You've spent weeks, months, or even years creating a body of work you are proud of. Now, you'd love to show it in the real world and not just online, but you have no idea how or where to start.
Hopefully this post will help you.
I just had the first exhibition of America Untitled a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I'd share how I got my work hung on walls, people to come see it, and what I've learned for the next one.
What to expect from an exhibition
Showing your work to real people will give you instant feedback, even if they don't talk to you. Is there any image people stopped to stare at longer than others? Did they look interested? Or did they just rush out of there?
Some people will talk to you and ask you questions. Don't be afraid asking them to know what they thought about the exhibition.
Selling your work
You can also try to sell your work. Be sure to make it clear so people know the work they are looking at can be purchased.
Keep your expectations realistic, though. How well or bad your work will sell depends on many things, like the place, the timing and the context.
The town where you are hosting the exhibition might get deserted during the summer -or the opposite, it might receive a lot of visitors.
If the images you are selling are familiar to your potential customers -from a nearby popular spot, for example-, it's more likely it'll sell better.
Also, images from the winter usually sell better in the summer, and photographs from the summer usually sell better in the winter.
It's not cheap
No matter how you look at this, if you are framing your work, an exhibition doesn't come cheap. The cost adds up really quick.
If you can't afford it, you can always look for other artists and partner up to host a group exhibition.
Preparing the exhibition
Have a body of work with a consistent theme
An exhibition should have a theme, rather than being a collection of random images that don't fit together.
The theme could be about almost anything: from a season of the year, a location, trees, animals... but the images must have something in common, something holding them together.
One colorful landscape next to a black and white portrait just won't do it, unless there's a very good reason for that.
The theme in America Untitled is black and white landscapes from all over America.
Curating the images
Depending on the space and the kind of exhibition, you'll need more or fewer images.
Try not to crowd the photographs and leave some space between them. Images that complement each other could be closer, though.
Selecting just a few images from your work can be painful, since you'll have to leave some of your favorite photographs out.
For America Untitled, I curated three different collections from more than 2,500 images: an exhibition of 15, one of 30 and one of 46. I choose which one to exhibit depending on the space I get.
46 images out of 2,500. Believe, it hurt to leave so many out!
Looking for a gallery
This can be the hardest part.
You could rent your own place, but it's likely you'd have to sit there for as long as the exhibition is in display. This is far from ideal and probably unrealistic.
Some galleries will host and staff the exhibition, but as you can imagine, that might cost you some big $$$.
If this is your first time hosting an exhibition, it might be very hard to even get the attention of galleries at all.
The easier way is to ask at local cafes, restaurants, or public spaces like cultural centers.
America Untitled was exhibited in a cultural center, and the other two upcoming exhibits will be hosted in another cultural center and in a coffee shop.
Email and social media is a good way to reach out to these places, but sometimes you'll have to place a call or even more old school, visit the location. I printed a portfolio with the images from the exhibition and brought it with me when I visited these places.
Choosing the size of the print
This might be the first time you print these images. In this case, you have to choose a size that will respect your vision when you made them.
Try not to use many different sizes for your images. One bigger panorama fits just fine among other smaller, same size prints. A different size for every print does not.
All the images in America Untitled are printed at 6x6, the same way I sell them. This is because I made them with that size in mind.
Printing your images
Darkroom nerd? Then you'll have to either print your images at home or rent a darkroom somewhere. High schools and other places still rent them, but they are getting harder to find.
Inkjet printing? You can do it at home if you have a nice printer, or go to a professional lab.
For America Untitled, I went to a professional lab where I was able to look at the images on different papers and to do some corrections.
I paid around 3 euros per image, or 140 euros total for the 46 images.
Matting and framing your images
The framing and the matting are very important, and you might need to test different combinations until you find the one that best portraits your images.
If you are displaying a lot of photographs, this can get really expensive, really quick. A custom frame isn't cheap.
For my first exhibition of America Untitled, I had to frame 30 images. I asked at a local framing store and they gave me a price of $30 per frame, or a total of $900. That was much more than I was willing to pay for the frames.
