How do I arrange an exhibit of my photography (commissions, pricing etc)
December 15, 2003 1:29 PM   Subscribe

I've been dabbling in amateur photography for a year or two now, and I'm just beginning to work up the stones to try and arrange for an exhibit of my work. I'd like to approach a few local coffeehouses / cafes to display my work (for sale). How do I go about doing this? What are the usual conventions (i.e. commissions, pricing, etc.) Can anyone share their experiences?
posted by keswick to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
look, first you need some really good prints (digital is cool and cheaper, good quality even for black and white -- but you can't beat silver gelatin for b/w)

then, if they _really_ want a commission, try to negotiate it down to donating a few (owner's favorites) prints to the coffeshop
I'd be wary of giving them commissions on sales generated by the exhibit. and if they make you cave in, don't go over 10%

I'm assuming the work is good, of course

posted by matteo at 1:41 PM on December 15, 2003

Response by poster: One more question: when approaching the manager, I assume one should bring a portfolio. What would be appropiate for someone just starting out? I was thinking of a small binder of about a dozen 8x10s in clear page protectors, but I really have no idea.
posted by keswick at 1:48 PM on December 15, 2003

when i was in art school, we used slides for most portfolio work. of course, a projector might come in handy if you take this route :)

also, when i lived in Richmond, VA, it was quite easy to just walk into the local coffeeshop and ask them if they would put your work up. most of them would be more than happy to oblige with no need of commissions or strings attached.
posted by poopy at 1:54 PM on December 15, 2003

I was thinking of a small binder of about a dozen 8x10s

it depends on the work -- what's that, nature telephoto stuff, macro work, moody black and white, photojournalism, what?

I'd say, when you pitch the manager, bring her/him your work the most flattering format -- if they look good bigger than than 8x10, go bigger. by all means

as poopy said, if you have slides, get some of them scanned and printed -- digital prints from slides can look awesome
posted by matteo at 2:03 PM on December 15, 2003

Response by poster: The work is mainly landscapes, primarily shots of decaying buildings and structures. There are some macro shots in there, too. I'll be (trying to) sell these online soon, but my site isn't ready yet.
posted by keswick at 2:31 PM on December 15, 2003

I've done this years ago, so here's some random thoughts... First and foremost, you need a venue that likes your pictures and that suits them. If the person who makes the decision about what goes on their wall is unenthusiastic, there's no point negotiating - they've got to want your stuff on their wall. A small, simple, but quality binder of just a few prints, that can be quickly presented, is appropriate introduction. One of those massive portfolio cases is a bad idea - people find them intimidating.

This kind of arrangement is surprisingly common in some towns, so you might be competing against more established local artists - getting your foot in the door with a new place while they're just starting out is a good plan.

Having an 'opening', where you invite your friends, and anyone else who'll listen, to admire your work at the venue is a good idea and keeps you on friendly terms with the management (you're bringing in business, if only for one evening).

As for commission, a small percentage doesn't hurt - you want the manager to talk enthusiastically about your pictures, but keep it small. 10% isn't unreasonable.

Price high. It's more hassle than it's worth to replace cheap sold prints that sell frequently. Remember to factor in all your time and materials when pricing. Higher prices add to the perceived value of the work, anyhow. Be sure your printing is nothing but top-notch.

Have a discernable theme and style throughout the series of pictures you're selling and matte and frame them identically and with quality materials. They reinforce each other that way.

Don't overdo it. Half a dozen prints on a large wall is better than twenty prints crammed into too small a space. Also, the more choice you offer, the more likely potential customers will be indecisive about what to buy, and therefore not buy at all.

Framed photos are a luxury impulse purchase. Let people buy right 'off the wall' and take their picture home with them. Make sure the back of the matte or frame has a card with all your contact info. Word of mouth is a beautiful thing.

Don't be surprised if sales are slow or non-existent, especially to begin with. No artist, however good, ever got rich from selling on cafe walls.
posted by normy at 3:11 PM on December 15, 2003

Hmn, I'm following Normy around, giving photo advice. ;)

My favorite for displaying portfolio photos is in a book made for it, with archival black inserts that you can put photo corners on. Damn, i wish I knew how to describe this better ... it's like a bound vinyl book with vinyl pages inside. I bought some 11x14 sheets of black archival paper and put the transparent sticky photo corners you can buy at any photo shop on the corners of the photo to hold it in place.
Basically, you want to make sure that your photo *looks* like it's matted and displayed, even though it's in a book.

I'll second and third what Normy said about your printing being top-notch. Really, it's important. Especially if you're doing black and whites and printing them yourself. And I'll fourth and fifth about the quality matting and framing. Whatever you do, don't use a cheap frame. And make sure the frame is appropriate for the picture.

Make sure the size is appropriate. Personally, I've always been a fan of larger artworks ... especially ones in shapes that are hard to find in posters. One of my favorite shots is a portrait I took that I have in my entryway ... I only printed half the frame poster-sized though, and it's just perfect for the size of the weird wall... about a 12x36.

Another venue that might work is a gallery space like Backspace ( ) here in Portland ... I have no clue if this trend has made it to your neck of the woods yet, but it's a pretty cool meeting place.

No photog got rich off of a cafe show, but it can help pay for your addiction...
posted by SpecialK at 9:44 PM on December 15, 2003

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