Juried shows, good or bad?

© Estate of William Gedney, a talented artist you might not have ever heard of.

© Estate of William Gedney, a talented artist you might not have ever heard of.

Christian Patterson has an interesting post on his site about paying to play. While I have never been solicited to pay for my own show, and I agree with Christian that I would never consider it, I have entered many juried shows. Christian writes: “I rarely consider paying a fee to have someone view or exhibit my work. I cringe at the thought of paying application fees for juried exhibitions and portfolio reviews. It just feels so sleazy.”

I don’t feel, as he does, that paying a nominal fee (somewhere in the range of $30) is akin to purchasing pleasure in a dirty backstreet, but I do feel that one has to approach it wisely. Consider the juror and the venue. Picking jurors with whom I want to build a relationship with has been very helpful to me, since I live in Washington, DC and not Brooklyn, NYC. (I am more indiscriminate about the jurors in DC – as I can just drop off the work and invite all my family and friends). I’ve been to several portfolio reviews and they have all helped me immensely.

For those of us, who have not been fortunate enough to have photography superstar mentors or gallerists approaching us unsolicited, I think one has to do what one can to be plucked from obscurity. To paraphrase Colin Blakely’s lament in a recent post, “Doing something is better than doing nothing.”

One person commented on Christian’s site that “If one is talented and driven enough the success will come in time.” Yes and no. William Gedney was talented and driven, but unassuming and isolated. Despite knowing such photography luminaries as John Szarkowski, Lee Friedlander, and Diane Arbus, his work remained virtually unknown till after his early death at the age of 56 when Lee and Maria Friedlander organized the publication of his work in a book, “What was True.” So yes, success, defined as the publication of a book came in time, but it wasn’t in Gedney’s lifetime.

I believe that Vincent Van Gogh was a genius, but we all know that success for him came well after his death (even his own mother used his work to plaster a chicken coop, A CHICKEN COOP!). And I think we all recognize a few photography superstars who appear to remain relevant simply because of their Barnum and Bailey-esque promotional skills. My point being, not to dis C.P. or those who comment on his site AT ALL, but that yes, if you WORK HARD and are DRIVEN, and by driven I mean, get your work out there, doing portfolio reviews, juried shows, and whatever else it takes, you may have, to paraphrase Benjamin Disraeli, success in your time. And if you don’t, at least enjoy the process, for pete’s sake.

Photo Guru extraordinairre, Mary Virginia Swanson, encourages young/emerging artists to enter juried shows to build up their CV’s, meet peers, and gain experience (this information was gleaned at a portfolio review, but can be more cheaply had by purchasing her book, The Business Book for Photographers, avail thru her website). Doing just this has increased my name recognition, familiarized people with my bodies of work, and built up my cv so that when I apply for grants from the NEA, I actually get them (er, well, one to be exact, earlier this year).

It’s a sad fact that to be a photographer costs a lot of money, sad mainly because it keeps so many marginalized voices from participating in the process. I keep a marketing budget that I tithe from every assignment that comes in somewhere in the range of 10-20 percent. From this I enter shows, send out promo postcards, attend portfolio reviews, and occasionally go up to NYC. And while I do not love this, the reality is, no one is forcing me to do it, and if I don’t like it I can find something else more lucrative to do. But I don’t much like lucre, and as Rilke says,” In the stillest moment of your night, you must ask yourself a question: If it were denied you to create, would you truly die? If the answer is yes, you have no choice, if the answer is no, please go and do something else.”

What can I say? I enjoy the process. It’s the living death I’m trying to avoid.


4 thoughts on “Juried shows, good or bad?

  1. Right on, Susana. I’ve yet to have any success in juried competitions, but the few I’ve entered have made me think about my work in ways that I might not have otherwise. They forced me to clarify for myself what I’m trying to say, and made me more critical of my own work than I’m naturally apt to be. For me, that in and of itself is worth the entry fee (though I’m sure some people can get that on their own), and having my work seen by people I respect is icing on the cake. In time, maybe the latter will become the cake, and the former will become the icing, but I’ve never turned down either. It’s all good, especially if you don’t eat too much.


  2. Thanks Liz – And good for you to taking something out of the process. We hear so many complaints and groans about entering in shows and then not getting recognition. A really good thing to keep in mind, I heard at a lecture given by photographer Hank Willis Thomas at Santa Fe several years ago, he said (paraphrasing here): “When you pay your fee and put your work before these people who are jurying/judging you, you are forcing them to look at your work and consider it. It’s an opportunity.” Your opportunities are out there, and I know you’ll start getting the recognition you yearn for in good time.


  3. Pingback: Rhubarb Rhubarb - a dream - and Walker Evans « Mathew Pokoik

  4. Pingback: Not When but if… » Blog Archive » It seems the jury is always still out

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