Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Exhibition Thoughts

The time has come to start thinking about the end of year exhibition. As part of our university course we are required to have a group exhibition with the culmination of two years worth of experience and work from our specialist practice  whatever that may be. There are a few obstacles, funding being a major one and combining the different styles of photography to form a successful exhibition. I found the following information from the YPA (Young Photographers Aliance) website a useful starting point. . .

  • " How do I find a gallery that is suitable for my work?

Do your research. More and more contemporary galleries include photography in their roster, so look for possibilities where you think your style will fit into the gallery's ethos. Many galleries have regular talks and events and this is a good way to find out more about a gallery.
It is also a good idea to investigate current trends in both the market and individual galleries by visiting a wide range of galliers. You should also consider going to major art fairs such as Paris Photo, London Frieze or Art Basle. Look at the framing, editions, styles, but please resist the temptation of approaching gallerists with your work at these events. Galleries will have invested thousands of pounds, if not tens of thousands, to be at the fair and they only want to talk to potential buyers...
  • Okay, so how do I approach a gallery?
Before you approach a gallery, it is important that you have a cohesive set of work to show and that you know your target market (by having done considerable research first - see above.
Once you are confident with your of work and you have identified a list of galleries you want to approach, go to their websites and look for their submission guidelines. Every gallery will have different guidelines. If they do not have guidelines on their site then email and request them. Then follow them to the letter. They normally ask for a series of jpegs, medium/edition/prices of the prints, a CV and your website details. A good professional looking website at this point is also important as it validates your submission.
It's worth bearing in mind that two most important people within a gallery will be the gallery owner (who is often also the curator) and the Gallery Manager (who handles all of the logistics). These are the two people who drive the sales within a gallery and therefore are also responsible for the sourcing of new work. It's important to remember that if you are making an unsolicited submission, it is vital that you follow the electronic submission guidelines on the gallery website. Do not simply turn up to a gallery with your portfolio – in this circumstance you would be asked to leave it for the Gallery Manager to view later (which might take months) and it's not uncommon for folios to "go missing".
Once you have done everything the gallery requires, then you will have to wait. Some only look at submissions every six months (Aperture in New York is one of these), and few will look more frequently than monthly. Remember that if you follow the gallery's protocol, you are more likely to have your work seen within a reasonable time frame (although do expect it to take several weeks to several months). Patience really is vital.
  • What do galleries look for when taking on a photographer and/or body of work?
In many cases galleries source their work from other galleries. It is not uncommon for galleries to loan work to one another - traditionally, the original holder of the artwork will take a reduced commission (such as 20% although this is variable by artist) and the remainder will be split between the photographer and the vendor. Many galleries also collect new work at art fairs such as Paris Photo or Art Basel. However, your work can only be shown in these locations if you already have gallery representation. Entrants into the marketplace are also pulled occasionally from student shows at reputable schools such as the Royal College of Art. The remainder are drawn from the gallery owner's private network or through ad hoc submissions.
  • How many shows do most galleries have a year? How many are by a single photographer?
Galleries will typically have between 6-12 shows annually and they are often planned more than a year in advance. These shows might be a combination of both individual and group exhibitions. The amount a gallery focuses on an individual photographer will depend entirely on the whim of the curator and the access the gallery has to saleable artists or capital (in the case of vintage prints which must be purchased outright).
Art Fairs are often considered as important, if not more, than gallery shows, both for reputation and sales. A good opening night at a gallery in London may attract 150 people. If the show is open a further month maybe 500-1000 more will see the work. At Paris Photo in four days over 50,000 will have the opportunity and this audience will include collectors from all over the globe.


  • Try to find galleries that match your style.
  • Research galleries by going to lots of galleries and art fairs.
  • Add your name to gallery / museum mailing lists to keep abreast of their talks, shows, and events.
  • Be professional in your approach and presentation.
  • Do not just show up at a gallery with a folio. Follow the gallery's submission guidelines.
  • Be patient when waiting to hear back from a gallery regarding a submission. Most will take months to get back to you.
  • Being on the books of a gallery does not guarantee you will ever be in a show. Your work may be held within the collection and shown to individual clients who indicate a preference for your style or your subject matter. Do not hound the Gallery Manager regarding your sales. The best way to attract the Gallery Manager's attention is to continually create new work and new publicity. Securing a book deal or additional press coverage of your images makes it easier for the gallery to sell.
  • Make sure you know the terms of your agreement with the gallery. All agreements should be in writing.
  • Research size/edition/price policies.
  • Be very careful about editioning your prints early in your career." 

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