Pictures At An Exhibition – Thoughts on my first “big” gallery exhibit

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.G2 Exhibit

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.  Frames Pieces and White Gloves

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.  Mounting & Matting

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.

7 thoughts on “Pictures At An Exhibition – Thoughts on my first “big” gallery exhibit

  1. G Dan Mitchell

    Congratulations on your show, Robin. And thanks for sharing your thoughts about the experience. As I read this, a few things came to mind:

    For me, there is one thrill greater than seeing my own work hung in a show – though that is certainly a gratifying thing and I enjoy it. As you know, people respond to our work in all sorts of ways. Many give it a casual glance, some walk past with a drink in hand while talking to someone about something else entirely, some think it is “nice,” and some are very interested in talking and finding out more. All of these are fine and part of the process. But there is one sort of response that still hits me quite powerfully. Every so often a person will “see” a photograph in a way that moves them deeply and may almost overwhelm them. There is no logical explanation for when or why it happens, but when it does I/you know right away. A few times I’ve watched a person look at a photograph of mine and literally become speechless and clearly be moved in a way that I did not expect and which surprises me with its intensity. When I see this – and it is not at all among the common reactions – I’m reminded about how serious this stuff is and about the potential it has to profoundly move people.

    Your comment about understanding your “style” makes a lot of sense to me, too. If you are like me, you don’t consciously think about a style when shooting, but each of us seems to have one. (I often say that in some ways we are the people least equipped to really understand our own work, since we are too close to its creation.) Eventually, as I heard people talk about my photographs I began to hear some patterns in what they said – and these patterns helped me become much more aware of how people see my work and what they see in it. (Even more powerful are those rare occasions when you encounter your own work, perhaps an old work that you haven’t looked at for a while, and briefly see it as simply “a photograph,” and not immediately as your own.)

    And finally, your article reminds us that this is work – hard work! Not just the photography, but selecting, printing, mounting, and organizing photographs. I’ll be honest… I love photographing and I love the post-production work, and I really love printing. But I do not enjoy mounting and framing prints! But it is part of the process, and there is something wonderful about seeing the results of a process that I/you managed at every stage.

    Again, congratulations on your show!

    Dan

  2. Edie Howe

    Robin, I am so damn proud of you I could burst! Not that I have any logical right to be, mind you, but I still am deeply proud of you.

    I’ve watched your work for several years now, and am always amazed at your talent for finding the right spot at the right time. You rock.

    I know exactly what Dan is talking about: I’ve often stared at my computer screen in utter awe and fascination at one of your shots. They do move *me*.

    *hugs*

    Keep going, Robin! I know you’ve got WAY more stunners in you!
    Love,
    Edie

  3. Rachel Cohen

    Congratulations Robin, and thanks for sharing your experience! I love your insights, and the up close and personal feelings you were able to get with your images. Best wishes now and always! 🙂
    Rachel

  4. Josh Meier

    Robin, I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoy and how much inspiration I take getting lost in your beautiful work. Thank you for sharing this behind the scenes glimpse of your gallery experience. As someone who is just a novice trying to break into the field, I honestly haven’t a clue how some of this works; so it’s nice to be able to read your insights, and to think and dream of someday…
    Congratulations on your G2 selection. You’re certainly very deserving of this honor, and I hope the exhibit is a great success!

  5. Wesley Picotte

    Robin, first, congrats. What a treat and honor to have your work singled out in this fashion.

    Your final comments on style prompted this comment…what a powerful insight to take from the experience. I hope it’s something you can build on, and also just want to acknowledge the elusive nature of “style”. I like how Dan put it — the reward comes when an artist’s hard work strikes a chord.

    Best,
    Wesley

  6. Robin Post author

    Thanks SO very much for all your kind comments.

    Dan, you are indeed correct that having an image affect someone IS a bigger thrill.

    Edie, love ya!! You are too sweet & I hope you’re having a wonderful time in my birth state this winter. We may be passing through around Christmas; if we do, I’ll let you know.

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