Inside this issue
Fulfilling a resolution
The ups & downs of putting on an exhibition
The real pleasure of photography is that it forces me to slow down and really look. That’s never easy in our rushed world, so a chance to stop, look and see is truly valuable.
Over time I have become more and more serious about my photography. By which I mean that it is not enough simply to take photographs, I also want to share them with the broader world. Nowadays this is relatively easy. I have a website, I blog regularly, I have tried out multiple social media sites; I am a member of a photography club; I’ve entered and had some success in competitions. And this is all great and enormous fun, but I still didn’t think I had really pushed myself.
And so I made a resolution. I would have an exhibition, display a series of images, and see if I could sell some. What I didn’t realise at the time was how long it would take, how involved the whole process would be, and how time consuming. Nevertheless the exhibition has happened and yesterday I went to the gallery for the last time and took down the pictures. It was a slightly weird moment – I couldn’t quite believe it was all over. But how exhilarating it had been! And what a lot I learned, not just about photography, but about the whole publishing, sales and marketing context in which art exists. I would encourage every photographer to give this a go – it’s a real buzz. Here’s my experience with all its ups and downs – not meant as a guide (I’ve only done it once!) - but simply as a motivation.
The Pitch (18 months out)
My local patch is Epping Forest, where I take a lot of my photographs. Over the years I’ve built up quite a portfolio of forest images, particularly in the autumn when the foliage is at its most glorious. About 2 years ago I visited an area that was new to me – Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, near Chingford. And next door was Epping Forest Visitor Centre – The View. I popped in, and found to my surprise that it had an exhibition room. I knew I had found my venue. Now I just had to persuade The View to let me put on an exhibition.
This is where modern tech can be a great help. I didn’t have to turn up with a huge portfolio box full of images. I just went along with my ipad loaded up with a selection of forest images and asked if I could see the manager. I do remember that my approach was met with a slightly sceptical look – photography still doesn’t quite have the cachet of the painted arts – and I suspect the management thought I was a happy snapper chancing my arm, but the images on the ipad caught management’s attention, showed I was serious, and they said I was in. Then they told me that the waiting list for exhibition space was 14 months! Did I mind waiting until spring 2015? That got me thinking. If it was going to take so long then why not wait a little bit longer so I could time the exhibition with the autumn colour. A nice symbiosis between images and subject.
Secretly I was hoping also that people might already be thinking Christmas, and might be willing to buy pictures as presents… I booked my slot of October 2015, paid the fee, and started to think about which images I wanted to show. Lessons learned: tech opens doors; think long-term.
The marketing (10 months out)
The View’s exhibition calendar needs to go in an event diary for Epping Forest which gets published at the beginning of the year. So by end of 2014 I had to submit some images which could be used for marketing, plus a synopsis of what the show was about. That was all relatively easy - I decided on The Blazing Forest as a title and wrote a short blurb about the type of pictures I was going to show. But broader marketing proved a bit more tricky.
Six months out I contacted all the glossy local event magazines - the ones that get shoved through your door - hoping that they might do an article. Not one of them replied - a complete fail. Picture exhibitions can’t compete with ads about local hairdressers… 2 months out I targeted the local newspapers. Here I had more success. The Chingford Times was interested – loved the pictures, would I do an interview? Of course, I was only too happy. The interview was over the phone, then I had to meet the paper’s photographer for a publicity image. It all turned into a full double page spread with colour images (and a horrific picture of me – for which I blame myself, not the photographer – given that like most other photographers I much prefer being behind rather than in front of the camera). Since then I have dined out on the story that I’ve had a double page spread in the Times – Chingford, that is… That left personal contacts.
Six weeks out I emailed and Facebooked absolutely everyone I could think of who might be even slightly interested, and invited them to come to the exhibition’s opening party. For family, closer friends and colleagues I printed out an exhibition flyer invitation and posted it to them with a hand-written personal message.
Printing, Framing and Pricing (6 weeks out)
This was perhaps the trickiest part of the whole process. How much did I want to charge for the images? That would then have an impact on what I could afford in terms of production costs etc? My over-riding goal was that I wanted to sell enough images to cover my costs. That was my definition of success.