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Exhibit your work (part one)

Art gallery showing black and white photographs

Let's face it. Getting your photography into a gallery is hard work and takes a lot of effort. Not only are there a few galleries that accept photography, but it is also much more challenging to sell than paintings or drawings. In addition, the advent of cell phone cameras has dramatically influenced how the general population feels about photography as an art form – a topic for another day and a later blog.

However, should you decide to try the gallery route with your photography, creating a body of work is an essential first step if you want your work to be shown in commercial or public galleries. A body of work combines ideas and images, allowing you to say things that cannot otherwise be expressed through randomly selected images. The idea is to make your curated collection of images collectively worth more than the sum of the parts.

When you start down this path, you become both the artist and the curator, which will make you grow as an artist as you will be forced to think about your work in a broader and deeper context.

There are many more things to consider when trying to get your work into a gallery than I can reasonably cover in a single blog post. Ergo, I will be breaking this topic into several posts addressing each issue along the way, from pressing the shutter to having your work on the wall in a gallery. However, this post will mainly discuss your approach to your art, which you must consider before contacting a gallery.

Black and white photograph of two people
Human Topology 6. Jannik Plaetner 2016

Why do you photograph? First and foremost, you need to be clear in your approach. The idea is that if you can formulate why you photograph, it will help with how you approach your work. I find the best way to do this is to consider your approach and define what you like about photography as an exercise. Here are some reasons, I'm sure there are many more, that may help you think about why you photograph:

  • To make money

  • For Facebook likes

  • To leave a legacy

  • To document your life.

  • To get better at something.

  • To exercise your right brain.

  • To learn about yourself.

  • To learn about others.

  • To teach others

  • To show off your skill and mastery.

  • To elicit a reaction from the viewer.

  • To satisfy a need to create

  • To affect change

  • To show another point of view.

  • To make people think.

  • To collect memories or just collect.

  • To show people what you think is right/wrong with the world.

  • To discover something new in the mundane.

  • Being fascinated by something, attracted to it, repelled by it, and keen to reveal an unusual aspect of it are all valid responses to a why.

Once you are clear on what motivates you – you will be in a much better position to pick the right way to display or share your work and increase the pleasure you derive from your photography. The key here is that you are answering the question about what it means to you to make art.

For me, it was an evolution.

  • I started at a young age taking pictures – fun.

  • I travelled throughout Europe as a teenager and did B&W film – collect and show.

  • Later in life picked it up again – leave a legacy, document my life and learn, wanting to know how good I could be

  • I finished a BFA in Printmaking and Photography a few years ago, looking for validation.

  • Now – creation, the whole process, the voice of the subconscious (having a lifetime of experiences that drives my photography/art)

Black and white photograph of man in striped light
Human Topology 5. Jannik Plaetner 2016

How we benefit from knowing our reasons Suppose you are doing it to make a statement or say things you feel are important to you and show the world's beauty. You would:

  • Have a lot of freedom to say and do something with your work in ways that are important to you

  • Display it in ways that are important to you - even if it offends some

In this case, consider using public galleries, art forums, your website, camera clubs, public speaking, and peer groups as venues. You could also:

  • Make prints, postcards, and screen savers and give them to people you know would be interested.

  • Print and hang it in your own home

  • Give your work away for free.

  • Build a gallery in your garage

  • Give your work to charity organizations for their art auctions.

Suppose you want to document the life of you and your family. You would:

  • Photograph for the family – show them you care.

  • Make prints and give them to everyone in the family.

  • Offer to shoot family weddings, holidays, pets, children, funerals, etc.

  • Post funny family photos on family social media

Suppose you want to make a living from it. You would:

  • Need to be more restricted in your approach – your business website would reflect this.

  • Seek out commercial galleries and venues to display your work

  • Become your brand – every picture you show becomes about marketing.

Black and white photograph of nude woman in striped light
Human Topology 2. Jannik Plaetner 2016

Creating a body of work First, get clear on what you are doing. Try the old What, How and Why to help narrow it down:

  • What are you doing?

