Angkor Photo Workshop: How to prepare your portfolio

May 27, 2019 | 15th Edition (2019), Articles & Resources, Workshops 2019

Putting together a strong portfolio can seem like a daunting task, especially for the uninitiated. While the portfolio is not the only criteria for getting selected for the workshop, a well-thought-out set of photographs together with a strong personal statement will certainly help get you noticed. We speak to a few participants from the 14th edition about how they put their portfolio together and what advice they would give to potential applicants.

Photograph above by Eloisa Lopez.

Eloisa Lopez, the Philippines

I’ve applied for many jobs and workshops that required a portfolio—some of which I was accepted, mostly not. This includes the Invisible Photographers Asia’s Visualizing Social Stories workshop, a grant from the Pulitzer Center, and IWMF’s Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award.

I always remember that when reviewers look at portfolios, they do so in batches. That means they will be looking at a hundred or so photos in one sitting. That’s a lot. Having that in mind makes me really think about which photos and stories are important to me, and which ones are redundant. I try to be really strict about it because I know how overwhelming it could be to look at so many similar photos in one go. So while I mourn about “killing my babies,” I know it has to be done.

I have pre-edited stories in my archives always ready to be pulled out for submissions. Sometimes I would re-edit the sequence, or pick out one, two photos, but I rarely change anything else. I haven’t really done a lot of projects so there’s not too much to choose from. I know what my “best” work is, and I stick with that.

As for the specific photos I choose, I always submit stories rather than singles. While strong, impactful single pictures could really stand out, it’s more important for me that the jury/committee know what kind of stories I like to produce, and what issues are important to me. The portfolio I submitted predominantly focused on human rights issues. I think that speaks very well about how I’d like to be represented as a photographer, and what kind of stories I am drawn to.

Ask yourself which of your work would you like to represent you as a photographer?’ Figure that out and select strictly from there. Keep it short, avoid redundancies, and when you think you’ve got it, show it to your peers for feedback. 

Kunga Tashi Lepcha, Sikkim, India

Most of the photos I selected for the 2018 application were from my ongoing project called “The Beautiful Bountiful Borderland” and a few photographs from my everyday life and surroundings. I chose these photographs based on my previous experience with applying; this time I wanted to select the work which I felt connected to and confident enough to share and talk about. I had applied for the Angkor workshop in 2017 but that year I didn’t get through. I had sent in photographs from only one body of work, which led me to ignore my other work.  But I appreciated that the Angkor team had sent a positive reply. This was one of the reasons that made me pursue photography with even more spirit and to apply again. So, in 2018, I already had a strong body of work and some singles which I was very confident to share and to put together as a portfolio for applying for the workshop.

The portfolio represented me as a photographer because the photographs I sent were the culmination of the work that I had always wanted to do, after many years of practising and understanding the medium. My advice to others would be to take it slow while applying and put up a portfolio that best represents you as a photographer and not what the selection jury would expect or want to see.

Lux Mean, Cambodia

(This was Lux Mean’s first experience putting a portfolio together.)

I chose photos that I considered were my best. They are random photographs which I shot as street photos from Pub Street, Angkor Wat and the local market. I selected different photos which showed different angles and points of view.

Try to consider three things for the photos for a portfolio:
– Has the photo captured an emotion?
– Does it help viewers ask more questions?
– Does it surprise the viewers?

Yuzni Aziz, Indonesia

I had put together my portfolio for a competition before but Angkor was the first workshop that I had sent my portfolio to. I didn’t get accepted the first time I applied in 2017, so I applied for it again the next year. By the time the call for application was opened, I had already started work on my long-term project called “Banu”, which is about my best friend who is a rape survivor with PTSD. I applied for the workshop with pictures from that project.

I chose the photographs that best represented the story and who I am as a photographer. As I was still learning (and still am) I asked for my best friends’ opinions when putting the portfolio together. Second eyes are important to reduce the bias when making a decision. I also needed those insights to help me see my work in a different way and to go deeper into it.

My advice to would-be participants is that you need to know who you are as a photographer. By that, I don’t mean by having a massive and consistent body of work, but you at least you need to know where you want to go and what you want to achieve – it shows in your work. By the time I applied for Angkor, I had just found the approach that resonated with me and the workshop helped me to sharpen that.

Lu Yufan, China

I heard about the Angkor Photo Workshops from one of the alumni. I didn’t really aim for any goals when I applied the workshop but when I got accepted all kinds of expectations began to grow in me. I wanted to learn more practical stuff about documentary photography, to meet people and even to build up my career. I remembered that we were allowed to submit 20 photos. Because I hadn’t yet established any real long-term projects, I tried to choose images from two to three projects that are relevant to social issues and visually satisfactory. It was my second try to apply for the workshop so I drew on lessons from my past failure. I think my first portfolio might not be strong both visually and story-telling wise. On my second try, I submitted a new set of work that was between both attempts.

In terms of how my portfolio represented me, I think for me it’s more of a question of how my photography practice represents me. I always try to express myself in photographs, either using myself as a subject or putting my feelings into a documentary of others. Instead of trying to think rationally about how the portfolio could represent me, I’m thinking more about how to edit the sequence based on the limited number of images so that my project’s intentions can be conveyed.

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