Connecting with Reviewers: Susan Spiritus on Etiquette

For many photographers just starting to exhibit their work, juried shows and portfolio reviews are excellent ways to test the waters of the fine art world. Photographers go through the process of researching the juror/reviewer, carefully considering their work and presentation. These opportunities can help photographers navigate the industry and put themselves and their work in front of someone whose vision they admire.  

Putting the work out there is only the first step. Following up is crucial, and should be done in an appropriate and professional manner. What does that mean, exactly? Unfortunately, artists occasionally forget to look past their own excitement and learn the decorum involved. This can lead to a lot of misunderstandings and potentially missed opportunities. Most likely, artists who have fired off an email without proofreading it, greeted the reviewer with “hey,” or bluntly pressed their own agenda have honestly thought that they were taking positive steps to advance their careers. They have not, and Don’t Take Pictures talked with Susan Spiritus, the owner of Susan Spiritus Gallery in Newport Beach, California about the proper way to reconnect with jurors and reviewers.

Follow-up to a face-to-face meeting or review:

It is certainly appropriate and polite to reply to a reviewer whom you have not met or a gallerist after a face-to-face meeting. You can reply the old fashioned way and send a hand written note, or you can send a brief email message expressing your thanks for whatever took place.

Please note that I said, a brief note—that does not include sending jpegs of your work; asking for further information or instructions about ‘what to do next’ or anything else that pertains to you or your work. If sending an email message, your signature can include your address and it can also include your web address. That is sufficient.

Sending jpegs without first being asked, or asking for career advice is not only unprofessional, but insulting. Understandably, photographers are looking for help and advice from someone who has responded positively to their work. However, sitting down and reviewing images, researching the photographer’s current career path, and then constructing a business plan for them is far too much to ask of someone they just met. It may not seem like that is what the photographer is asking, but “hey, could you take a look at my work and let me know if there are any galleries that I should send it to?” demands a far more work than they might think. It shows that they don’t respect the reviewer’s time. Alan Bamberger writes brilliantly about this here.

Follow-up to an email or other online connection instigated by the curator:

Again, if contacted by a gallerist or a curator about your work, the proper response is to reply to what is requested with either jpegs or information. Don’t’ go overboard—send only what has been asked for! It would not be out of line to follow up with a phone call a week or two later to see if what you sent was received and is acceptable. At that point you can ask if the person has any additional needs.

It is always exciting and encouraging when someone contacts an artist directly with an opportunity. As Susan cautions, do not let that excitement get in the way. Provide whatever is asked for, and let the relationship figure itself out. You wouldn’t propose on a first date would you? Too much too fast is likely to make them think that the artist is desperate or inexperienced.

Follow-up to a blind jury where the curator does not know the name or any other information about the artists until the completion of the jurying process.

Although all of those who submit work know who the juror is for the specific competition, and is probably the reason why he/she submits their work to the competition, it is only acceptable to write to that juror, after the selections have been made, if your work has been selected. It would be acceptable to say thank you for selecting my image for inclusion. Do not take any other liberties! 

It is totally unacceptable to write and submit jpegs of other works.

It is totally unacceptable to ask that juror to look at your website.

It is totally unacceptable for you to ask for career advice.

You should not assume that the juror is interested in pursuing any relationship with you and you should not ask.

Generally, jurors and portfolio reviewers have agreed to take on these roles because they are actively looking for new work. They are providing their time and services in the hopes of finding new talent. As the saying goes, “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” If they are interested, they will contact the contest director and request information, which will happily be provided. It is absolutely never acceptable to contact a juror if you work has not been selected and ask why, or worse, criticize the juror for not recognizing your brilliance.

The photography community is small and we are all here to help each other. Those who give their time and expertise want to assist new photographers in their careers. Just remember that courtesy and decorum leave a lasting impression.