9 Steps to Take if You'd Like to Exhibit Your Work

I love exhibiting my work. I love having a project or a theme and building a body of work within that theme with the end result of a show! The first time I exhibited my work was in 1993 and I’ve been passionate to continue with exhibitions since.

I’ve done 5 exhibitions total. My first was a solo show in Los Angeles with the then unknown 16 year old Monet Mazur. Monet has gone on to become an accomplished actress. But back then, she was a teenage model with Ford and testing and working her way up the ranks. We hit it off and I shot with her many times. But I had this idea with her and she was game and we got together and pulled off the 16 images that ended up in the show in one day! I had this idea of Monet being somewhat “Lolita-esque”. She was very sensual, even at her young age and she just oozed personality. Looking back I can see why she has become the success she is. The show had some nudes of her which deemed it “risque”. And The Hollywood Elite loved it! I had a signed model release from her mother, who attended the show and bought one of the photographs, so I covered myself on the legal end. The show was a success because it drew a lot of attention. There are two ways you can judge if a show is successful or not: money or press. Or both. This show didn’t reap in the dollars but it got a lot of press and I was able to show it in Sydney, Australia where I moved to shortly after this first show in LA.

 MONET MAZUR

MONET MAZUR

My second and third show were both in Sydney. I did a series of street people in Sydney, black and white and very photo-documentary style. The third show was an expose of my commercial fashion work. These two shows were highly unsuccessful, earning no money and getting zero press!

In 2005, I had my fourth show. Living back in my hometown of Los Angeles, I exhibited a series of young, hot rock and roll boys, the show aptly naming itself “The Boys Collection”. The gallery was gorgeous and I had a turn out of over 700 people. I sold 5 pieces on the opening night and was filmed by Fashion TV. Wire image was there photographing the mass celebrity turn out and I was extremely happy with the end results from this show. The recognition led to private showings in elite showrooms and private lounge parties across LA for several months afterward and the framed pieces continued to sell. The Boys Collection was shown again in Miami in February and March of 2008. While it earned a significant amount of press, I only had one sale from it. It was a huge disappointment for me because the gallery owner actually took the images, reprinted them large and remounted them in plexiglass. The “Boys” looked amazing!! What continues to baffle me is the amount of abuse I (still) get from this show. Which goes to show you that sexism still exists. While my photographs of naked young women get hardly the bat of an eye, my “Boys” were deemed borderline pornographic (there were no nudes) and I was accused of all sorts of wonderful things! I’ll let you use your imagination on this one! It was marketed largely to the gay community, which I am in total support of, but even some of my gay viewers had issues with some of it because the boys were youngish looking and not beefcake superheroes. However, they say there’s no such thing as bad press and I totally agree! While the Miami New Times devoted an entire full page to bashing me, it still devoted that entire page to me, and that led to getting all kinds of great press in other cities’ newspapers. The show continues to sell privately and I look back with fondness on the years it took to shoot and the months it took to prepare. I met some incredible young men in NYC and LA while casting for the shoot. The experience was nothing short of absolutely incredible.

The last show I did was in Amsterdam, which is a city that I have a lot of history in. It had a huge turnout and I sold a few pieces, so for me, it was a very successful show. This show displayed large prints of my fashion work. My Mongolian Traveler’s story hangs in the bedroom of a wealthy Swiss couple from Geneva. My series of African-American model, Milan, is hanging in the dining room of a Scottish man’s castle. It’s just an honor to know that people love my work so much that they hang it in their homes.

 MILAN

MILAN

 “THE BOY’S COLLECTION” MIAMI OPENING AT THE IN-DEPENDENT GALLERY

“THE BOY’S COLLECTION” MIAMI OPENING AT THE IN-DEPENDENT GALLERY

 “THE BOY’S COLLECTION” LOS ANGELES, AT THE 626 GALLERY

“THE BOY’S COLLECTION” LOS ANGELES, AT THE 626 GALLERY

I choose to have a side project going on now because my fine art often times “saves” me from the day to day struggles that accompany commercial fashion photography. I don’t choose a subject or a theme that I hope will be accepted by the norm out there. I don’t care how the work is going to be perceived. In other words, I shoot what I want with my fine art. I mean, isn’t that the point? Yes, I grow tired of being told what or how to shoot. When the client is paying me, though, I am happy to do as I’m told. But indeed I have a side that needs to be expressed too and my fine art photography allows me to do this!

If you think you’d like to exhibit your photography, you might want to stick to this strategy:

1. Find a subject matter that you want to shoot and stick to that theme. Whether it’s Wildlife or Art Nudes, pick a theme and stick with it.

2. Figure out how many pieces you want to show in your exhibit and start shooting to build a body of work.

3. Give yourself a “due date”. When do you want to be exhibiting by? Give yourself a schedule and try to complete your work within that time frame.

4. Start looking at galleries that you’d like to exhibit in. Or maybe you’d rather do a one night launch party at a local club or coffeehouse. Find your market and your niche and start researching the venues you think would be appropriate to show your work.

5. As you build your body of work, start showing the pieces to your friends. Get feedback. Start editing the body of work down so your best pieces are the only ones left.

6. Figure out how you’re going to print and frame your photographs. I researched paper stock for a month before settling on a brand of paper. And then start talking to framers and getting estimates on how much it is going to cost you to frame your photographs. Of course, this task includes figuring out what size you want to enlarge your photographs.

7. Look into getting a small PR firm to help you market your show. It costs a few bucks, but it is so worth it. Your PR firm can get you interviewed by local papers, get email blasts out, get influential people invited to your show. They can even help get sponsors who will put a little money into the event.

8. Keep your expectations of fame and fortune tuned low and try to enjoy the process of building the body of work. When I look back over the exhibits I’ve done, it wasn’t the opening night or the actual show that I remember most. It was the experiences I had shooting for it. The attention and money you can potentially receive from doing a show should be the icing on the cake.

9. I am currently putting together a show of images that depict a passage in my past that wasn’t too pleasant. In fact, it was pretty dark. The show is going to be fairly controversial, but you remember what I said about that. A thick skin is very helpful, with both commercial AND fine art photography. Not everyone is going to “get” your work or love your work. Get over it! Do what you love. The rest will come!

Melissa Rodwell