Exhibiting Photography: A Practical Guide to Choosing a Space, Displaying Your Work, and Everything in Between” by Shirley Read

Publisher: Elsever/Focal Press

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

Here’s a book aimed at serious photographers. In case you might have made a mistake and thought this book would show you how to display a photograph on your living room wall, it is instead for folks who want to display their photographs in a public venue.

After a general introduction to the subject, the book discusses finding an exhibition space, including a few that might not come readily to mind; planning and research for the exhibition; publicity; preparation for installation; and the actual hanging of the work.

The book is about the logistics of exhibiting and not much about the art, although Read makes suggestions relating to both the preparatory phases and the actual installation that will help in a more artful presentation. My first thought, as I opened the book, was that this was just common sense. However, I’ve lived long enough to have made a lot of mistakes and as I read along I kept encountering advice that I wished I had had before making some of those mistakes. For example, Read tells you that when it comes to the actual hanging, lay out the installation on the walls completely with pencil, ruler and level before you drive a nail. If I had done that on a particular occasion, I probably wouldn’t have ended up taking down a bunch of pictures because my last frame was butted up against a corner. Emphasizing the importance of backwards scheduling in detail might have prevented the pile of advance brochures that arrived the day before the event. It’s this kind of nitty-gritty detail that can keep one out of trouble. And of course the advice that, if you cut yourself on the glass for a frame, you should walk away from the framing area immediately to avoid bleeding on the work is a good reminder.

Throughout the book there are a number of case studies written by guest authors. Although the authors might have felt they were telling a story of success, many impressed me with what could go wrong.

There were a few points that I thought the author scanted. She made it seem as if it might be easy to get exhibition space. But venues are not quick to allow photographers without a demonstrated market to use their space. Nor do artists want to exhibit just for the sake of hanging stuff on a wall somewhere. There are economic aspects, aside from the costs, of the show, that govern exhibiting. Before blithely deciding “Let’s put on a show!” one would do well to read a book like “Taking the Leap” by Kay Lang, where she describes in much greater detail the hard work of getting a place to exhibit.

I felt that the author could have been more concise in her writing. That might have led to a book twenty to forty percent shorter. I disagreed with a few of her conclusions. For example she suggests that in pricing a work, overhead should not be included. That’s might be a model for a low price, but it is also the road to bankruptcy.

If you are a photographer who wants to exhibit and you have no experience exhibiting, reading this book may save you a lot of anguish.