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Thoughts on Juried Exhibitions

As someone who regularly submits work to juried photography exhibitions, who has been a juror herself, and who administers juried exhibitions on a regular basis, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the ups and downs, pros and cons, and ins and outs of juried exhibitions.  I’d like to take this opportunity to share the Vermont Photography Workplace philosophy of juried exhibitions with you.

 

At VPW, we seek out jurors who have long experience in the field as photographers, educators, curators, and/or editors.  Our jurors are encouraged to include work by as many different photographers as possible in the exhibition that are choosing, although the selection process is left entirely to their discretion.  Since our gallery can only accommodate around forty photos on the walls for an exhibit, and as the number of submissions to our exhibitions continues to rise, we have recently instituted the “On-Line Gallery Annex” to enable more photographers to share their work. When feasible, we also publish illustrated catalogues of exhibitions, to give them a life beyond the limited period when they hang on the walls of the gallery.  We believe acceptance to one of our exhibitions is an achievement that photographers should celebrate equally.  For this reason, we do not award prizes.

 

It is not an easy task to jury an exhibition.  Imagine a table with over 1000 photographs on it.  Then imagine trying to reduce that pile to just forty photographs.  This is what jurors do.  And, in the process they not only pick the photographs they find most compelling—they curate an exhibition.  Often they seek a variety of images and approaches to reflect the range of submissions.  They compile a selection of images that they believe will relate well to one another. And, they are often faced with the task of choosing just one photo from a number of wonderful treatments of a similar subject or theme.   I know that when I am jurying a show, I spend sleepless nights mulling over my choices, and when I do sleep I find myself dreaming about the photographs.  It is an intense, engrossing task and in the end there are always photos I wish I had been able to include, but could not.

 

The best advice I have ever gotten as a photographer regarding my own participation in juried exhibitions was: “You have to park your ego at the door.”  It is a great feeling to have work accepted to a juried show, especially if it is a highly competitive field.  Acceptance is a confirmation of all of the hard work and feeling that goes into making photographs.  But it can also be hugely disappointing not to be included.  (Here, I speak from personal experience!)  In these instances, I remind myself that the juror is just one person with one particular artistic sensibility.  What appeals to that individual may not be what appeals to you.  This does not mean your photos do not have value.  It simply means this particular juror does not share your aesthetic.  I’ve had several photographs that have won top prizes in one juried show, only to be rejected outright from another.  In the end, the important thing is that YOU believe in your photos.  And you do, or you wouldn’t be seeking ways to share them with others.

 

At the Vermont Photography Workplace, we try to place artists at the center of our activities.  We keep our submission fees as low as possible, and we offer free matting and framing of accepted works to help cut preparation and shipping costs.  We don’t charge hanging or packing fees.  We do this because we believe art is an essential aspect of our lives.  We also believe that the act of submitting work to a juried show is valuable in and of itself.  It’s an opportunity to review past work, to engage in some new work, and to think about a group of your photographs in relation to an exhibition theme.  Even if your work is not accepted, this process can be immensely valuable as a way of reconsidering and re-conceptualizing your photographs. 

 

We thank all of the photographers who submit work to our juried exhibitions.  We love looking at the work as it comes in, and we wish everyone the best in all of their photographic endeavors.  And, we thank our jurors, for their dedication, their energy, and their belief in the power of images.

  

Kirsten Hoving

Co-Director, Vermont Photography Workplace 

For another perspective on juried exhibitions, I highly recommend the essay “Decisions and Dilemmas: A Day in the Life of a Juror,” by Doug Beasley, on the En Foco blog:

 

Decisions and Dilemmas: A Day in the Life of a Juror