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As Cultural Director at Magnum Photos in London, I’ve had a lot of experience of proposing work to venues both in the UK and abroad. Promoting a project for exhibition is aided hugely by a good network of contacts, however, there are also things you can do even if you’re starting out. Following are some points to bear in mind with regards to the process.
1) Have you got enough completed material?
Patience is a virtue when it comes to promoting a new body of work. It’s really important not to start approaching potential exhibition spaces or sponsors if you have not got a strong idea about the direction the work is taking.
Provide a good visual representation along with a written description – it is likely you will only get it in front of people once, so don’t waste the opportunity, or their time, on something half-baked.
2) Think about how to explain your project concisely both verbally and in writing.
Even with an agent or gallery, individual practitioners need to be self-reliant when it comes to promotion. The more established you are the easier it becomes to get ‘buy-in’ from people at an early stage of a new project, however, being able to communicate your idea well and with confidence is SO important.
Think about how you can best explain your latest work in a couple of snappy sentences. It’s all about planting the seed of your idea in other people’s minds, so KEEP IT SIMPLE.
When it comes to writing about a new body of work for submission to a gallery, a page of text with between 250 to 500 words is enough. Not everyone finds writing easy, so you may want to think about collaborating with someone who you feel is sympathetic to your project to help you articulate it.
3) Research your Audience
It is always helpful to step back from your project and think about what your work offers a particular audience or gallery space as well as vice versa.
If you want to get an idea of the types of exhibition venues available, the best sources are listings in creative magazines or websites relating to your medium. Look at the types of work already on show in a particular venue and whether your project fits into that context.
4) Conventional promotional routes prior to exhibition
There are various ways that you can get a new project noticed.
Submitting your work into online, magazine or exhibition-based competitions when it is at a point where you have text and a strong selection of work is a good way to get acknowledgement and promotion for your project.
b) Portfolio Reviews
On the photography circuit portfolio reviews provide a good opportunity to put a completed project in front of a wide selection of professionals. Look at sites such as Rhubarb-Rhubarb in Birmingham, UK, Houston Fotofest, USA, and PhotoEspana, Spain.
c) Exhibition Packs
Most conventional spaces have regular scheduling meetings for their exhibitions. If you are promoting your work to these types of spaces you should produce a postable A4 or US Letter sized pack for your project along with, or rather than, a CD of your work (that can be easily set aside or lost). Your pack should contain the following items:
Finally, remember that you are working in a visual context so the presentation pack design and layout are important as well as the content.
5) Create your own audience
As well as website portfolio’s, individual practitioners are increasingly turning to the web to create communities around new projects as they develop. This can be done through Facebook and Twitter or by creating your own project website.
6) Be creative about the potential venues or the presentation
Galleries offer ready-made infrastructures for promotion of the work in their exhibition schedules but there are so many other arenas for exhibitions these days.
Think about the subject matter of your work and how best to reach an engaged audience – lots of different institutions have wall space that can be turned over to exhibitions, lots of unconventional locations can be hired for exhibition use.
Remember that an exhibition doesn’t mean framed prints, it can also be a poster show, outdoor banners, projections or online.
Consider teaming up with other creatives that may also be looking to exhibit material – together you may get the support and momentum that may make the difference between getting your work exhibited or not.