Please, Don’t Call It a “Port”

Your best work should be in your portfolio. According to Merriam-Webster, “portfolio” comes from the Italian portafoglio, from portare (“to carry” in Latin) plus folium (“leaf” or “sheet” in Latin).

Say it with me: “portfolio.”

Not “port.”

Is It Port or Starboard?

Call me old school, but my portfolio is sacred. It is my flag. I do not let it touch the ground. Light needs to always shine on it (when it is not in its case). It is one of my most valued possessions — because on top of the memories it contains, I need it to get work.

And yet, many photographers, Internet models, and others insist on referring to this precious collection of photographs as their “port.” It sounds cheap, and it drives me crazy.

Our language and culture are always changing (which I see as a good thing — don’t thou?) Still, there are standards in our business that deserve to be respected.

Then again, maybe I’m just a fuddy-duddy. I decided to look outside of myself for guidance in the “port” vs. “portfolio” debate and ended up back where I first stumbled across the term: the Internet.

I used Twitter and Facebook to ask photographers, art directors and photo editors this question: “What do you think of people who refer to their portfolio as their ‘port’?”

In no time at all I had 15 responses. Here is what a few professionals had to say:

“I think they are trying to sound like a big shot and I immediately dismiss them.” — Scott Troyanos (photographer)

“… I also think of how lame it sounds to shorten words.” — Zane Ewton (writer/photographer)

“What the hell is a port? If that answers your question.” — Stuart Laybourne (graphic artist)

“’Book’ is the proper shorthand for portfolio. ‘Port’ sounds like a hole, a left, a place where you would get a boat, or something you would hook an IV up to, but not a portfolio.” — Leslie Burns-Dell’Acqua (photo business consultant)

Your Almost Holy Book

I’m not Catholic, but I once went to church with a friend who was. As Mass began, someone carried the Bible in over his head for all to see. Everyone in that room — including an alien dropping in from another planet — would know that book was special.

While your portfolio is not the Bible, it’s also special, at least to you. It’s used to communicate your vision and abilities. It demonstrates to others how you feel about your art or your talents. Your income and career depend on it.

Not that I’ve always treated my portfolio with the proper respect. I had to learn the hard way.

When I left the newspaper business, I had no idea what a commercial portfolio should look like. I went out and bought a giant size 13×19 book with plastic sleeves for about $30. I stuffed it full of large images I had printed myself. It might not have been lightweight, but at least it was ugly!

I lugged that thing all over the place and got very little work from it.

I learned that plastic pages don’t showcase your work very well (glare is an issue), and over time the pages scratch. I also learned that a super-sized portfolio is mainly an annoyance; the person viewing your photos doesn’t want to clear off the desk to do it.

My next attempt was to go with a self-published book from an Internet company. It looked great — but felt unsubstantial when I handed it to art directors. I got very little work from showing that portfolio, too.

Finally, I hired a Virginia-based photo consultant to help me. She edited my work and handed me off to a Seattle-based designer who designed my portfolio and Web site. It was worth every penny.

Worthy of the Term

Today, my portfolio is 24 pages in length and is printed on 100 percent cotton paper. The paper is bound in a beautiful plexiglass cover, and I have a case to slip it into for carrying. It can also be mailed.

I have more than one book. Each is tailored to a different type of client. I’ve shipped these books all around the country, to rave reviews and excellent results.

I’ve worked hard to make my portfolio worthy of the term. Why would I belittle it by calling it a “port”?

For those who think I am just being a silly old coot, let me close by attempting to plant a seed of fear.

During an interview, you often don’t know who you are really talking to. That art director on the other side of the desk might look cool and hip, but she might have a strong preference for formality and tradition that you don’t know about.

One slip of your “port” might get your book closed with the whole office laughing at you after you leave.

So call it a portfolio. Please?

7 Responses to “Please, Don’t Call It a “Port””

  1. Hi Tony,

    as an Italian photographer, that studied Latin & Greek for circa 5 years when at the high school, the incipit (start in Latin) made me a little bit smile.

    Because there is a nice etymology which you may also have used in your smart article: "portafoglio" is the Italian name for Wallet... So to continue in your track it's absolutely true that your Portfolio is at least as much important as your wallet (and maybe your wallet content depends on it) 🙂


  2. Just remember that, should you ever have the need to Tweet about it, "port" will save you five of your allowed 140 characters.

  3. Massimo, your portfolio is beautiful. I'm glad I got to see it.

    @Mike, for me I would rather abbreviate other words first and make the cut on "portfolio" as the last possible option.

  4. I'm all for people calling it a "port", let them loose out on work because they don't take the proper amount of pride in their work that I do. Let them loose out on work because they can't complete a 4 sylable word. Let them loose out on work because they are trying to hard.

    All fine by me.

  5. I wonder if people lose out on work because they spell 'lose' with two 'o's. I wonder if people lose out on work because they use 'to' when they mean 'too'.

  6. Dear Tony,

    I have my portfolios around the world too ... one of them got lost ... so this last time I took my portfolio to the client, actually not one, but 2, two different portfolios, a photography one and a sketch one, the one I use to design shootings.

    Along with it I have my also precious portfolio on line, let's call it website, where people can see my work, my thoughts, the milieu of experiences I go and went through to become the professional they may hire.

    I like you posts.


  7. I have not seen anyone refer to their portfolio as a "port" yet, but I do have to agree that they are trying to sound like a big shot. Reminds me of photographers who call themselves a "photog", which is just as demeaning imho.

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