Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

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Where can you find a good place to set up a photo exhibition, and how do you go about getting accepted into that exhibition?

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One obvious way are local coffeeshops. This may not be the style of exhibition you are looking for, but it is: easy to set up, easy to get accepted, and gives a fair amount of exposure. There are some downsides: the prices for prints should be lower to appeal to the market, the work is in danger(could be bumped, touched, espresso splatter), the environment is not dedicated to appreciation of your work, and the shop may restrict certain aspects of your display(subject, size, arrangement, number). These things considered, this is one option. Other varients are restaurants and small theaters. –  BBischof Feb 6 '11 at 19:04
    
Another easy one is local photo contests. Usually you can only hang a few, but at least in my area there are two or three contests per year that let you hang up to three shots in an actual photo museum for the term of the contest. This is far from ideal, but it is a way to get some exposure, and you may even win! I was even fortunate to have one shot selected for their permanent collection after the contest, so there are definitely some benefits! –  BBischof Feb 6 '11 at 19:11
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@BBischof — that looks like it should be an answer, not just a comment. –  mattdm Feb 7 '11 at 19:49
    
I don't know, maybe. It seems a bit half baked and insufficient for such an important question. Of course I am not opposed to this being an answer. Just let me know. –  BBischof Feb 7 '11 at 20:58
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@JayLancePhotography: Quite frankly, I'll take either. I'd just like to find a way to actually sell some of my prints at an exhibition of some sort. Even if it's simply a display at a local store, it's better than nothing. –  PearsonArtPhoto Feb 8 '11 at 13:24
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5 Answers 5

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Answer from Comments:

Local Business One obvious way are local coffeeshops. This may not be the style of exhibition you are looking for, but it is:

  1. Easy to set up
  2. Easy to get accepted
  3. Gives a fair amount of exposure
  4. Flexible pricing.

for these reasons, I think a coffeeshop makes a good first exhibition. It gives you needed practice without too much stress.

That being said, there are some disadvantages:

  1. Prices should be lower to appeal to the market
  2. The work is in danger(could be bumped, touched, or splattered with espresso)
  3. The environment is not ideal for viewing artwork, in particular because people's primary purpose for being there is not to view the art.
  4. Sometimes they will want to restrict the display(subject matter, size, arrangement, number, etc.)

but if this sounds ok to you, I think its a good option. Also keep in mind restaurants and small theaters.

Local Photo Contests

Another easy one is local photo contests. Usually you can only hang a few, but at least in my area there are two or three contests per year that let you hang up to three shots in an actual photo museum for the term of the contest. This is far from ideal, but it is a way to get some exposure, and you may even win! I was even fortunate to have one shot selected for their permanent collection after the contest, so there are definitely some benefits to entering.

Good Luck with your potential exhibition.

Disclaimer People seemed to be pretty please with the comments, so I though I had might as well add it.

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The first thing to do is to think whether you want to do this as a commercial activity, or just for the joy of sharing your images.

If you're wanting to sell the images, then you need to think about marketing, which means having a pitch with a portfolio to show to prospective venues -- it's then a case of legwork of visiting your local friendly galleries, cafés, restaurants, etc. It's worth investigating each venue first to see if they share common goals (for example, do they prefer contemporary works, or do they prefer something more generic?). Be prepared and consider issues such as managing stock, and commission levels that you're willing to give to the venue.

If you're more interested in exhibiting for the fun of it, then it may be worth taking your portfolio along and approaching more cultural locations such as libraries or tourist information centres; If you group together with others in your area, there is the chance to hire a venue such as a town hall to run an exhibition yourself in the guise as a photography club (there was even the idea of there being an exhibition organised by this site at one point).

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One aspect of exhibits that I don't really see represented in the current answers is the concept of exhibits used for advertising and marketing. This is the cornerstone of my retail business and so I wanted to mention it briefly (even though it appears that your gig is selling prints as opposed to selling sessions). Hopefully it will help someone whose bread and butter is more in the portrait space than the landscape art space...

