Exhibitions for Amateur Photographers


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Photography: Auntie P

Gallery owners might be dedicated, connected and knowledgeable but they’re not known for their open natures. You usually have to book in advance to see one and they’re unlikely to pull the pictures off their walls immediately to make room for yours. Their wall space is limited and valuable. It’s their livelihood, after all, and if they’re not certain that your photographs will sell, they’re going to tell you to come back when you’re more established.

For professional photographers, that’s galling enough. For people who shoot in their spare time though, it can sound like a flat refusal – a polite alternative to laughing.

Rejection shouldn’t be treated that way. Gallery owners have to be as conservative as their collectors and they’re aware that as much of a work’s value is wrapped up in the name on the label as the colors on the canvas. If you’re entirely unknown, even a great picture is going to be a hard sell to a gallery owner.

Which is why it might be worth giving galleries a miss – at least initially – and looking at one of the alternative options that don’t involve trying to impress a professional seller.

Cafes and Restaurants

Perhaps the easiest is to persuade the owner of a café or restaurant to show off your pictures. Unlike gallery owners, they don’t need the images to sell to make money. They just need the pictures to look good enough to act as free decoration, show that they’re committed to the community and bring in a few extra customers.

They’re also a lot more approachable. While a cold pitch could certainly work, you might be better off choosing a venue you like, patronizing it a few times and chatting to the owner. Build up a relationship and you could even receive an offer without having to ask.

And even though the place might not be as prestigious as a swanky gallery, with the right images, you should still be able to make sales. Brandy, a photographer in Spokane,  displayed her photographs in a local coffee house. She told us that she made a sale on the first day of the exhibition and went on to sell more than 80 prints.

Do it Yourself

Cafes and restaurants are open to the public anyway. Once you’ve been accepted, all you’d have to do is choose your images, print and frame them then place them on the walls and wait for the orders to come in. Even if you didn’t do any additional marketing yourself – and you should – the flow of a busy café should be enough to land you some sales.

If you wanted to organize your own exhibition from scratch, you’d have to do a lot more work.

It’s not impossible. Photographers have done it and with impressive results. You’d have to find a venue that’s large enough to accommodate plenty of people and send out masses of invitations, especially to people who matter. Because the exhibition itself is likely to be short and because it won’t have a natural flow of visitors, you can’t count on making as many sales. But invite gallery owners, critics and collectors and you might just give your own career a boost.

Nor do you have to spend huge amounts of money. Jeremy Mason McGraw was able to form a deal with a local framers when he organized an exhibition, while Rei Dishon, an art student, used Moo cards to show his pictures and allowed people to take them away with them when he had an exhibition in Italy. Both of those methods can keep the costs down and the visitors coming in.

Art Fairs

Art fairs can be both as powerful as exhibitions at generating revenue and almost as prestigious. Juried fairs in which prizes are awarded to the best artists look great on a resume and can go a long way towards persuading gallery owners that you really do have art that people are prepared to buy.

There are costs involved here too. Most art fairs have exhibition fees which you’ll need to pay at each show and there are also one-time costs for the display tent and bins.

But art fairs are more open than galleries. Although they can be competitive – there are usually more applicants than space – persistence and talent should be enough to land you your first berth. Art galleries will be much more demanding.

Online Exhibitions

Okay, putting your photos on Flickr or your website isn’t quite in the same league as showing them in a gallery – or anywhere, in fact, that lets people see them in the flesh. But it’s still one form of exhibition. People will still be seeing your images, they can order them and you can organize them by theme instead of simply uploading your images in some random order.

You don’t have to ask for anyone’s approval to put on a show like this, it won’t cost anything except uploading time and while the number of prints you sell could be fairly small, you could make money by linking the images to a book on Blurb or even by offering affiliate products in the image caption. It might not be where you want to end up as a photographer, but it’s not a bad place to start.


3 comments for this post.

  1. Tanya Plonka Said:

    Emerging photographers shouldn't completely rule out galleries. Search for artist run galleries in your community, which usually have a higher turnover rate of shows and look for emerging local talent... plus they aren't in the business to sell your work, only to show it. One in my community even has a top level for more renown artists, and a basement gallery for newer artists and student artists. I've had work shown here and it's a great experience. They are often open to having group exhibits as well, if you don't want to shell out the money for printing enough work to fill the room. It doesn't hurt to ask the gallery owner a few questions.

    In cafes/restaurants/coffee houses, make sure you are displaying work you think would suit the clientele, or else it'll never leave the walls. Your outrageous artistic series probably won't work well in a conservative location.

  2. Bryce Said:

    I have to agree with Tonya about the galleries. Some whom have looked into displaying their work at galleries might find that some galleries they can't afford to pay the fee. Though still they don't need to rule out galleries.

    I display my work at a local art gallery. The fee per month is 20 dollars. After making friends with the owners I was offered to do a couple of chores around the gallery in exchange for the monthly fee. If it wasn't for that offer I would not be selling my work there still.

  3. Rick Said:

    Whilst all the above is true, some local galleries are very professional and that means they are in it for the money, just like the artists. That is what professional means. What differs is how. Some galleries will sell your work on consignment, for a commission. They do the marketing and selling for you, for a fee. The upside is you don't have to pay anything, just produce, when the sale is made, they pay you. The downside is you might get a bit greedy and want to make all the money, which some artists do, forgetting that a percentage of something is a lot more that 100% of nothing. So, unless you are a good artist, a good marketeer and a very good sales rep, you will always be a very small time artist. Oh! and cafes and the likes are now waking up to to the trend, too, they are also starting sell on consignment, especially those that have a clientele with buying power.

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