More on Entering Juried Exhibitions

Liberty Island, September 10, 2001. New York, NY ©David Gardner

I wanted to write a bit more about the value of entering juried exhibits and how it is changing for me these days. While I have been photographing for a good thirty years or so, it has only been about the past 5 years that I have been really trying to get work seen more by the general public. I think it was around 1984 when I first got a piece into a show. It was at the San Jose Art League and Henry Hopkins, then director of SFMOMA, was the juror. It felt pretty good of course, but it was a difficult process to submit and prepare the work, especially back then. So much so in fact, that I would usually only enter a couple competitions per year. I always seemed to get in at least one show a year, and that was enough to sustain my interest for quite a long time. This was because, for me, leading a photographic life was confined to more of an avocation. I had to work full-time in a job that had nothing to do with photography, and it gave me little continuous time to practice it. I felt in order to be taken seriously, I needed to be more of a full time photographer. That wasn’t going to happen – at least not then.

Well, now it has. I am able to pretty much spend all my time pursuing my creative photographic interests. And because of that, my desire to get the work out has also increased. To that end, I have really been hitting the juried exhibit circuit. I started locally with a number of regional venues. Living in San Francisco bay area, the art opportunities are vast. But I wasn’t really sure how good my work was, or whether anyone was interested. In 2005 I entered four competitions, all at various local art centers. I got work in 3. These shows were all mixed media and relatively few photos were included. But I chose my submissions carefully with regard to theme, and was successful. For my submission for an exhibit called, “A Moment in Time” (pictured above), I chose to create a diptych of my trip to NY in September of 2001. I titled it Liberty Island, September 10, 2001. Because that is where I was. I felt the image captured a certain moment before the moment when everything changed.

In 2006, I entered several more competitions, this time state and national venue’s. I entered an image in a show at the Art Center of Estes Park, CO. The print was one of only about 6 photos accepted, and on the last day of the show, it sold. I also entered work in the Toledo Friends of Photography’s National Juried Exhibit and in the California State Fair’s Fine Art Competition. I got work in both. A couple of other competitions, I did not get into, but I was still feeling encouraged. The work was being well received.

I decided to really hit the circuit hard in 2007 and entered 30 competitions. By this time, I had also joined a number of different photography organizations. Several because the competitions either came with memberships or required memberships in order to enter. 10 of the competitions I entered were at The Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins CO. Of those 10, I got into 2. Not bad considering how many images get submitted to these shows. Also got work in the International Color Awards and International Photography Awards. These two competitions are online only, and draw thousands of entries in many different categories from all over the world. I got honorable mentions in one and nominations for best in category in the other. Other competitions in Texas and New Orleans and one local one rounded out my successes for the year. In all I was in 8 of the 30 I entered.

For most of these competitions, I would not only look at what the theme might be, but also who the juror was. I began to taylor my image selections and competition choice to who I wanted to see my work. So the PhotoSpiva competition for instance, I chose because I wanted John Paul Caponigro to see my work.

2008 brought another change in approach. I decided to enter competitions that showcased more work by fewer photographers. Places like Center’s Project Competition and Photographic Resource Center, Griffin Museum, Houston Center for Photography, Newspace and others, all are interested more in bodies of work rather than just individual images. I didn’t do very well though. I only got into 3 exhibits that year and only one with images from my new project. The other exhibits were “greatest hits” type images. But considering my project was only a year along, I wasn’t too disappointed. I knew I still had a lot of work to do on it. I wanted mainly to get the work in front of jurors like Lesley A. Martain from Aperture, Katherine Ware from Philadelphia Museum of Art, Alison Nordstrom from George Eastman House and Carol McCusker from Museum of Photographic Arts.

Also in 2008 I attended my first portfolio reviews. Center held their first in California in Santa Monica Called Review LA, and later that year, San Francisco Photo Alliance held a review called Our World. What I like about portfolio reviews is that I can actually talk with the people I want to see my work, and know they have seen it. I can really get a feel as to how they are viewing my work – what they like and not like. I have the opportunity to champion my ideas and help them to understand my thinking. At the Photo Alliance review, this paid off nicely with an exhibit at the SFO Museum and a feature in The Society for Photographic Education’s print journal, Exposure. In juried shows, if you don’t get in, you get absolutely no feedback. Actually, even if you get in, you still get no feedback other than knowing your work was selected.

My next post will speak to developments this past year and how I’ve evolved my approach further.


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