Hosting an Exhibition – Seeking Advice, Gaining Perspective

My previous post introduced this series of blogs describing the issues I faced putting on the exhibition.  In this post, I discuss the need for advice on producing the exhibition.

In mid-February, Jean Jackson approached me about contributing some of my art to an exhibition planned for the 2011-2012 academic year.   I had a vague idea that a lot of work was going to be involved in producing the exhibition.  It was already February.  They needed it by mid-August.  At least I knew enough about the photographic workflow to realize that there were going to be some serious time constraints, even though August seemed a long way off.

We had agreed on some general issues.  The exhibition was on the third floor of the building, it was going to be black and white, and only a few images (6-8) would be needed.  Beyond this, it was pretty much up to me to figure out.

I was behind, and I knew it.  I needed help.  Fast.

So, I solicited the advice of Robert Turner, a friend and professional photographer who has hosted numerous exhibitions and shows.  We met for an entire day to discuss all aspects of the exhibition.

The session included a lot of up-front homework related to the space and to the photographs themselves.  We also discussed many other aspects of the production of the exhibition.

The Space: The folks at Purdue took photographs of the space, including all the walls that would be involved.  They also measured the size of the walls, both horizontally and vertically.  They noted where there were features on the wall, such as electrical outlets.  These were converted to scale mockups of the walls using Photoshop.  These were complemented by a PDF of the floor plan.  We also discussed lighting, the general use of the space (e.g., functions, student activities, general foot traffic, etc.).

Potential photographs: The wall mockups were complemented with small mockups of all of the images I might consider using.  Each was scaled down, ‘framed’ with a white mat and black frame, and saved as a separate file.

Together, the intent is to be able to conceptualize the space and groupings of the photos.  We did lots of moving things around on the walls to determine how many photographs, what groupings would work, how the groupings worked to make a whole.

The Scope: One thing that emerged from this visit was the scope of the exhibition.  Given the massive size of the walls and space, there were going to be many more photographs than Purdue had requested.  It was going to be 18 instead of 6-8.  That meant I had to ‘sell’ the larger installation.  Eventually, it became 21 photographs.  More on that later, too.

The Prints: Bob also asked me to bring several physical prints with me.  I took several that had been printed on a local LightJet printer (which produces traditional prints on Fuji Crystal Archive paper).  He has a wonderful space for working with prints, mattes, and frames with excellent sun balanced lighting.  One look at the prints and it was clear that the LightJet wasn’t going to work.  The images were yellowed, indicating that they were developed in color chemistry, not black and white.  So, we discussed printers.  More on that later.

The Paper: Choosing a different print process also opened the question of papers.  So, we discussed the textures, colors, weight, and cost of papers.  The paper selection would follow the selection of the printer.

Mattes and Frames: There were going to be lots of frames.  I’m not good at the fine details of cutting mattes or frames.  Given the timing, I was not going to be able to learn the processes required in time to deliver the final images.  This meant finding a quality framer who could deliver on time.  One decision that was pretty obvious – the black and white photos looked best with bright white mattes and dark black frames.

Finally, we discussed how to approach this from a project management perspective.

With his guidance and advice, I had a clear idea of what had to happen and in what order.  In short, I now had a vision and a plan.

I am grateful and indebted to him for his support, perspectives, and insights.

Note: this is post #2 in the series.