Faculty Profile: Sue Abramson

June 9, 2010

As part of the Library talk series at Filmmakers, professor Sue Abramson showed her portfolio and described her adventures in having a portfolio critique. She also shared her new website, www.sueabramson.com.

Sue Abramson, professor of photography here at filmmakers, has focused for many years on photographic images that grow organically from her garden.  The first part of her portfolio consists of large black and white images of elephant ears, the leaves of a plant with bulbous veins.  These are not traditional photographs, but rather toned gelatin silver and lumen photograms, which can take between five hours and three days to produce. “Gardeners have rituals,” Sue says of her artistic process. She grows, harvests, and then images the leaves at various stages of decay. When first picked, these leaves have a featherlike quality; they have a strong central axis and radial lines with further fractal radials splitting off. As time progresses, the leaves decay, first by darkening and developing holes, then by fracturing and curling. The axis and radials that were once a striking white are now black, the darkest part of the picture. These images have a visceral quality; they look like hearts and lungs and diseased organs.  Sue likes the juxtaposition in her portfolio of the “fresh leaf, clean and pure, next to one that’s decomposing already.” These photographs can be found on her new website, http://www.sueabramson.com.

elephant ear

At her talk, Sue gave advice to other photographers who were interested in having portfolio reviews, or who were interested in getting into the business of selling their work. Her advice was to meet with a variety of critics, and to choose one’s critics wisely. On a recent trip to the Houston Fotofest, she met with eight critics over the course of a week. Most gave helpful critiques, but a few seemed either disinterested or had radically different notions of where she should go with her work. She occasionally got conflicting advice. One reviewer suggested she get an abandoned house, hang up her photos in every room, and call it ‘The Greenhouse.’ What was important, though, was to know how others perceived her work. When you show a piece of art to a friend, he will say, “that’s great!” If you show it to a critic, he will say, “consider using a slightly different filter. Also, what will your edition size be?”

Sue also recommended that your portfolio be technically perfect. If there is a physical flaw, a reviewer may be tempted to focus on the flaw, rather than the overall design. It is important to force the critic to address the content and aesthetics of the picture. Bring a portfolio of approximately 20 prints. You can bring additional works that are not part of the portfolio, and politely ask the reviewer if he would like to see them after he has reviewed your main body of work.  Be sure to have a leave-behind of some sort; anything from a business card to a CD of jpegs, to a gimmicky matchbox will do.

One major advantage of going to a portfolio critique event like the one held in Texas is meeting other photographers. You can see the work of amateurs, professionals, and even famous artists. You can get each other’s opinions, and above all, you can network with one another.

First and foremost in selling or showing your work is to network. The art world is not an organized entity with a central bureaucracy, but rather a disorganized club in which every member has a different version of the secret handshake. Your best bet is to meet as many people as possible, no matter how tangentially they are connected to your field of work. If you make an impression on them, they may choose to exhibit your work a few years down the line when their focus has changed. They might introduce you to someone who would be interested in showing or buying your work. Or they might simply buy you a beer.


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