Problem is, I wanted square frames and they aren't the easiest to find. When I finally found one I liked in Ikea, it was available in silver only, and not the black I wanted. The black model was out of stock and wasn't expected to be back on sale for months.
I bought 30 of those silver frames for $9 each and brought them to a paint store where I had them painted black. The result was fantastic! They charged me $2 per frame for a total of $11 each, or $330 for all of them.
The quality wasn't as high as the custom frames, and it wasn't exactly what I wanted, but $330 vs $900 is a huge difference.
Of course, this might not be acceptable at an upscale gallery -although they might not even notice the Ikea frames. Still a great option for a more affordable exhibition.
Setting up the exhibition
Once you frame the images, you need to protect and pack them so you can bring them to the exhibition space without doing any damage. I used the original packaging from the frames to protect them while moving them.
You will need to set up the exhibition ahead of the opening date, of course. They might ask you to do it the day before, or earlier. Give yourself some time just in case you forgot something, or there's an unexpected problem.
America Untitled was set up the day before the exhibition, and it took me a couple of hours.
Something I had forgotten that day, though, was to bring the labels with information about each image. I had to go over there the day of the opening a little bit earlier to set them up.
The little details
I strongly recommend to have something visitors can take home with them. It can be some flyers with information about the exhibition or something similar. At the very least, leave some business cards with your email and website.
For America Untitled, I printed a couple hundred of flyers with some context about the images that were on display, and some information about the photographer (me!). Of course, I included my email, website and social media accounts.
No detail is too small: I brought with me some medium format film to show and explain people how those images were made, as well as my Bronica. And a copy of my first book, Went West!
Promoting it online and offline
Use all you've got to promote your exhibition. It is possible that none of your fans, readers or followers live anywhere close to the location, but they will want to know about it and see what it looks like.
Remember: this is as much about having people over as building that resume.
That being said, you took the time and effort to show your work, so be sure to promote it among people that can actually make it to the opening.
I was lucky to have the cultural center helping me on this. They sent press releases to local newspapers and printed some posters (that I designed) to hang all over town. They also used social medial.
It's finally here! After all the time and money spent, you are about to show your work. Yes, you will need to socialize, talk to, and mostly entertain people, but this is the easy part. You can finally relax.
Having some food is probably a good idea, or a local musician.
In my case, a councillor from the town came to the exhibition and introduced me to the people who showed up. The local TV was also there recording all of this, they even interviewed me for a little segment in their programming.
The viewing period
Your exhibition could last a few days, or a few weeks.
Unless you are renting your own space, you won't have to be there all the time. People in charge of the space will take care of this.
It's a good idea to show up every once in a while, though. Maybe you can let the space know you'll be at the exhibition once a week for a few hours, so visitors know when they can meet and talk to the artist.
Conclusion and things to improve
Hosting an exhibition was a lot of fun, and I can't wait for the next two. I will also be looking for more spaces to show America Untitled in even more towns.
I also learned a lot of things about photography. I realized how far it can go beyond the print, and how important and rewarding showing our work can be.
There's room for improvements as well:
- I made the mistake of not having a guestbook, where people can leave their names, email addresses and what not.
- An improved flyer, maybe even a booklet instead, showing more of the images that didn't make it to the exhibition.
- I really want to try something more special: a tablet loaded with all my YouTube videos playing them in loop. I think it'd be very cool to see a video of me making the image you were staring at a few seconds ago.
- Lastly, insurance. I didn't have any this time, but I might in the future. The cost of frames and images was close to 500 euros, and if I add the tablet to the exhibition, it could increase even more.
I hope this post has helped anyone thinking about showing their work in an exhibition. There are many ways to do it, and the sky is the limit when it comes to spending money.
Don't hesitate to ask me if you have any questions (leave a comment or contact me, and let me know about your experiences showing your work!
I uploaded a video talking about this topic, and showing some footage of my exhibition.
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