Photography exhibitions are the best way to showcase your work and attract interest. Most of the photo sharing is on social media these days but social media images are generally tiny, usually 1200-1500 pixel and re-sampled so they lack the clarity of the actual photo. Apart from that, everyone sees it on different screens and its impossible to accurately reproduce the color and contrast across all devices.
Photography Exhibitions are the physical manifestations of your work. You must hire a place for viewing, print the photos, call people to see them, do some publicity etc so it’s a very physical and personal portrayal of your skills interests and abilities. Its a very enriching experience because not only do you have to be ruthless about culling your images and that in itself is a great learning experience, but you also end up interacting with the visitors and this is really an amazing experience. Very often, the questions they ask, especially from young kids, are googlies and really make you think.
So now I will describe how you could go about designing and planning for exhibitions. This is more an account of how we did it, the pitfalls and how we overcame. I hope it is of use to people who are planning their own exhibition. When I say we, it always means our triumvirate of Swapneel Kore, Kishor Gumaste and I in various capacities and combinations, either singly or as a group.
I started photography in 2006 or so. I used to post on social media and get likes etc. My aunt had cancer and she used to love seeing my photos. She said they made her peaceful. So I used to print photos for her so she could see them lying down and take them to her whenever I visited. I soon had a large collection of a4 size photos. Whenever we had visitors, out used to come the photos and there were many calls for exhibitions so a wider audience could see and become exposed to the wonders of wildlife.
In 2008-2009, we started planning for the exhibition. Our objective right from the start was to glorify wildlife and not necessarily our work. Hence, we had decided to include all genres like birds, mammals, macro, landscape etc and have as much variety as possible. So whilst it would have been possible to do an entire exhibition of just tigers or something, we refrained from that.
Point 1: Be clear about the objective of the exhibition. While we were lucky to be able to do solo exhibitions, most people do a group exhibition. That means you get 6-8 spots and you have to maximize. Many exhibitions use a A4 format to maximize the number of displayed images but I feel 300+ images brings about viewer fatigue. The small A4 format is not large enough to engage the viewer and hold interest. I feel 80-100 large photos is sufficient. Many exhibitions are one off to showcase the photographers work, or for self-publicity. Nothing wrong in that. Its just that the objectives must be clear.
We started looking for a venue and finalized on a hall near our home. It was a typical 50 feet by 25 feet event hall with pathetic lighting and no way to display our photos. Luckily I knew that Foto Circle Thane had some awesome display stands which are self standing and have their own lighting and I had anyways decided to use those stands.
Point 2: Carefuly select the venue. Most venues in Mumbai and Pune are not designed for photo exhibitions, have very poor lighting and no display systems so I would say to definitely plan on bringing your own display mechanisms if the venue doesn’t have the right setup. Venue should also have good connectivity, parking space etc. Our best response was at dombivali https://glimpsesofnature.net/glimpsesdombivali-february-2010/
where we had more than 6000 visitors. One of the reasons is that it was outside the railway station and people could access the venue easily.
The other considerations I had was that we should give information of the photos both from species and photography perspective. I had also taken a decision to print large so many of our photos were 18*27 or 20*30 inch size, whenever resolution permitted. Where images were highly cropped, we went with 12*18 size. Each photo was examined at 100% print size and minutely checked for sharpness, resolution and other flaws. Each photo was processed on calibrated monitor only and on the same machine to ensure consistency of output.
The next challenge was to find printers. Most printers I had access to, were the commercial printers who were doing flex etc. They had no concept of color accuracy, resolution etc. Prints were usually at 120 dpi and we wanted to print at higher resolution like 200-240 dpi to bring the best resolution possible. I finally found a printer in bangalore called Canvera who was ready to do things my way and they really helped a lot. They used to send me trial prints on a 8*12 size and I used to check each image for color, saturation, contrast etc and send individual corrections like increase yellow 10%, decrease saturation 5% etc. They were very patient and helpful and it definitely contributed to a great output. Another factor was the lighting. The Foto Circle boards had their own lighting which were the incandescent lights. So we also bought a few of the same lights and each photo was examined at the same spectrum to ensure color accuracy. Colors, especially blues, look very different in tubelight, LED light, incandescent light so you have to be cognizant about the lighting conditions. These days you have 8 or 12 color printers which are really good. We had printed on semi matte paper to minimize reflections, but still allow resolution, and pasted these on sunboards. These sunboards were then stuck with double sided tape. Many people print on glossy paper and then pin the photos and that’s also ok.
Point 3: Print quality is of utmost importance for an exhibition. The first thing you must decide is size of print. Whereas a A4 size print is easy to source, and your photos don’t really need to be technically accurate for that, it becomes much harder the larger you print. The basic photo must be worthy of getting printed on a large size wrt sharpness, resolution, composition etc. You also have to give great thought to mounting and framing the photo coz after the exhibition is over, you need space to store the damn things at home!!! If you are really concerned about color accuracy, I think it’s a great idea to do a series of trial prints before you print them for exhibition. Recent exhibitions have been printed with honeycomb, who are also very supportive and have great print quality.
