July 13, 2017

Art Jury Photo Deep Dive

We've talked before about different types of photography artists need to promote their work. For event focused artists I would argue that jury photos are one of the most important categories. Why? Because that's often how the judges decide whether or not to include you in an event. I'd like to take this opportunity to dive deeper into the jury process and how you can be sure your images represent you in the best light.

Jury Photos Defined 
Many art shows and events are curated by a jury. This person or group of people acts as the judge of which pieces will be included, and their job is to evaluate all of the candidates. Some juries will be event staff with a history in the industry while others are made up of outside artists, gallery owners, art educators and more that have been specially recruited for the job. Because juries can't meet all of the applicants in person, they make their judgment based on photography of the artwork. Often the ideal jury photos are simple in staging, individual pieces or a small selection of work on a plain background. The goal is to show quality and craftsmanship with no distractions. They jury will be looking for talent and unique style compared with other applicants in the same artistic category, but also fit for the event if there is a particular theme. Some juries will also ask for a booth photo to see how art will be displayed. Its crucial that you catch the jury's eye and convey professionalism.

The Jury Process
Every event is different when it comes to the application process and evaluative criteria, but most follow similar steps for jurying. As mentioned above, the jury can be made up of one person or several with different perspectives on art. No matter their background, that common goal is to select the best artists among the applicants in order to fill spots at their event. This usually involves gathering together in one room to view all of the photos for each applicant and then vote.

Blind juries don't see the name of the artist or any other details when making their selection to help prevent any bias from impacting their votes. That means the photographs have to do all of the talking. These jurors will be looking for skill, originality and consistency across the provided examples of each artist's work. Many shows attract a high number of applicants, so the evaluation will likely be made quickly. Jury photos need to make a strong initial impression fast.

Juries that don't use a blind process may also consider signals that the artist will be a successful addition to the show. For example, they may ask for the artist's previous show experience and the range of work they have to sell while also considering how an applicant will complement the other participants already chosen. At the end of the day, a good event depends both on talented artists, but also juries with an good curatorial sense, knowing the taste of the audience likely to attend.

Best Practices
  • Read the application directions for type and number of images needed.
  • Follow the recommended specifications for size and resolution.
  • Include a representative selection of the best work that you plan to show.
    • Many fairs specifically want to see samples of all you plan to sell.
  • As much as possible, convey focus throughout the pieces in your images.
  • If there is an event theme, demonstrate how you'll be a good fit.
  • Image order does matter; arrange your photos with intention.
  • Consistency across your images is key - background, lighting, staging.
    • Simple, clean and well lit will help your artwork stand out.
  • Make sure your images show accurate colors and avoid distortion.
  • If you don't get accepted, ask for feedback to improve.

What Not to Do
  • Don't send in too many, too few or the wrong types of images. 
  • Avoid photos that don't represent your work accurately.
  • Don't over-stage you images and distract from your work.
  • Be mindful of art that's controversial or potentially polarizing.
  • Don't let your images get stale by using the same ones year after year.

Getting Help
There are two types of help I recommend to ensure the best chance for success:
  • Objective Feedback - While you will always be the expert on your work, if you're new to the jury process or trying to get into a really important show, you may want to get advice on your images. I would seek out fellow artists or individuals active in the art community. We can all be a little biased about our work, so an outside, but still knowledgeable perspective can help with objectivity. Ask about things like which pieces best represent your talent, how to order the images and any special styling you can include to really make your work pop. 
  • Professional Photography - Digital photography has made it easier for anyone to shoot their own images. Most artists have a good understanding of composition so they know how to capture a decent photo. And yet, there are benefits to involving others in the process. Hiring a professional photographer can free up time for you to keep making while delegating to someone who specialized. You can also take advantage of the quality best achieved with professional gear without having to invest in it yourself. Lastly, you'll benefit from the new perspective by bringing in someone who hasn't been involved in the making. You might be surprised by what they see and how they recommend representing your work.