  • How are you doing it?

  • Why are you doing it, and why are you doing it that way?

Having a clear understanding of what motivates you can go a long way and help you create meaningful and honest work that speaks to the crucial things you are trying to say.

Don't consider whether you can make money or people like your work. Focus instead on what is meaningful to you and make your art accordingly. The result will be about you and how you see and experience the world - and that is a great place to be when you want to create art.

Artist Statement

A great way to focus your mind is to write an artist's statement for your work. An artist statement helps you focus and clarify what you are doing. It provides a framework that makes it much easier for you to select and organize your work. As well, an artist statement offers additional benefits:

  • It helps the audience learn what you are trying to do.

  • It can help make the mundane interesting.

  • It does not have to be complicated. We are not looking to baffle people with arty bollocks.

  • It explains your intent and ideas.

  • It involves the viewer in ways which may not be evident in your work.

  • It tells the audience how you are approaching your work.

  • It will always be required as part of your submission documentation to any gallery.

An all-too-common fallacy is for the work not to match the artist's statement. This can happen when your work does not match the intent of the information, or your statement is so abstract it only makes tentative, vague connections to your work that are not understood by the audience.

There generally are two approaches to when you would write an artist statement. You can generate the statement first and photograph your work following the ideas of your statement, or you can create it to help bring focus to your body of work picked from existing work.

Sample Artist Statement In 2017 I walked from Porto in Portugal to Santiago in Spain. Along the way, I became fascinated with the doors I saw and started photographing them as I walked by. At the time, I had no idea where this was taking me. I made the images because I liked the colours and textures of these old weather-beaten entrances to peoples' homes.

Later that year, I had a gallery show about the Canada 150 anniversary. However, the gallery was large, so I decided to divide it and create a second show using the doors I photographed. To help me focus the work, I first developed the following artist statement about doors:


Doors – scarcely more noticeable than the air we breathe. At best, we perceive doors as no more than just a slight hindrance to the rhythm of our daily lives as we pass through them, pausing ever so slightly to open or close one.

But if you think a little more about it, you realize that a door represents more than just a barrier between two spaces. Passing through a door puts us in a state of transition from what was to what is yet to come. When we walk through a door, it is frequently to gain access to some place or something on the other side serving a function other than the one we previously were engaged in. Thus, it signifies a transition point from one role or task to another - a distinction between completing one job and starting a new one.

Moreover, a door, specifically a front door, is frequently also the first point of contact we have with the place and people behind it. As such, not only is it a barrier to granting or denying entry, but it is also a statement about the place and the people living within. Look at a church's doors with large ornate openings meant to awe and inspire. They make a clear statement and set the expectations of things to come. On a smaller scale, front doors to most homes are also usually more decorative than all other doors in the house - they are meant to say something about the place and the people behind it. We don't think about it, but a front door makes an ambiguous statement – welcoming but at the same time barring most people from entry.

In this digital typology of doors from Portugal and Spain, I am exploring doors from older homes as a way to think about the people who live behind them and the generations before them that have crossed their thresholds. And although many of these doors are still in use today, passing through them will never be possible for most of us, and we are left to imagine what takes place behind them.

And these are some of the images from the door show.

Assuming you read the Artist Statement and looked closer at the doors, I included:

  • Did it make you think about/experience the work differently?

  • Did it add something more to your understanding of the work beyond images of doors?

  • Did the meaning of a door change?

  • Did it perhaps make you wonder what lies behind those doors?

  • Did you learn something about the photographer? His Opinion, His style of work

  • Did the work match the artist's statement? How?

  • Did you learn something about yourself? What?

In part one, of this three-part blog, on how to get your work into a gallery, I discussed how to approach a body of work so that the sum of the parts becomes more meaningful than the individual images.

In part two, we will delve more into curating your work and looking at things from the audience's perspective.


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