Print Your Work – Join an Exhibition

Photographs need to be printed to live and breathe. In the current world of pixels, screens, and social media, it is easy to forget this. Printing a photograph changes the way I feel about it.

Exhibitions are a fantastically rewarding way to achieve this. Entering an exhibition gives you compelling deadlines and commitments you have to meet – unlike just randomly popping things up on your social stream.

Why enter an exhibition?

1. Learn to curate

Everyone seems to go through a curve. The excitement of discovering a new interest gets a little much for some people. New photographers pick up a couple of compositional tools and the images improve rapidly. Everything looks great compared to their previous work. The result? They post “mad stacks” of images up on their feeds. The rapid improvement in their ability to compose a shot is not matched by a development in their inner critical voice that enables tight evaluation and curation.

It is probably better to not be too critical early on!

Over time, the photographer usually spends some time checking out other people’s work, and images from the masters. This brings a more realistic view of their work – I found that for the first few years, I was posting multiple images every week – often twenty or thirty images… I was so excited with my new interest, and the creative growth I could see happening.

Ten or so years later, only a very limited number of images make the cut. Out of a hundred shutter clicks, maybe fifteen make the short list, and three to five make it into a final “collection”. I am much more competent now at evaluating my own images critically, without getting “down” on myself.

Learning to curate is essential to your growth. Participating in an exhibition will provide you with a masterclass in the subject! Limited space means you have to make choices. You need a selection criteria – are you going to select images based on your own preferences, or number of “likes” from your social followers? I find that they are often two different sets of images!

Having to select only ten or twenty images for an exhibition is a great way to look back over your work, enjoy it again, and then identify your best.

2. An Excuse to Print and Frame

Anyone who has participated in an exhibition will tell you – most of your stuff is NOT going to sell, so most of what you print and frame is going to end up on your walls at home. Getting your work up at home is surprisingly rewarding. I have fourteen framed or mounted prints up in our hallway at home, and another ten or so in storage, which I rotate onto the walls from time to time.

Seeing them up on the wall gives me a little rush of satisfaction every time I walk past them – which in turn, motivates me to get out and shoot some more. A virtuous loop… So, entering an exhibition is really just an opportunity for me to get some more stuff framed and hung at home!

3. Personal Motivation

Preparing for an exhibition is a massive amount of work. Pulling together a final set of images, getting them printed, framed, hanging them at the gallery, and so on. Most exhibitions are organised by collectives of people who are not professional photographers, so there is usually some commitment to help as part of participating. Even just getting five heavy, framed prints from your car to the gallery is a hassle!

Once everything is hung, and opening night starts, all the organisational shenanigans are worth it. It is fun to tell friends and family you have an exhibition coming up. It’s pretty cool when you are asked at work what you have on this weekend, and you can respond that you are in an exhibition. It’s pretty special…

Talking with other like minded photographers, and checking out their work can help build your own skills and motivation.

Just walking around and seeing people admiring your images is a great validation of all the kilometres most street photographers tread each year, looking for their own decisive moments.

I have just entered the 2017 SITHOM Shot in the Heart of Melbourne street photography exhibition. I reviewed the 2015 event and was pretty impressed with the standard of work. I haven’t participated in an exhibition for a few years, so it is time to get back on the horse. Why else would I take photographs except to print and show them?

Interested in reading more about exhibitions?

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