The Purpose of a Portfolio

My portrait work is taking up speed. Recently I have been in touch with a few people who are interested in their portraits being taken (Thank you so much for your help, Ηώ!). So I am having portrait sessions planned and scheduled over the coming weeks. Parts of that work is intended to create pictures that my subjects will use for their personal portfolios. I would not call that “professional work”, but it is in some way different from the free wheeling street portrait shooting that I have been doing in the past weeks and months.

And now I am wondering how to define what we call “portfolio”. This question is actually new to me. In the past I shot what I liked, posted my pictures on Flickr and grouped the ones that I deemed the best on my website under certain headlines like “Urban”, “Landscape”, “Bodyscapes” etc. And I think this is certainly a valid way of creating a portfolio.

With me shooting more portraits now, I am realising that this way of publishing things doesn’t work so well anymore. This is probably particularly the case as I am getting invited to shoot on certain events or for certain purposes. I could certainly easily create a category on my website under the headline “Portraits”. But somehow I hesitate doing this.

On the one hand I am asking myself if my portraits are good enough for making them public. But my hesitation has to do with much more than just the question “what is quality?” or “is this picture good enough”? It very much has to do with the purpose of the pictures. When you start working with people that have a certain intention with the pictures you take, you realise that the purpose of the shooting changes, at least it does it for me. In the past I was shooting merely for myself. I was the person who decided every single artistic detail of the picture and also what to do with the eventual result.

When you shoot people on request the purpose changes. I find myself in the situation that pictures that have a certain context (let’s say a folk music concert) are liked by the people that were around at that time. They invited me to shoot there. They want to find themselves well represented with what they do and how they look like during that occasion. And I have to decide if I think that the pictures are technically and artistically good enough to present them to the people that asked me to shoot. On Flickr or my website these pictures would probably not appeal to viewers because they thrive by their context.

This is a new situation for me, one that I find very interesting. In contrast to taking street portraits shooting pictures that you have been invited for has a completely different feel. It is a little closer to professional photographic work where you are only successful and can only charge your customers if they are happy with the results, otherwise you will lose your customers. This puts a little more pressure on me but I actually enjoy this. I enjoy feeling the need to get better and to prove that my photography can satisfy the requirements of my ‘customers’.

It seems that from shooting only for myself I am changing to shooting with and for other people. And so the question of portfolio and to whom to show my work has to be answered anew.