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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Art Of Exhibition

Putting your work on display, whether in a gallery, museum, local coffeehouse or your living room, is a rewarding opportunity to tell a visual story

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Fredric Roberts

You’ve been shooting for awhile and have perfected your printing, so now it’s time to step back and really look at what you’ve created. When you have a body of work that you feel good about, it’s time to think about presenting your photographs to outside eyes. Whether you decide to present your work as an exhibition or a portfolio, there are a number of choices to be made. What to display? Should the exhibition be an overview of work you’ve shot or should it tell a single story?

Photographer Fredric Roberts’ Humanitas exhibition and companion books, Humanitas and Humanitas II, demonstrate the steps a photographer takes in the creation of a coherent and dynamic presentation. With Humanitas II, Roberts moved away from film to shooting digitally. After a month-long shoot in India, he had 3,500 images. Every night after shooting he downloaded the day’s work onto a laptop computer, and as a precaution, backed up the work onto four separate hard drives. At this point, he did a preliminary edit, deleting any obvious mistakes or bad shots.

Fredric Roberts
On the plane ride home, he began the next stage of editing, separating out anything he didn’t want or like. The rest of the work was organized and labeled based on location, events or subject. For Roberts, it was important to move through the remaining work quickly and flag the imagesthat he wanted for a more thorough selection process. This brought the number to 1,500images. The process was repeated again and again. At this point, Roberts turned the work over to curator Deborah Willis. He was ready for professional input to create the final grouping.

The curator did the final edit, working with 875 photographs to select the final 144 for the book and 26 images for the exhibition. From 3,500 to 26 final photographs, this emphasizes the importance of choosing the best work to tell the story.


The single most important step after making an image is editing. Choosing photographs to exhibit or to include in your portfolio is as challenging as making the image. The starting point for curating an exhibition of your work is editing your body of work. You may be a great photographer, but no one wants to see every image you’ve shot.

Fredric Roberts
Editing is the opportunity to reflect on what you’ve photographed, to select images that are the strongest and the best at telling the visual story that you’ll be presenting. Decide on the concept you want to present. If you take a thematic approach, begin by laying out the work that best fits the idea. If it’s a broad theme, such as nature, it helps to group the work into sections. It makes a stronger presentation to sort the photographs that deal with similar subject matter. This allows for a more thoughtful approach rather than including one of everything you’ve ever done.

As they say in real estate, location, location, location. Where you’re exhibiting your work will determine the number of photographs in the final selection and how you’ll lay out the work. If it’s a gallery exhibition, there will be more wall space than you might have in your living room. But before you finalize the number of photographs that will be displayed, you need to take into account the size of the mats that will be used.


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