My first exhibition was held in my house in the Cotswolds. I presented about twenty black and white images that I printed, mounted and framed myself. I used high-quality matt paper for my work. I publicised the event around the town of Tetbury and invited friends, family and interested others. I had around 80 visitors. During the exhibition, visitors were recorded talking about their favourite image and why they liked it. I turned these clips into a short film about my first exhibition https://vimeo.com/285830395
My second exhibition, that is still running is in the town of Callander, near Stirling in Scotland. My work is based in a family-run hotel in the public areas.
As part of the Final Major Project (FMP) I have put together two exhibitions in the most prestigious venues on Skye. The number and quality of venues on the Island is limited and those available are usually multi-functional spaces rather than tailor-made gallery spaces. Many have limited car parking and as a consequence reduced footfall so I chose two that provided me with experience of different types of venue and display spaces that I could reasonably expect to get high footfall. The first exhibition The Essence of Skye was staged at An Talla Dearg (for three weeks in July 2019), a gallery space linked to a hotel in Camuscross. The gallery provides a schedule of exhibitions through the spring, summer and autumn each year. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to exhibit alongside local artist Julia Christie. Although, I had already mounted the two exhibitions featured above this was the first significant exhibition where I would be able to engage with my potential audience in the place and country where my images are made. It was a successful exhibition in these terms, and it provided me with useful experience of collaborating with another artist, editing and curating work and putting in place the practical aspects of presenting and selling images. It also allowed me to receive comments through a “Comments book” and through 1-2-1 discussions.
The second Exhibition was my first solo exhibition featuring colour work that I had produced during the FMP stage of the course. This was an opportunity to receive feedback on my work mid-way through Stage 2 of FMP and seriously engage with my future community of followers. However, in aesthetic and artistic terms, it was limited, and the sizes of my images was largely determined by the size of the panels and therefore the number I could hang. Had I had access to a space with four available walls I would have displayed my work similar to how Cindy Sherman displayed her Film Stills at her Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London in June with images produced at 40 x 40mm).
For me, this is a natural way of displaying my images to emphasise the journey aspect to my work and encourage viewers to step closer.
The exhibition was hugely successful in terms of market testing my work, practice and approach and in terms of not only selling large amounts of work but also gaining contracts with commercial outlets to sell my work. This involved me in negotiating commission terms and determining prices for the smaller items for sale. Most gratifying of all was the tangible engagement with a large number of people, almost exclusively locals, that recognised the Skye I was depicting and were also prepared to purchase my work to display in their homes. As a result of my success at this venue, I have already been asked to stage two more exhibitions at An Crubh in May and September 2020.
I am also very excited as one of my customers at the exhibition has offered me a professional assignment next summer to photograph Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum), an Iron Age settlement and subsequently a town in the Roman province of Britannia. It is intended that my work will form part of a wider exhibition about the work being undertaken at Silchester, by the University of Reading.
So, what were my considerations in terms of choosing venues in the first place and what are the learning points I can take forward for the future?
At the start of FMP when I was thinking about exhibition venues, I considered two other options for my work – one in Dunvegan and one just over on the mainland in Balmacara Square. I determined that while Dunvegan is a good gallery space, it is a tourist destination rather than one that might attract locals. Balmacara, also a good gallery space but I felt my first solo exhibition should be based on Skye.
The choice of venues was good in terms of them generating different audiences. Whilst Gallery An Talla Dearg was a gallery space attracting a committed audience wishing to view art, An Crubh provided a casual audience visiting the venue for other reasons than necessarily viewing photography but in practice delivered an educated, engaged and informed audience of local people. An Talla Dearg produced a smaller footfall.
However, the venues that I used were limited in terms of the flexible and creative delivery of my work. I was not able to use my own installation furniture and was therefore restricted in the presentation of my images. In the first exhibition my space to display was one small wall with a window in the middle. The hanging mechanism was extremely difficult to space and hang pictures exactly where you wanted them, and straight. In the second venue I had six 8’ x 4’ panels that were displayed in a concertina format along a wall of a café. My installation plan for this exhibition was limited by the size and shape of the panels and the fact that below 2’ from the bottom of the panels was dead space. However, the hanging mechanism of holes and pegs provided a much more flexible and successful hanging experience. For the future, I will undoubtedly continue to use An Crubh but will also seek better gallery spaces on the mainland to display and sell my work – these are likely to include Edinburgh and Glasgow.
More generally, through my exhibitions to date, I have gained very helpful feedback through the Comments Book that I provided at both exhibition venues. I have also had the opportunity to discuss my work first-hand with many people who were interested to know more. At An Crubh I was honoured to meet the acclaimed sculptor, Laurence Broderick, who was very complimentary about my work. He offered me some advice that I must listen to my audience. He also made a comment that some of my images were less successful because they did not have a point of focus. Whilst I have taken his views on board my immediate reaction was that in some cases that was the point of the image and that the lack of a focal point allowed for the viewer to explore the image – this, in my view, is enhanced by the choice of the square image format.
And finally, one of the aspects of mounting an exhibition and engaging with the public that caused me to think long and hard was what pricing strategy to deploy. I was interested in one of the Guest Lectures by Christiane Monarchi, founding Editor of Photomonitor who provided some advice in the second part of her presentation. She suggested that the trend in the market is for photographers to produce very small edition runs (10 or less) with differential pricing (1-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10) as numbers available reduce. She suggested that a way to start was to price prints low, attract collectors and “give yourself room to grow”. The last of the edition and/or the artist’s proof would have a higher price. So, after much consideration, I decided to price my images realistically to start in order to engage a network of followers with the aim to gradually increase the prices. However, it may be that I have priced my work to low and this is something I need to consider but not until I am better known in the local market. The other aspect of selling my work that I need to consider further is that of commission and whether my best strategy is to largely drive sales through a gallery commission model.
I can’t help reflecting also, on how far my work, practice and delivery has developed since my first exhibition only fifteen months ago.
University of Reading website. Available at: https://research.reading.ac.uk/silchester/ [accessed 23 November 2019]