Planning, Preparing and Realizing an Exhibition

Last week I opened my first photo exhibition for the fashion project “Mode Rétro.” First of all I’d like to say that it was a fantastic experience for me and I would encourage every ambitious photographer or artist to organize a display of her or his work. It gives a great amount of courage and motivation to go on and to realize further projects. However, it is a lot of work and I haven’t expected to spend so much time on it. It is the details which consume hours. But since hindsight is easier than foresight, I want to write down a couple of things which I encountered during the planning, preparation and realization of this exhibition.




Certainly the location may depend on numerous factors: the sort of pictures you want to display, the “competition” with established artists, fees to pay to the gallery (!), or the subjective taste of the gallery owner. In my case I was fortunate in many ways. I had a small, local NGO behind me with links people in the city. I don’t want to overestimate this. Yet it may be always better if one doesn’t have to deal with everything oneself. So it might be a good idea to join an organization for realizing an art project which tackles their and your interests. So they also provided a lot of encouragement for me and pushed me to go on. Eventually they asked me if I like to present my pictures at a local theater during one of their events. Of course I agreed! A theater would be perfect for this kind of photos I thought. Yet at that time I did not know the color of the walls (which were yellow!) and the light situation (only mixed artificial!). But I also did not know that in the end the theater would ask me to present my pictures there for longer. -which I might have agreed to, if it was not for the frames…


Frames and Framing  

Printing the pictures cost money. So the NGO and I agreed on a small license fee to cover my costs. The frames however, cost even more money. But only if you buy them. As I found out, frames can be borrowed too! So we asked at a local museum. Also there connections existed (the daughter of someone knows someone….). Well I can only say it again: belonging to some kind of organization pays off, since the personal contacts multiply. Thus I could get frames. I could even choose between two sizes. I found them both too big and bulky at first. Plus, filling a 60 x 84 cm frame would result in higher printing costs. But since there were no other options I took what I could get.


The frames were for professional usage: antireflective glass, easy to open and super lightweight. Those you get usually in furniture houses are no comparison. The disadvantage is that you might think about getting insurance since they cost a lot of money. When I picked up the frames my (small) car was full. For an exhibition with 20 of these frames I would have needed to either have a bigger car or go twice.


When I arrived at the theater I checked the gallery / hanging system. There are basically two types with different sizes. Fortunately I took the wrong robes with the frames from the museum. But the theater had some I could use, so I didn’t need to go back. Framing my 10 pictures took me nearly 1,5 hours (some chats included). Because the pictures were much smaller than the frame and I had no passe-partout I was maybe too anxious not to get the pictures into the middle. I came up with making two guide rails out of card box: One for the upper side and one for the side. This helped a lot in keeping the margins equal and balanced. Also, the lady in the museum told me to use bubble wrap behind the prints so they will stay in position in the frame. Deciding on the order and hanging them straight onto the wall was the last step. Fortunately I had assistance because it would have been a real physical challenge doing it all alone.



Lighting took looong. I am grateful that the theater staff was so patient and helped me to try different angles. Despite, it was nearly impossible to hang the pictures without having hard shadows. Because of the old building and the old AC cables they used LED head lamps. The color temperature was horrible and the girls on the photos had a bluish or greenish skin tone. I asked for the normal spotlights. And we tested them until the fuses popped out. After some hours the light was as good as it could get. I hung my strongest picture in the entrance area of the room, placed a table under it for people to stand around and a spotlight over it. So the picture had a dedicated cone of light and would hopefully attract anyone who passes by.



Food and music ...and promotion!

It may sound negligible at first. After all an exhibition is about pictures, isn’t it? Yet, as an emerging artist one should not expect people come because of pictures alone. As a matter of fact, selling art as a bundle opens up and attracts more people.


On my evening I had a band playing French chansons. Again it was not me who took care of them and paid for them. The NGO did and I had not much to worry about. The downside was that the music took a lot of attention. Maybe I would have chosen another band and fewer seats so that people would have to walk around or get more engaged in discussions. They also organized a buffet with wine and French specialties. It is essential to have food and drinks. When people have something in their hands they feel much more relaxed and talkative. I put my business cards and a description of the project on each table. During the evening I tried to talk to as many people as I could and found out about their backgrounds. I did not create business that evening but I found out about who is my audience and tried to make a personal impression on the people there. And let’s be honest - if it is deserved or not - it just feels great to hear compliments about one’s own work.



I tried to keep this article short but it became obvious that there are many, many details to think about when opening an exhibition. I was lucky not having to take care about everything myself but found great support in having an NGO as partner. On the other hand however, this limited the number of decisions I could make. I did not have too much influence on the course of the event, choosing the location or the picture frames. Yet it made it much easier (or even possible) to organize the presentation of my pictures. After all it was still a lot of work for me. And at the end of the day I had learned a lot and was very happy with the outcome. Now I am actually eager to produce and realize my next exhibition project.


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