (and occasionally taking pictures). The UdK building sure was a sight for sore eyes when I finally reached it, outside an old beautiful building, inside white pillars and lots of light. I had the distinct feeling of having been inside before, but to be honest, I can’t remember. Maybe on one of my photo tours. I always tend to sneak into places where I don’t really belong. I can’t be sure though.
It immediately became obvious how much of a lottery the application process is: The room with the portfolios was big and several people had to handle the process, because there was actually a line of people waiting to submit their work. Also on the way there and back to the station I saw several people with portfolios, which really shows how many people apply for this. And as I suspected, my portfolio was one of the small ones: One girl in front of me had managed to exceed the limit of the portfolio requirements, which means that her portfolio was heavier than 10kg, probably already due to the weight of the paper for an A0 portfolio – 118.9 x 84.1cm. Crazy! Mine was A3, 42.0 x 29.7 cm. Tiny in comparison. The girl then spent ages sitting on the floor outside the room trying to choose which of her works to take out. She looked as if she was on the verge of tears, poor thing! The actual process of handing the portfolio in was rather anticlimactic for me. The girl handling my application took my portfolio, stapled my paperwork and said “That’s it, you’re done”. I said thanks and walked out of there. I stayed in the building for a bit though, because I hadn’t quite warmed up yet after the wind and icy temperatures outside.
I can only imagine how all of this must seem for people who have actual hopes riding on this. For me this is more of a game and I’m not expecting to get far with this. In fact I expect to get my “No talent” letter with the first batch of rejections, so I’m really not expecting anything at all. It was really a lot of fun to make this portfolio though and I learned a lot about printing, screen calibration, glue and paper. Yes, and I also learned how much of a klutz I really am! I suspected it already, which is why I bought the special glue, but it was still quite amusing to see how much of a mess you can make with just a little bit of glue.
I’m still undecided as to whether the best part was doing the selection or seeing my pictures printed. They sure looked like something in that size and with that kind of printing quality. I can only recommend to you to try it out. Find yourself a good lab and get some of your pictures printed, it’s such a different experience than to just see them on the screen!
And now, after the portfolio comes the more difficult part: I seriously need to practice my drawing skills and break in my newly acquired acrylic paint. It’s going to be quite an experience as well.