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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 PhotoPlace Gallery philosophy of juried exhibitions with you.

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 they are curating, although the selection process is left entirely to their discretion. Since our gallery can accommodate only 35–40 photos on the walls for an exhibit, and as the number of submissions to our exhibitions continues to rise, we have instituted the Online Gallery Annex to enable more photographers to share their work. 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.

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 40 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 an affirmation 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.

Kirsten Hoving
Director Emeritus, PhotoPlace Gallery