Putting on an Exhibition of Your Photography

Putting on an Exhibition of Your Photography

So you’re ready to show your work to the world—how exciting! Putting on an exhibition of your own can be a daunting task, and it can be hard to know where to start. Many of the details may vary depending on your particular situation; where the show is being held or whether you or somebody from the venue is responsible for installing the work to name a couple. This article won’t be an exact how-to guide for everyone. We will however cover most of the important things to think through when you’re putting on a show of your work.

Location

Finding a venue for your show might be the hardest part of the whole process. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have had someone ask to show your work in his or her gallery or business. For everyone else, it can be a matter of networking and timing, and you’ll have to do the hard work of reaching out to people and asking if they’ll let you hang a show in their space. Research local coffee shops, restaurants, bars, libraries, and community centers that display art, and inquire about their process for choosing work to display. Each situation will be different, and sometimes you’ll have to pay for use of the space. For example, I displayed my work in the back room of a bar for a one-night event in conjunction with a concert and we paid a fee for renting the room. Be upfront with business owners about what you need. Be sure to talk it through with the venue if you plan on selling the work and figure out whether they will get a cut of the sales.

Once someone has agreed to let you put on your show on their walls, think about whether the logistical aspects of the space will suit your needs.

Consider:

  • The amount of space available for displaying work, both horizontal and vertical, and how your work will fit in it.
  • What types of surfaces you will be hanging on. This is very important, as it will effect your options for how to hang your work. Will you be able to use tacks without damaging the surface? Will you be able to use screws and repair the surface? Will you be able to use 3M strips, and how well will they stick?
  • Is there anything in the way of the hanging space, such as wall-mounted fixtures, signs, or architectural elements?
  • What is the lighting situation, and is it adjustable? How well will your work be illuminated?
  • Vantage points. How well will your photos be seen from different positions in the venue?
  • Take photos of the venue that will make these considerations clear. Take measurements of the space available for displaying work. Make sketches of how your work might be positioned on the walls.

Working with the logistics of somebody else’s space can be tricky, especially when it isn’t designed for the purpose of displaying art. You’ll need to decide what factors will be deal-breakers, and what you need to let go, even if it’s not ideal, and work the best you can with what’s available.

Printing, Mounting, and Framing

If you don’t already have your photos printed, mounted, and/or framed, consider the suggestions below as well as the amount of wall space and wall surfaces you are working with as you decide how big you want to print your photos and how you want to hang them. Once you’ve decided, contact local art printing shops for rates.

Alternatives to Framing

While displaying your photos in frames will yield some of the most polished results, having each of your photos framed can quickly become expensive, especially if your prints are large. At a certain size, you may also need to get your photos mounted, which will add to the cost. Hanging framed photos will likely require hardware such as screws or nails, which may or may not be an option for you depending on the venue.

Mounting on Foam-Core
For budget-friendly alternatives to framing, consider mounting your photos on foam-core, using repositionable (temporary) adhesives such as 3M strips or squares to hang them. To mount your photos, you’ll need a piece of foam-core larger than the photo, a can of photo-safe spray adhesive, an x-acto knife, a heavy ruler or straightedge, a microfiber cloth, and kraft paper, old cardboard, or something else to protect your work surface (you’ll need to throw this out after every photo you mount, so make sure you have one for each photo), and a scrap piece of foam-core to place under the foam-core as you cut. Make sure you print each of your photos with an extra border for trimming, at least 2 inches on each side.

 

Instructions for mounting your photos to foam-core:

  1. On a covered and well-ventilated work surface, place photo facedown. Follow the directions on the spray-adhesive can to lightly coat the back of the photo with adhesive.
  2. Working quickly, carefully lift the photo by its corners, trying not to touch the adhesive with your fingers, and place it sticky-side down on a piece of foam core. Use the microfiber cloth to gently smooth out any air bubbles, taking care not to leave fingerprints on the surface of the photo. Let the adhesive dry.
  3. Place the scrap piece of foam-core under the foam-core with the photo adhered to it. Using your ruler or straightedge as a guide, carefully trim off the excess foam-core and paper around the edges. Several light, repeated strokes with the blade result in a cleaner cut than trying to cut through the foam-core all at once.
Hanging your photos, unframed and unmounted, using tacks
If you don’t want to put holes in your prints, hang them from binder clips attached to tacks or a wire, string, or cable strung horizontally across the wall

Before you start hanging, you should also spend some time thinking about how you want your photos to be arranged. Think about sequencing (how to order your photos so they tell a story), and make thoughtful use of negative space.

These tips should help you navigate the process of putting together an exhibition of your work. Congratulations and good luck!

 

About the Author Angelina Lin received her formal photography training at Williams College, an alma mater that recently awarded her a $25,000 grant for her photography career. Her training focused on black and white film photography (35 mm and large format), digital photography, and the human image. She is currently working for Aperture Foundation, one of the foremost publishers of photography, where she recently contributed to the selection of this year's Portfolio Prize winner.


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