by John Duncan
The Portfolio days have been taking place regularly since January 1998. Over this period they have taken place consistently in Dublin and Belfast and intermittently in Cork, Limerick and Galway. The format of these days affords photographers a half hour opportunity to show and discuss their work with one of the editors of the magazine. A record of the material brought along is kept with the photographer's details to allow for further consideration and reflection. This material along with that sent directly to Source forms the pool of work from which a selection is made for publication. After three years certain patterns have emerged.
The days have fulfilled a dual purpose. Many people attending are interested in getting feedback about their work. A smaller proportion are making a definite pitch for publication. Inevitably different levels of practice are apparent and photographers are faced with different problems.
Those from a photographic or arts background in third level education highlight the lack of critical discussion that they have access to outside of college. For those who haven't been involved in formal photographic education the problem is often a lack of access to other photographic work, whether historical or contemporary. Outside specialist art college libraries there are slim pickings. A basic platform of knowledge about other photographer's and artist's work is not readily available. Usually the best (and far from satisfactory) advice is use the Gallery of Photography bookshop as a library; an option only available to those in Dublin.
A recurring problem for all photographers is access to darkrooms, especially for colour printing. Beyond the Gallery of Photography there is no public access to a colour darkroom in Ireland. This means that for Irish photographers production of their work is usually placed in the hands of high street labs. This often results in a loss of control of the final image.in terms of colour, density and cropping.
Another pattern that emerges on the Portfolio Days is in subject matter. The number one all time favourite is 'The Travelling Community', closely followed by 'Pony Kids', 'Trip to India' and 'The Orange March'. Seen in isolation these projects provide a very distorted image of the citizens of Ireland. From those recently out of educational institutions there are recognisable themes that with repetition become clichés. Among these the most popular could be summarized with the phrase 'pleasant state of decay', a need to photograph in derelict factories and student flats, and closest to my own heart is 'transitional spaces' best taken at the edge of cities.
In terms of popularity Dublin continues to be booked up weeks in advance with a seemingly never ending stream of photographers. In contrast despite repeated attempts we have never been able to run a Portfolio day in Derry due to a complete lack of interest.
As a mechanism for finding work The Portfolio Days can often appear time consuming and inefficient. As a peculiar mix between the Antiques Roadshow, an advice service and an evangelical mission The Portfolio Days provide a unique point of contact between Source and the disparate photographic community of Ireland. Over the three years they have become a corner stone of the magazine. For photographers often a little critical feedback and conversation can help move a piece of work. It's an ongoing process and people are encouraged to come back and they do. Having been privileged to meet over 300 photographers prepared to show me their work I have had one walk out, one person in tears and been told to 'fuck off' only once, and that was in the nicest possible way. The search continues.