Planning an Exhibition
I have the opportunity to show some of my work at a gallery in Sept. This is exciting stuff, and so I thought I'd write a bit about the process so that it may be used as a primer of sorts for those of you who find yourself in a similar situation.
Where & What
It's a co-op gallery which means that things need to be approved by a board and that it's up to me to get things printed and framed. There was initally some discussion of which work I was going to show. Apparently a number of people on the board really liked my polaroid 55 portraits, which I'm quite fond of as you would expect. But to me they felt a little too safe and traditional. The kind of stuff you'd look at and say, "Those are very nice", but forget about the next morning. Not the kind of thing I am going for. So I suggested showing some of the Drabbles series, which they've gone along with. There was one holdout on the board who didn't like them. I'm going to find out who that was and convince them of the choice at the openning.
So now I know what images I'm going to show, but there is plenty left to decide. There are a total of 46 Drabbles and I don't have space for all of them. Well, actually I do, if I want to show them rather small, but since I started the project I've wanted to see them printed big. Therefore a culling process must occur to get them down to a reasonable number of images. They sent me a pdf floorplan of the space which I used to create a quick mockup in Google Sketch-up, which you can see above.
Deciding on print size is a really big part of all this. Some images are begging to be printed big, others work small and everywhere in between. This has to do with the detail in the shot, the subject, and of course the technical limitations of the image. It's quite hard to take a picture that holds up well at poster size. Especially with images as dark as most of the Drabbles were. Taken at night with some available and some strobe lighting, almost always 'from the hip' without a tripod. Shake and focus are always an issue. And then you get into the limitations of the equipment itself. 22MP is enough for this size, but the 28mm prime I was using is not the sharpest tool in the shed. Even stopped down to f/5.6 it's still fairly soft on the edges. Many of the shots were taken much more wide-open than that too.
Using the the mock-up and assuming 30x20" prints and was able to fit 19 images in the space I have to work in. That was my starting point. Maybe that was too big, or too costly. Remember it's not just the printing, but also the mounting which is an issue. What I needed to do is some test prints, so that's what I did. I printed 6 images printed, a couple at each size. 18x12", 24x16", and 30x20". See the image at left; The 18" long T-square is for scale.
The the 18x12" were too small and went right out. The real question was kinda big or big. And I think I've decided on big, which is inline with my initial layout. A couple of the images I'm planning on using are not as we say "tack sharp at the eyes" but a bit of judicious use of sharpening and I think they'll come out fine.
I've used El-co Color in New Jersey for my printing in the past and I'm going to go with them again this time. Both for the speed and great quality of their work as well as their amazingly reasonable prices. I had them do the test prints and I'm sold once again.
Framing is expensive. Framing 20 30"x20" would be very expensive. So I need to figure out a way to do this cheaper. The traditional way to go would be to use larger frames than the images and have the photo matted in from the edge a few inches, say 3", so that the frame would be 36"x26". I've done some research online and I think I could do this myself for about $40 per image. That would be black metal frame rails, plexiglass, and cut mattes. However I'm not sure that I want to go that traditional, plus I don't want to waste that much space with matting. The pictures are on a big white wall anyway, so why have them set in from the edge of the frame.
Therefore my current front-running idea is to have the images in 30x20" frames with no matting. A bit more modern a look, more inline with the images themselves.
I've also seen some great alternatives including mounting on Aluminum sheet which I'd love to find out more about, but have had a hard time finding answers. I've also seen some images sandwiched between plexi and aluminum and it looked great. If I could get that done reasonably, that might be an option too. Any leads would be appreciated.
Let me go on the record and say that I hate artist's statements. I know what they're for and why you need them, but to me they take away from the art itself. I shouldn't have to tell you why and how I made what I made. What I made should speak for itself. Nonetheless I had to write one, and through an iterative draft process and some good editing help, I think it came out fine:
A drabble is precise work of fiction of exactly 100 words. These photographs are intended to be the same: a short story, a moment which needs to be imagined and expanded in the mind of the viewer. It's a voyeuristic glimpse into someone else's world, sometimes fantastic or silly; other times scary or even sad.
So this brings me to the hardest part for me, chosing which images make the cut. By deciding on large images I'm limited to 20 out of a total of 46. And you've got to realize, these are like my children and all the subjects worked very hard to make them so. It's tough to say that one image deserves it more than another. Plus will I offend people if I use the shot of my friend Greg laying on a tile floor with his head spilled out?
You want to have a cohesive set that all feel 'together'. But you also want to use the best images, and have some sort of flow to the exhibit. I've got it down to 20, 15 or so are solid yes', but the rest kind of trade places with ones that didn't make it on a daily basis. It's tough, but at a certain point you've got to make a decision.
That about gets everyone up to date. I'm sure there will be more as this process unfolds. That said, I'm open to comments and suggestions if you have them. Nothing is stuck in stone yet. Other than the fact that my name will be listed at William George Wadman, but that's a story for another day.