It’s MFA application time of year and I’ve been receiving quite a few emails asking for advice on how to edit an MFA portfolio submission. I’ve only applied once, which means I’m no expert. Rather than feel in any way responsible for anybody’s future, I turned to Randy West, artist, teacher and Director of Operations at SVA’s Photo MFA program. Randy’s advice:
With regard to submitting a portfolio for admissions it is always best to only send one body of work or one series of images. The objective here is that the committee wants to see that the applicant has been, or is, working towards resolving one idea. By showing the development of one project (without the distraction of multiple bodies of work) the committee can analyze what the artist’s/photographer’s interests are and their dedication to solving a problem (even if their ideas aren’t fully realized at a graduate level). In most cases one should send the number of images the application requests (in our case 20 images). Never submit more than that. Sequencing is ultimately determined by the work presented. It’s good to know that we view the 20 images one after another. So where you begin and end is important before and after each image.
Randy also said it’s hard to comment without seeing the work in question, which is understandable as there are photographers with all sorts of backgrounds applying.
My only advice whenever submitting a portfolio for anything (grants, exhibitions, competitions) is to put together a portfolio that you’re happy with and don’t agonize too much over what the judging committee might want. Obviously, your selection should be geared to the situation (don’t send pet portraits to an astrophotography contest). BUT, at the end of the day, there are so many variables involved that the best thing to do (in my opinion) is to select 20 images that you care about, that show who you are as an artist and that flow together in a sequence. I would imagine that the committee’s decision is based not only on the quality of the applicant’s work but also on whether they think the applicant is a good match for the school and a good fit with the other incoming students. 30 incoming students all producing amazing, but very similar work, doesn’t make for the best learning environment. Given you don’t know the mix of applicants applying and where their collective strengths and weaknesses are, just apply as yourself with the work you are most invested in.
In the past when I tried to second guess what a judging panel might want and I didn’t get accepted or win, I was a lot more disappointed than when I stuck with my own artistic vision. So…stay true to yourself, pick your twenty strongest photos that work together to reveal your interests as an artist and don’t lose any sleep over it.
I hope that helps.