March came in like a lamb and is going out like a lion, with a steady, relentless downpour of rain. But it’s officially spring and I’m looking forward to a new chapter, the sense of regeneration that the season always brings. Four years later, I’m graduating from the photography program of a local college. As my final project, I am submitting a portfolio of my food and lifestyle work, and I’ve been hunkering down on its’ production. I had no idea there was so much to it.
Not long ago I thought a portfolio was a compilation of a photographer’s best images. As strong as the work needs to be—visually appealing, perfectly edited—it also requires a theme, transitions, connection, and consideration of your target audience. I have learned I might need different portfolios to go after different clients. I have also learned that sometimes images can become much more powerful when paired, or linked together as a part of a series. I have often tiled images together on the blog, but never gave much thought as to how they worked as a whole until recently.
Look at this example, taken from a series of lifestyle shots I took in Europe not long ago. A couple of simple photographs, of a bunch of grapes hanging on the vine, and a birdhouse in my parents’ backyard. Nice images but nothing extraordinary.
Now look at them side by side. See how the branch from the grapevine meets the back of the fence to create a connected line that takes your eye through the photographs? These images were not even shot in the same place!
This is how you have to train yourself to see when you are putting your book together, or making diptychs or collages for your blog. Your imperative is to create a powerful visual experience for the viewer.
I went through hundreds of images to come up with the twenty-four that I am using for my portfolio. Twenty-four images across eleven printed pages. I began my process by printing them out 4X6 inches and spreading them across a couple of tables pushed together, discarding the ones I knew were not strong enough, or didn’t fit the overall aesthetic I wanted to portray. I did this quickly, using my intuition and suppressing any emotional attachments. I had to nix some of my favourite images because the colour palette or style did not fit with the majority of the pictures.
Some of the ones I included were shots that I’d thought of as near useless, but paired together with other shots, suddenly came across as much more punchy and relevant in a new context. My classmates were a great help, pointing out things that I couldn’t see and keeping me on track to my final objective.
After several weeks, I finally had a collection with sequences, which I taped to pieces of legal paper to give me an idea of what they would look like in a book. The whiteness of the pages made them pop even more . This was not simply a matter of sticking each one in the centre of each page. Decisions had to be made about size, borders and other design considerations that would add excitement to the portfolio, rather than having it be an exercise in sameness for the viewer flipping through it (the pictures here were not all in my final decision but give you an idea of my process).
For some of them, the middle image would be cut in half but viewed together when the book was open. All of these exact specifications had to be laid out for the printer. After meeting with him, I realized how I could have done it in Photoshop, but my boyfriend (who is a graphic designer) helped me format it in a PDF through InDesign, another program that I am trying to learn on top of increasing my skills in Photoshop and Lightroom.
This has been a hard road and I’m barely out of the driveway. I think photography is something you never completely master and it takes years and years to build up any worthy skill level.Isn’t this true of any art?
Four years ago I barely knew what an f-stop was. I had never demonstrated any interest in photography or thought that I was a visual person. I was always more interested in words and books and the world of story. But when I picked up the camera upon launching this blog, I quickly realized that it gave me the opportunity to tell stories through a different medium. Photography has shown me that my identity as a storyteller is integral to who I am but that it can take different guises.
So … what does this have to do with broccolini and walnut pesto? Nothing, really. Except that it was easy to make as something to keep in the fridge to spoon over pasta or potatoes, or even on toast during the long and late nights of work on the portfolio. Variations on the classic basil pesto are not new but I like this one for extra chunky texture and the slightly bitter bite.
This recipe is enough to fill up a couple of small jars, one of which you can keep in the freezer for later use. I love to serve this pesto with finely crushed nuts like walnuts or pistachios as a garnish, with wedges of lemon to squeeze on top for extra zing. Here it is on an eggy pasta folded with chunks of burrata, a soft Italian cheese made from fresh mozzarella and cream.
9 ounces/250 g broccolini
1/2 cup/120ml olive oil
1/4 /60 ml cup lemon juice
3 large cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 /120g grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/2 cup/50g walnut pieces
Place the broccolini, lemon juice, and walnut pieces in the bowl of a food processor. Process until it turns into finer chunks. With the motor on, drizzle in the olive oil and blend until it forms a paste. Add in the garlic and cheese and blend until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Add more to taste, if necessary.
Spoon in to small clean jars and top with a splash of olive oil.