A particularly tough assignment

by Sue Dawson

THE THIRD critique call in this year’s Mentorship programs was our longest yet. In fact, it was two calls, because we ran out of time in the first call. The toughest assignment I give is to do a self-portrait (that’s tough enough for most of us, but it gets worse)… in your own unique style. Each student submitted three photos that illustrate their style as a photographer. Then they had to do self-portraits that are congruent with their style. 

One of our goals in the Mentorship programs is to help each photographer identify his or her unique creative voice. Some people come into the program with a unique style already, but most don’t – at least they don’t recognize it yet. If I had to articulate the most important challenge for artists, it’s developing, defining, and refining your unique creative voice, or style. What sets you apart? What makes you you? Alison is an open book with students, sharing her process and techniques. But the goal isn’t to produce photographs like hers. The goal is to produce photographs like yours. It can take a lifetime to identify what this means for each artist.

There were various approaches to this assignment. Some did self-portraits and then found three style images to match. Others worked to figure out their style, and did the self-portrait based on that. It’s a chicken and egg thing. But I’d argue, in this case, that the chicken is the correct answer – identify your style first. Alison and I didn’t always agree with each person about which images show his/her unique style. Trust me – this is super hard to do. And it’s one place where the team approach, having Alison and me, and their peers, really helps. 

Full disclosure, I’m showing you the final cut. Some went back and re-did their self-portraits. We suggested different “style” images for others. Here’s where we ended up…


Andrea Dawson






Beth Horstman






Brooke Bartletta






Dena Porter






Ilene Hertz






Jacqueline Abodeely





And one more, because we couldn’t decide…



Lucy Dahl






Rob Skinnon

Norton Point Beach, 2017




We’re incredibly proud of this group of talented photographers, and feel blessed to work with them. We’d love to hear what you think, in the comments.

If you’re interested in our next Mentorship (starting October 2018), here’s more info.

We hope you’ll come to our 2018 Advanced Mentorship Show, which opens on May 6th at Alison Shaw Gallery, and will be on display through May 25th. Andrea, Beth, Jackie, and Lucy are in the Advanced program, and will be showing their fine art photography. 


24 Responses

  1. Marian Stanton says:

    These are amazing, creative and so unique. (Glad this wasn’t an assignment back in my mentorship days!)

  2. Barbara Green says:

    Absolutely gorgeous!

  3. gail tipton says:

    Given your very interesting and challenging assignment,I think Dena Porter
    fulfilled it the best. I loved all the groupings. All were strong, sensitive and
    definitely showed a ‘style’, but their portraits didn’t quite sing out consistently
    with their style the way Dena ‘s did.
    Now I have a challenge ahead of me to even identify a stlyle.
    And for sure, there must be varieties of style-yes?
    Thanks for your beautiful mentorship program.

  4. Kathleen says:

    Very cool project and these are wonderful images!

  5. Ginny Newton says:

    Wow… what an incredible, thought provoking, and creative challenge. The results are beautiful and each photographer should feel very proud of what they accomplished.

  6. Helen says:

    I agree with Marion! Glad you only thought of that assignment this year. Loved the groupings. Very creative with some amazing photos. I’m also glad to see Lucy dress is still going strong????

  7. Doug Burke says:

    Very cool. These are all great. Very well thought out!

  8. Bruce Hicks says:

    Truly beautiful work. I enjoyed the consistency within each very unique series. Alison and Sue continue to positively impact everyone’s lives they touch. How gratifying for all involved!

  9. Virginia Leussler says:

    I’m blown away! Love all their styles. Bravo! Thanks for sharing, gives me much needed motivation to get out there.

  10. I loved receiving this email. Thank-you! I felt very inspired and enjoyed that it encouraged me to question and reflect on my own personal artistic style. A tough but very worthwhile exercise, it’s an ever evolving form of expression and communication. I can really appreciate the work behind each of these shots. Wonderful series.

  11. Love the photos…wonderful inspiration!

  12. Mickey says:

    Wonderful body of work . Well done.

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