If you saw my previous blog post, then you know I’m part of an exhibit that opened recently at the G2 Gallery in Venice, California–a duet, if you will; I’m one of two featured photographers in their annual “Emerging” exhibit, along with gifted wildlife photographer Susan McConnell. I’ll be featuring an interview with Susan here in the next few weeks, by the way–stay tuned for her great insights on wildlife photography.
I’ve previously had images that were part of bigger exhibits–the biennial International Conservation Photography Awards (where I won first place, landscape) and the annual multi-genre Yosemite Renaissance, among others. If you’re an artist, be it a photographer or in any other medium, there’s no better thrill than walking into a gallery and seeing one or more of your pieces on display, especially when you’re surrounded by incredible works from other artists. But having 13 pieces up as a co-exhibitor in a show is quite a different experience. It has been daunting, stressful (in the BEST possible way), thrilling, enlightening, and an experience I am honored to have had.
Several photography contacts have emailed me over the last few weeks asking how I had my work chosen for the show–in this case, it’s a juried exhibition for which I submitted a sample of my work, along with a detailed written application and photography resume. For what it’s worth, I was completely surprised when I found out I’d been chosen as one of the two artists in the exhibit–no matter how much confidence you have in your work, these things are highly subjective, and take into consideration everything from the jurors’ personal taste to the individual gallery’s style. For anybody who has an interest in being part of something like this: SUBMIT YOUR WORK. Do so often. Ask for feedback when possible. The practice is good for you, and you never know when your work is going to (finally) catch a curator’s eye. I’m still pretty much a neophyte at full-blown gallery exhibits myself, so I’ll just encourage you to do what I did–in addition to submitting often, do your research (on galleries, on juried shows, anything you can think of). Keep working to improve your portfolio. Don’t give up–as cliched as that sounds, you really can’t give up if you want to achieve something like this. Get constructive critical feedback whenever possible, whether it’s through a reputable online forum or during a portfolio review session at a conference or one-on-one with someone you seek out (and pay) for a portfolio review. Get your work in front of as many educated and critical eyes as possible, and then pay attention to the feedback.
It won’t always be helpful–my very first portfolio review a few years ago was at a conference with a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer. The extent of the review was “I don’t really do landscapes, I don’t know anything about conservation photography, but you should put more people in your photos.” If you’re at all familiar with what I shoot, that was disappointing, unhelpful advice. But she wasn’t entirely wrong, either–I have a handful (just a bare, bare handful) of photos where I have included people when it helps the image better tell a story. Seek feedback, and listen.
So, you find out some of your work will be featured in an exhibit–what next? In my case, because it’s expensive to print and frame 13 images, I opted to do almost everything myself. Not only did this save me some money (and thank goodness for my college photojournalism professor who insisted we all learn how to dry mount our pics), it also gave the exhibit prep an up-close-and-personal element I hadn’t counted on. I had my images printed by a printing house I was comfortable with and had worked with before, then ordered frame pieces, dry mount tissue, mats and acrylic, and spent two full days mounting, matting and framing everything. I spent more up-close, meditative time with those 13 images than I have with any other images of mine, and everything gradually became much more personal to me. This wasn’t just an assortment of my better work, these were memories and experiences that mean a great deal to me: the heart-shaped lightning bolt image that taught me to never, ever overlook an opportunity to shoot (it was taken from the 31st floor of the Paris hotel in Vegas, looking south at an active thunderstorm); the stormy sunrise at Moeraki, New Zealand I shared with a dear friend; the surreal lone oak that was the only thing to shoot when I was originally out looking for wildflowers to photograph; the annular eclipse over Wukoki Pueblo in Arizona that was both my most researched and pre-visualized image and also an almost overwhelming astronomical phenomenon to witness in person. Those 13 pieces are a nice summary of my life for the last few years–moments I’ll never forget; some of them deeply personal, some of them unimaginable encounters with light, all of them mileposts of my ongoing photography education.
I also learned something about my “eye” as a photographer that I hadn’t previously been aware of–and for that, G2’s curator, Jolene Hanson, has my deep gratitude. When I go out shooting, I always try to come home with something good, and something interesting. I can endlessly scrutinize an image while working in the digital darkroom, thinking of what works and what could be better. I study other photographers’ work to think about different ways to work with light and composition. But I hadn’t given too much thought to my own particular style. After being chosen for Emerging VI, Jolene asked me to send 30 or so images for her to choose from for the show. I sent what I thought was a good representation of my work, my best images, a variety of compositions. In studying the 13 images she chose for the show, I “got” her approach. Very few (really, only two) conventional landscape comps (wide angle, down low, near-far perspective). All could be described as “moody” (in a good way, I hope). Light and/or atmospheric conditions were the primary subject in most of the pics. She had narrowed down to what my dominant style is–something I’d never really considered before. It’s easy to feel somewhat abashed when you realize “oh–yeah, that IS mostly what I shoot.” A “duh” moment. But it also helped me to understand my creative subconscious (for lack of a better word), and what the common themes are that seem to come up in my work more than others.
All of this rambling is mostly to say this has been an extraordinarily educational experience. I’ve learned far more about myself as a photographer in the last two months than I have in the last five years. I am deeply grateful for the experience–and more excited about photography than ever.