At any one time in the city I live in I generally have between 5 and 10 displays set up at various locations around town. The displays consist of 3 or 4 pieces of my work, sized large (24x36 canvas wraps generally) framed and placed on easels... In addition I leave a stack of 'take away' brochures with all my information. The pieces aren't for sale at all, they're simply to attract attention, get people thinking about photography, and hopefully contacting me to set up a session (or at least ask more about what we do, which opens up the sales dialog...)

The size of the work is really important... The old adage of 'you sell what you show' is really true, but also it's a 'natural selection' move... If a person views my work and has no need (or can't afford) my large pieces they're less likely to call... Which means that a large chunk of my customers are 'pre-screened' before they even pick up the phone. Of course I also have a screening process during the initial call, but I get far fewer radically under-qualified solicitations this way.

Getting the first display placed was the hardest part for me... Once I had the first one I used that as a building point when pitching to the next location "I just placed a 1 month exhibit at XYZ Restaurant across town and they've been raving about it ever since." A surprisingly large number of establishments would love to have your work up... for a while. When I approach businesses I will often 'trade' a portrait session for the owner in exchange for one month of putting a few pictures in his/her entryway... These 'foot in the door' deals often lead to longer engagements for me because I rotate the work around so it's not always the same pictures for months on end, and because the work lends to the atmosphere. Getting into public spaces is even easier... Most locations have offices of public affairs, public relations departments, etc. They are often just itching to have works to show off...

Now in terms of who to approach, my strategy is to place it in upscale locations around town... Chamber of Commerce, City Hall, High end restaurants, hospitals (this was a huge find for me... You wouldn't believe how many doctors I have coming through my door because I set up displays in all 4 of my cities hospitals...), doctor's offices, libraries in 'upscale' neighborhoods... In fact, just about anything in upscale neighborhoods works. Again, this is a 'screening' action... I want as many people as possible who pick up the phone to be able to afford what I sell, and I want them to already be predisposed to purchase what I'm selling (because the last thing I want to do is sell 5x7s).

I can tell you that far and away this generates more business for me than anything else I do in the retail space... And at most it costs me a handful of portrait sessions given away to business owners every year. If I had to give up every form of marketing and advertising that I do except one, this would be the one I'd hold onto (yes, even above the internet).

Anyway, that's the 'nutshell' of my exhibit marketing strategy.

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Great stuff here! –  BBischof Feb 17 '11 at 7:30
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I would totally agree with Rowland Shaw (above), but I would also add to check out markets and the like also. For example, every month is an arts & craft markets in my town, and it makes a good 'springboard' as it lets you get a feel for setting up for an exhibition. Essentially, it is all identical but on a smaller and slightly more informal scale. A market stall is more about experience.

After starting there, I would then look into any small exhibiton space. Do you have a TAFE, university or arts colledge nearby? They often have small exhibition spaces that they use for their students' end-of-year works, but are often hired out. It's also often far cheaper than a specialised space.

Once you have tried both of those, by all means, jump into a full space! Bring a portfolio (actually, you probably should have for the TAFE/Uni etc. above, too) and let them know what you are capable of bringing to show. They want something that will send crowd away in a good mood talking good things both about you and their space. This is the important(ish) thing. Your exhibition will be a representation of their space. Don't do something controversial in a nun covenant's art exhibition hall. (If you were thinking of that :P)

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Tractors and Farm Equipment? –  mattdm Feb 9 '11 at 2:28
    
What's a "TAFE"? –  Rowland Shaw Feb 10 '11 at 8:55
    
Ah, TAFE is "Technical And Further Education". It's tertiary education, but more focussed on trades and practical studies than a university. (My bad.) –  nchpmn Feb 10 '11 at 21:52
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Rowland has some great points about things to consider before going into a potential venue, I just want to add another one to consider that I think a lot of people forget about: local furniture stores. Quite often they have large wall spaces in demo rooms setup with couches, chairs, tables, etc trying to make a faux living room or dinning room etc. Quite often they will have some tacky over priced bulk corporate "art" they bought site unseen from a catalog. They might well be very willing to either take some of your pieces on consignment, or just buy some prints outright for resale.

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