Since we had decided to give out data sheets with information about each bird or animal, the data had to be ordered as per the way the images were put up. We actually got an interior designer to order the photos so that the colors flowed harmoniously. Below is an example for the data we had printed for each frame
|No.||Species||marathi name||size (cms)||Description|
|L001||Caterpillar of Atlas Moth||6 inch||Caterpillar of atlas moth. normally found on crocodile bark tree = Ain.|
|L002||Great Horned Owl||shrungi ghubad||30 inch||Widespread resident. Found in rocky hills, ravines etc. One of the largest owls of India. Often hunted and trapped for black-magic|
These datasheets were handed out to each visitor so they could get additional information rather than just seeing photos. So now we were ready for the exhibition.
We were lucky to have some contacts with the media and were able to insert articles in various newspapers announcing the exhibition. The exhibition was on Friday to Sunday and we had avoided exams time so we were hoping for a decent crowd,
Point 4: Some level of publicity is important because if people don’t know then they wont come. Most newspapers will publish the snippet if u send it to them, they are also looking for these events to fill the pages. Day 1,2 crowd comes by publicity and day 3 by word of mouth. We had many visitors who came from afar on the third day saying that their relative or friend had called and insisted that they must visit.
During the Thane exhibition, 2 of the most common questions were 1) do you take wildlife trips, 2) do you take photography workshops?
Our intention was creating awareness and not the above 2 but we were also cognizant of the facts that these things are important. So we had organized photography workshops during the dombivali exhibition. In the first exhibition, the double sided tape we had used kept detaching and we had many photos get damaged. So this exhibition we used a stronger tape which unfortunately refused to come off and damaged the display boards. The rental cost of the display board was also quite high around Rs 200/day or something so we decided it would be better if we made our own boards.
We were getting a lot of requests to do exhibitions from various places in Maharashtra and also outside Maharashtra so we decided to do an exhibition approximately twice a year or so and got to adding to our portfolio. Where we felt we lacked the photos to display the subjects we wanted, we actually went to that particular place or forest and got those photos. I remember that we felt that certain desert species like short eared owl were missing. So we went to LRK to get Short Eared owl but were not happy with the results. Just a few months later, 2 pairs of Short Eared Owls came nesting at Uran which is 30-40 kms from where I stay. Amit Rane was very kind to help me find them and we could approach so close, that they were literally in minimum focusing distance of my lens!!! Talk about providence..
For the Dadar exhibition, https://glimpsesofnature.net/glimpsesdadar-september-2010/ we were very fortunate that Adik Shirodkar, a wonderful photographer and fantastic person, to inaugurate the exhibition. For the first time, we had our own stands. In order to increase awareness (because when you go to the forest, you need a field guide), we had invited Oxford University Press to put up a stall, free of cost, and showcase their nature related books including field guides, books by Jim Corbett etc. This was very well received. In general, we tried to include some works by other photographers because many of us have a few great photos but not enough to do a full exhibition.
After the Pune exhibition https://glimpsesofnature.net/glimpsespune-march-2011/ we got invited by Bhave School to put up the exhibition for their students and we were happy to do that. In all around 5000-7000 students visited and every evening we would have interactive sessions with them and answer their queries etc. It was amazing. Kishor Gumaste, my co-exhibitor who stays in Pune took mammoth effort for this and made it happen.
The Kolhapur exhibition followed after that and then the Thane exhibition once again in 2013 or something. We gave free space to many ecotourism companies, camera manufacturers (Nikon, Canon), conservation organizations like SPCA, so that everyone who came to see the exhibition then had the means to do something about it and pursue their interest in wildlife.
Point 5: make sure you have sufficient time and commitment for the exhibition and of course money. It’s a costly affair….You are showcasing yourself to the world and its good if you do your best. Our exhibitions used to take on average of 2-3 months to prepare, assembling the images, writing the data getting the trial prints etc. Since we usually had atleast 20% new material each time, we had to really keep constantly churning up new material.
There was a hiatus after 2013 since we all got very busy. In 2017, a slot opened up in Jehangir Gallery. Jehangir Art Gallery is the most prestigious gallery in Mumbai with a waiting period of 5 years to get a slot. I was informed of a slot opening up 6 months hence due to a cancellation, and a well-wisher immediately asked me if I wanted to exhibit here. It was a dream come true.
Since Jehangir is basically an art gallery, I had decided that the photos must be “hat ke” (different). This was an exhibition of African Wildlife and it was totally Solo. I put together some artistic frames. Since I was also going to sell prints, these were printed on Hahnemuhle paper and canvas which is a very low acidity medium and guaranteed to last for 100 years. The largest print was a stitch of the Ngorongoro crater and was a canvas print 8 feet by 3 feet. The stitched tiff was almost 500MB!!! Still, it was a fun experience and quite rewarding.
So In sum, following points to be thought of for your exhibition
- What’s your objective: Many do it for self-promotion and that’s perfectly fine.
- Level of Work: You have to decide how far you want to go and how perfect you want it to be.
- Exhibitions tend to be high investment events in terms of time, money, effort and levels of commitment.
- Venue: Venue which is approachable, with good parking.
- Display and lighting. This is a crucial and often ignored point but it is extremely important. Most people go with whatever is available at the venue and it tends to be horrible.
- Printer and print quality
- Print size. Large prints are harder to do as compared to A4/A3 size. Are your photos good enough???
- Post exhibition storage
- Repeatability: how often you want to do it or is it one off.
I hope this has given an insight into planning and executing your own exhibition. Feel free to ask if you have any queries.