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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Getting Into Galleries

How to catch the eye of a curator and get your work exhibited

Labels: How-To
Hanson says photographers may try to present an image via a portfolio or submission that differs from their broader body of work. This, she notes, won't work because curators immediately examine websites in order to understand the bigger picture of you as an artist.

"You may have sent me literally the only six images you have that fit with our theme," Hanson says. "I need to know what I'm dealing with before making a leap so I go right to your website. The work needs to be cohesive; each portfolio needs to be able to hold up on its own, yet fit together with all the other portfolios on your site. The website needs to be easy to navigate and free of clutter. I see a lot of sites in which an outrageous amount of information is plastered all over the home page and I immediately get a sense of chaos—which does typically then reflect in the portfolios. This can be avoided by editing yourself."

Learning to edit one's work remains a difficult challenge for even the most seasoned professionals. Because we're so close to our own images, we see in them all the effort it took to create them rather than simply the photographs themselves. This makes impartial criticism invaluable when editing a portfolio.

"The image you think is the best," Hanson says, "most likely, it's not. It's very easy to get attached to images for various reasons, but that attachment doesn't mean it's your best image. Even the big-name photographers have fallen into this rabbit hole. This is where photographers need to facilitate a way to get feedback from the outside world.

"Don't rely on your partner's or parents' feedback," she continues. "They love you, but they may not give you the best critique. I recommend to early-career photographers who want to get into print sales to take a booth at the local craft fair or market and work it themselves. Watching how people respond to imagery will tell you a lot about what's hitting and what isn't. Attending portfolio reviews is another great way to get a critique from professionals in the field. Plus, it's hard to get the attention of a curator or editor; a portfolio review is the best way to do that."

While paring down a portfolio to only the best of the best is a good start, it's only part of the process. The work that remains must fit together as a cohesive whole, each piece complementing those that come before and after.

"The first step," Hanson explains, even before editing, "is for the artist to realize their style of photography. What is it that makes specific photographers stand out? Look at the greats—Watkins, Adams, Weston, Porter. What is it about their work that made it stick in people's minds? What makes it reliable? Then evaluate your own work. Find that thing that exists in every photo you take. Marc Muench, for example, his thing is light. I can see an image and tell if it's his before looking for his credit. He has a clear style, and it's unique to him.

The same can be said about Edward Burtynsky; he has a clear style and presentation. Your style will evolve as you do, but it should never be hodgepodge.

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