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by Andy McInroy
Time to Exhibit
Exhibiting your photographs to a public audience can be a rewarding experience. I would urge every photographer to try it at least once. Hosting an exhibition provides an excellent opportunity to get face to face feedback on your photography which can stimulate new ideas and techniques. Although exhibiting photographs on the web can be a good way to reach a wide audience, it provides a very limited viewing experience. Exhibiting a coherent portfolio of real prints in a real venue is one of the most satisfying ways to share your work. This month I'll share some of my own experiences and provide suggestions for those thinking of giving it a go.
The idea of hosting an exhibition can be a daunting prospect. However, with good planning and preparation it is easier than you might think. The first thing to consider is whether to go it alone or alternatively join some like-minded photographers to hold a joint exhibition. A joint exhibition can be an ideal way to get started and this will reduce the stress of the preparation which should not be underestimated. If joining forces, you need to consider whether your work compliments that of your fellow exhibitors and whether the theme of the exhibition fits comfortably with your own work. If you are going it alone, you will have full control over your choice of theme. However, you will still have to sell your ideas (and yourself) to the venue. Then be prepared for some hard work which will need to start several months before the event.
The choice of venue is perhaps the most important consideration when starting to plan an exhibition. Firstly, is it big enough to hold the planned work or will your modestly sized prints get lost on huge walls? Is the exhibition space well lit, ideally with spot lighting? Are there good quality hangers which will save hours of painstaking work with invisible fishing line? Most importantly, who is likely to come to the venue and what support will you receive to get those people through the door of your exhibition? Most good venues will help with publicising your event and might even help you with an opening reception. Venues with regular footfall like libraries and theatres can be an ideal place to start. You should also decide wether to offer your work for sale. Make sure to ask the venue about any charges or commissions and whether they are prepared to handle the sales on your behalf. In my own experience, a photographic exhibition that breaks even is a resounding success. Selling the artwork should certainly not be your primary motivation for holding an exhibition.
My own exhibition this year is themed around my Antrim Cave Project in monochrome. To add some colour to the exhibition, I extended my theme to include secret coves. My working title then became 'The Forgotten Caves and Coves of the Causeway Coast'. I had a clear idea that I wanted to feature photographs of locations that were off the beaten track and rarely visited. It was also important to be able to exhibit these images close to where they were captured. In late 2008 I secured 2009 dates at the Riverside Theatre at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. This turned out to be an excellent venue with helpful support from the staff which made the preparations much easier. The theatre also had plenty of well lit wall-space which would accommodate my 30 framed prints. Another major advantage of the theatre venue was the promise of good footfall from the varied evening performances.
My preparations started back in April when I made my final selection of images and I began printing these at home on my A3 pigment ink printer. Around the same time, I ordered my anti-reflective glass, 40x50cm black wooden frames and white window mounts. At this stage it was also important to develop some early communication with the monthly magazines and radio stations. By mid-summer I began the major task of framing the pieces. This part was mind numbing and repetitive. I paced myself by framing only 3 or 4 prints a day over a period of 10 days. At this stage, I also ordered my flyers and opening reception invitations from the printing company. In the last few weeks it was all hands to the publicity pump with radio interviews and press releases going out to the local papers. All too soon it was hanging day, which ideally should be a day or two before the opening to reduce the stress and give you some insurance against delays. Framed prints were placed against the wall, arranged, rearranged and rearranged again before they finally went up on the hangers. Then, all that remained was a final polish and tidy up before the hordes arrived.
The Forgotten caves and Coves of the Causeway Coast
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Text and photos © Andy McInroy