Last week I was in Portland, Oregon, participating in a spring ritual that is peculiar to the photography world, the monster portfolio review. Reviewing portfolios is common enough, sure, but I am talking about a four-day fiesta, a hotel ballroom filled with photographers and reviewers, a full-on, flat-out, gawk-till-you-drop, ancient-Rome-style feast of photography. People have been asking me how I selected the works of art for Earth Now, and since I met many of the participating photographers at portfolio review sessions, I thought I would elucidate this cultural practice of my people.

The basic principle seems to be that the photographers pay to participate in the reviewing process, thereby providing funds for the travel and lodging of the esteemed and often international group of reviewers. The photographers have a wide range of styles and approaches to the medium and the reviewers are chosen from across the profession, representing galleries, magazines, publishers, agencies, museums, etc. After provisioning themselves with a hearty breakfast and a carefully calibrated amount of coffee, each reviewer seats himself at a long table with an empty chair. The doors to the room are opened and the eager and talented photographers search the room for their appointments, taking a seat in the empty chair aross from the designated reviewer. A one-on-one review session ensues for a period of about twenty minutes. Then, at the sound of the tone, musical chairs ensue and we start all over again. At the end of the day, we talk more about photography or troop around to see photography shows. We like photography!

The reviewer is an indefatiguable soul, often seeing work by fifty or more artists, blogging and tweeting, and then speaking to still more artists and colleagues into the wee hours. The role requires gentleness and firmness, being a good listener, a talent for referring the artist to useful sources, an ability to hold one's liquid intake for long periods of time, curiosity, a willingness to be surprised, a serviceable poker face, a strong stomach, a discerning eye, an excellent memory, a decent imagination, and the stamina of a marathoner. Breath mints are a must.

After days of this routine, all parties involved bid a regretful adios and return to their regular lives, albeit mediated by a flurry of texts, e-mails, and facebookery to ease the separation trauma. After about a week, they are able to ingest caffeine in moderation and, in most cases, can converse normally again and even compose blog entries.