Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Portfolio Submission and Review is Now Online

Portfolio Submission and Review is Now Online

For decades, mailing 35mm slides served as the only option for sharing/reviewing portfolios. This was expensive and time consuming, but nobody had a problem with it because there were no other options. That is, until the digital camera came out. Then the art world when through an awkward period where many photo documentation was being taken digitally, and output as 35mm slides. This never really caught on due to expense, and was quickly replaced by photo-services automatically saving everything to a CD. This was very cheap and convenient for the artist.

However, CDs caused new problems. The first problem with CDs was compatibility. Organizations often could not open files because of software differences. And artists were scared because they were not sure if their portfolios were viewable. This gave rise to pages and pages of instructions, for exactly how files should be prepared. But not all artists are Photoshop geniuses, so this was frustrating as well. The second problem that arose was the inefficiency of of receiving hundreds (or thousands) of CDs. Slides were at least easy to preview and review, you just hold the sheet up to the light. But CDs have to be inserted, opened, navigated and clicked through one at a time ... very time consuming. But many organizations "upgraded" to this because digital photography was the new standard, and they want to be fair to applicants.

With the explosion of online usage, the web is the new standard for communication, including portfolio submission & review. Even the word "digital" has become synonymous with "online." Some institutions build their own system, while others buy professionally made systems. For example, Since 2006 over 50 major art schools in the US moved to an online system powered by SlideRoom, and this number is growing everyday. Some of the schools using SlideRoom include CalArts, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Hunter, MICA and Pratt.

The benefits of doing everything online almost needs no explanation. Applicants can easily upload, label,arrange and submit their portfolio (along with any application forms). And organizations can easily aggregate, view and assess the submitted portfolios in one private online setting. This has several beneficial consequences for the organization. First, with the proliferation of media types, it is extremely helpful to have all media converted to one consistent format. There is no more fear about whether a file can be opened. Secondly, reviewers can participate remotely, leaving ratings and comments from anywhere in the world. And finally, everything is automatically organized and archived, saving weeks (sometimes months) of administrative work!

Now I can hear you saying: "Wait a minute, I know lots of places that ask for portfolios to be sent via postal service." I can guarantee you they are presently looking into online options. Some organizations have been slow to switch for a variety of reasons. Some are worn out from having just switched to CDs, and the idea of making another major switch to their process is scary. Another reason may be a fear of expense. Online systems are not free, they can cost anywhere between $50K - $100K to build from scratch. Luckily, companies like SlideRoom provide affordable alternatives in the form of ready made systems.

So, I wanted to end this post with three tips for artists:

1) Don't let the convenience of the digital camera lure you into being lazy about demanding great photo documentation. While most point and shoot digital cameras take great pictures, you may still want to hire a professional for formal documentation ... particularly if you want print the images in invitations or catalogs. Even if you are not printing the image, because the web makes it possible for everyone the entire world to see your work, and you need to be looking good.

2) Maintain two inventories of your work: one for print (300dpi) and one for web (72ppi). Your main inventory should be for print, because these are huge images, and you can always make them smaller. However, they are too large for the web. You will face trouble emailing, using online submission systems, or posting anything to web because the files are way too huge. If you don't know how to re-size images yourself, invest in a 30 min lesson from a friend. Since the web is now our universal medium for sharing media with each other, it is critical you understand this digital material.

3) If you make videos, keep the original file and the software you created it on. This is the only way you will be able to alter it to meet future submission guidelines. I have seen countless artists save their movie to a DVD, only to find they cannot post it to the web. Or, they have it saved to a CD, but not in the format an institution is asking for. The easiest/best way to meet specifications is to take your video into the original software and re-export to meet guidelines.

About the author: Christopher Jagers is the Founder & CEO of SlideRoom: His company provides online systems to universities, art groups and others to receive and review visual media from applicants.


Anonymous said...

Interesting article, and an issue that I've been keen on for a few years now. Now I know that the author just happens to be the founder/CEO of, and naturally, he's going to promote his site as a groovy way to go about this...but a quick look at even the "Basic" plan offered for hosting reveals some pretty hefty costs ($800/year!!) Why would anyone want to go with that, when there are many other excellent hosting venues available online. The most obvious one is, which I've discovered is becoming the most popular place for artists of all stripes to post their work....and the basic hosting service is at a price that I, and - going out on a limb here - most other artists would like: FREE. And unless you've been living in a cave for the last few years, most people (yes, even those scaredy-cat gallerists) have heard of it, or even been there themselves at one point.

Anonymous said...


I should have clarified, that this service is sold to large organizations that receive hundreds/thousands of applicants. They need a more efficient way to quickly view large numbers of submissions without much navigation, as well as tools for assessment, administration and reporting. Submissions include not only artwork, but also application forms and supplementary items like a statement/resume.

I positioned the article from the artists point of view because of the audience here, but the real power of the system is on the administrative side, which is unique.

Further, SlideRoom isn't just for images, it serves as the organizations

Sheree Rensel said...

I cannot wait until the day comes when all art submissions are done online. I still see occasional calls for artists wanting SLIDES! I pass them up. To me that seems like the stone age. I am so over that. I am old enough to remember the full transition. I have a huge 2' X 3' tub of slides from years of work. I have been digitizing them one by one. I remember ten years ago taking digital pics and then sending them out to be converted to slides. That was a hassle too. I like the NOW. As you stated, I keep the larger originals and smaller web versions. I am so thankful for this digital age. However, I am ready to ditch the CDs. I want everyone to go to online submission! Thanks for writing this post!

Oh P.S.: One other thing that is an issue about CD submission is counting on the fact that the gallerist is knowledgeable in technology. I mean there are people who work at venues who have gone digital (CD) but don't know how to handle this change. Sometimes they don't have a clue how to work the equipment. I have had the experience in which I could tell they didn't know what they were doing through correspondence. Once we go purely online, I think that will become an issue of the past too.