I’m often asked this question: If I create such a distinct looking visual “brand”, one that focuses on a particular area, won’t that pigeon-hole me and my work? And the answer is; Yes, sometimes, but is that always such a bad thing? There is an advantage to looking like a “specialist” in a particular area of the industry. Just ask, relative newcomer, Reena Newman, whose made a name for herself by doing just that.
I recently had an opportunity to interview Reena about her portfolio and its distinct flavor.
NPS: Did you work with a book artist on your portfolio or is it a DIY?
Reena: I’d call my portfolio a “design DIY.” I came up with the design and sourced the fabric. I’m not exactly an accomplished book binder (I tried that once in college, and seven years later, my book has still not been successfully bound), so I decided to put this project into the much more capable hands of Don Taylor (http://www.dontaylorbookbinder.com) who did a beautiful job. Also, I really wanted my logo to be reminiscent of a cattle brand so a designer friend of mine, Dana Harrison (http://www.elevenideas.ca/) was nice enough to help me out with the perfect logo for my cover.
NPS: How do you typically use the book (face-to-face meetings, drop offs, etc)? Do you work with a rep or agency?
Reena: Typically, I like to use the book for face-to face meetings, but I have done some drop offs as well. Drop offs were a big part of the reason that my book looks the way it does. When I began thinking about what my portfolio would look like, I kept picturing it sitting in a pile of similar black leather books. I really wanted to catch people’s eyes and try to peak their curiosity, so they’d reach for my book in that sea of black. At the moment, I don’t have a rep.
NPS: What do you like best about the look of the cover (I love the table cloth/picnic reference which seems to suit the body of work really well)?
Reena: My favorite thing about the look of my portfolio (aside from the table cloth/picnic reference – which I love!) is the reaction I get when people first pull it out of it’s case. It’s playful and I feel like it reflects my personality before you even meet me. It seems to bring a smile to people’s faces and gets the conversation flowing before they’ve seen any of my photographs. I’d say that that’s a pretty great way to introduce myself, especially if I’m not there with my portfolio.
NPS: Do you have a different portfolio book for non-food related photos?
Reena: Right now, I’m really only focused on this one portfolio (well, two.. but they’re identical). When I started working on the concept for my portfolio, I was pretty much only shooting food. Recently, I’ve found myself revisiting my portraiture roots so I’ve begun asking myself: Do I break up my food work from my portraiture? The thing is, most of the portraits I’ve been shooting lately are of chefs/people in the food industry. I don’t think that I can just slap a couple portraits into my book as it exists right now, because it would be a bit jarring and would break up the book’s flow . I think that over time my portfolio will evolve and if I make sure to pair portraits with food and keep the overall story of my portfolio food based, it will work in my existing portfolio. If for some reason it doesn’t work out that way – I guess I’ll just have to get creative again!
NPS: And this is a questions I get asked a lot….By specializing and catering (no pun intended) your work and book to such a specific area do you feel restrained by it and limited in terms of the work you get offered or do you feel like it gets you more work because you are identified as a specialist or expert in a focused area (and perhaps more memorable as such because you are more individualized?)?
Reena: One of the biggest things photographers are often warned about is not pigeon-holing themselves. That’s something I’ve been very conscious of, yet, I’ve been so wrapped up in and so passionate about my food photography lately that I’ve just decided to run with it. I do think that by specializing in one type of photography, I definitely run the risk of not being considered for other jobs because people assume that I can’t shoot them. I’m finding that having built up a cohesive and focused body of work, has actually worked in my favor. I think that the singular nature of my book has led me to be perceived as a “specialist”, even as a newer photographer. Letting people see that I’m capable as a food shooter has led to me being trusted for jobs that someone with a more varied portfolio might not get. Pretty much every job that I’ve shot in the last couple months has been accompanied by someone telling me that they instantly recognized my work, even before seeing my bi-line. I think that if I was shooting work that ranged the spectrum of photography, my work might be a little less instantly recognizable. Having people know who you are and be able to identify your work as yours is hugely important. As a shooter trying to get out there and be recognized for what I do, so far, introducing myself as somewhat of a “specialist” has definitely been working to my benefit. I think that as I begin to establish myself as a name, I will be able to show people my range as I go. It’s important not to stagnate and to always be growing as an artist.
NPS: Any advice for up and coming photographers trying to establish themselves?
Reena: That’s a bit of a tricky one for me since I’m still an up-and-coming photographer. One thing I learned in my previous life as a producer, while working closely with some of the top-dogs in photography, is that you need to shoot as much as you can and every time you pick up your camera you should treat it like the most important thing you’ll ever shoot. I truly believe that if you put work out into the world that you feel passionate about, people will see that and respond to it. Not everyone will connect with your work, but all it takes is one person. Something I have to remind myself everyday is not to get overly frustrated and not to give up when things aren’t moving forward as quickly as I’d like them to. Often, once I let myself forget the frustration, put my head down and work, the phone begins to ring.
An established photographer friend of mine has always told me that if you stick with it, it’ll take five years before you really begin to see success as a working photographer. Well, I’ve “officially” been at it for about three months, so you may have to call me up and ask again in four years and nine months… ha ha.