The never ending question – What do I put in my portfolio?
At the Prague Quadrennial they exhibited various student and professional portfolios, and I took the time to go through them.
Originally I wanted to look through every single one, to figure out what a portfolio was and how I wanted to exhibit myself on paper, but as I started to go through them – it only took three portfolios to tell me everything I needed to know.
Here’s some advice from what I saw.
1. There are no rules, you don’t even have to listen to what I say. Make a portfolio that contains the information YOU value, not what you think other people want to see.
2. No matter what you do, label EVERYTHING, make it consistent and include your NAME.
3. Don’t use crazy colors in your backgrounds – you don’t want to take away from the photos and images that are your work.
4. Be neat and organized – have other people look at your portfolio when you think you’re complete and ask them if the order makes sense, good professors are worth their weight in gold when it comes to this.
5. Don’t have a portfolio that is massive – no one wants to lug that around or take the effort to wrestle with the pages, try and keep the size manageable, but not so small that it diminishes the power of your photos.
Now here comes the true advice – or more or less what I saw and wish to correct in the portfolio world forever.
What did I see in those first three portfolios? Well I saw pretty pictures and nothing more. I saw image after image, nicely cropped, labeled, mounted, and placed in order. All it showed me was that the designer it belonged to would make an excellent photo documentarian.
To be honest I was rather disappointed. THESE are professional portfolios? Picture albums? I probably flipped through at least 13 more portfolios before concluding that what I felt was missing from these portfolios was exactly what I had to put in mine. I saw maybe two portfolios that actually seemed complete to me. But as I said the majority of them were picture albums of production photos –nothing more. There were no renderings, no research images, no process, just product, and it bored me to tears.
I had approached the table eager, and ready to take hundreds of pictures, and quickly realized that there was only a handful of things on that table worth taking a picture of.

I see production photos and all I see is a pretty picture, worthless without the process that went behind it. How do I learn about our designs without taking into account the process behind them? Quite honestly I can’t. I want to see a beginning in order to appreciate an end.

In conclusion that is what I am going to do when I put together my portfolio this summer. I will include snippets of process work, research images, sketches, illustrating how my ideas evolved and became what is inside those production photos. Information that helps the photos mean something to their viewer, and makes me stand out from the sea of photo albums.
Don’t misunderstand me – do NOT make a scrap book. Do NOT make a collaged mess of information that no one can digest. But for every 8×10 production photo have at least 2 smaller images that back them up or inform the viewer where they came from, so they begin to understand you.