written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 6/27/2011
Fine art photography is often consumed on its own outside of the context of a publication of some sort, which is why an exhibit is what you want to focus on for showing your work. Learn about how you begin to submit your digital photography work to exhibitions that are intended to showcase new art.
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Exhibitions are locations where you can show your professional fine art photography work in a gallery setting, where it can be appreciated and commended on its own terms. This is often the dream for fine art photographers, especially when they want to begin selling their work to galleries, museums, and collectors. Here is a look at how to begin submitting to exhibitions, which is one of the places you may begin if you want to begin having your work looked at in this context.
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You have to begin the process of submitting to professional digital photography exhibits by identifying exactly what shows or galleries you want to submit to, what qualifications they need, and how much the submission fees would be. There are hundreds of exhibits in the U.S. alone, some running temporary locations, some as shows that are open for submission, and of course you can simply submit to a gallery itself. For most people who are new and trying to break into the professional world of exhibition it is best to apply to regional exhibits, ones based specifically around your style or focus, or ones that fit some type of comparable demographic. The real rule is that you should never apply to an exhibit that you do not think you have a good shot of being accepted to because this takes time and money.
Make a solid list of exhibitions that you are interested in and then compare each one’s application cost and process. Take a look at the resources and time that you are willing to put into this and see which ones from that list you want to prioritize your series for. The submission fee should not be the only financial consideration, but also how they want to see the samples of your prints and what costs you will have to incur as the artist when you are submitting.
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It is going to be best to have a connection with the exhibitions that you are submitting to ahead of time. If you know someone involved with the gallery, have any school connections, or have any published work that they may be interested in you need to find ways to include this. Try to tailor your artist statement so that it stands out to the unique flavor of that exhibition, but do not stray too far from the original statement of intent.
Regional photography exhibits are often going to be your best bet since this will give you an entry into a professional exhibit and you often get preferential treatment because you are from the area. This will also give you the ability to attend the showing, which can up your visibility and can increase the chance of receiving press or making contacts.
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Break the Mold
Many people have a pretty conventional idea of what an exhibit looks like, and it is important for people who are new to professional digital photography exhibits to open up what their conception is. It is always great to have your work shown in a physical location, but this is not the only place that “exhibition" takes place. Photography websites, magazines, and trade publications are amazing ways to get your work out there, and in some situations it is the best way to actually market yourself as a professional photo artist. This way you can sync them with your website and social networking tools so that you can end up drawing in an online crowd.
If you are going with some of these more unconventional sources you should expect to pay a lot less. Much of this ends up being a contest format, and it should be considered quite different than having your work purchased or used as part of a web publication. What you are looking for is a format that will display your work as a unique piece and then promote you as an artist. Many physical gallery exhibitions will actually have you submit work online as well, which is actually an optimum way to submit because it will lower the overall cost and time commitment on your side. If you are submitting work in these places you may want to make sure to properly copyright it ahead of time and keep a record about the publication dates for the work.
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A Caution About Vanity Galleries
You will often find vanity galleries that will want to give you a “professional" digital photography exhibition, though they may go by different names. These are going to be galleries that charge you and other artists to show your work. Though you can often sell your work here and hope to make a profit, these are not the same as being validated by the professional photography world as a legitimate show. Instead they are often scams designed at taking the money away from younger photographers and fine artists that just want their work to be seen.