We live in a world of visual bombardment. According to the research company Internet Live Stats, there are over 1,000 photographs uploaded to Instagram alone every second. When you factor in our universal personal attention deficit, one must wonder how one gets their precious photographs seen. Here are 15 unignorable ways to show your photographs to help get past the digital clutter.
In the olden days, much of our work was shown as prints. And, if we were lucky, we were asked to exhibit in a gallery show. Even on the walls we can be up against the attention deficit viewer. Much of the time, while isolating the work, the sameness of the design of photography exhibitions often aims the work squarely at boring. People walk around and give each image five seconds. Sure, a ‘framed’ show highlights the work, and framed isolation is a direct way for the viewer to see the photographs up close and personal. However, too many shows follow the same been-there-done-that viewership pattern. Photo Show = quiet white room + eye-level prints + thin black or white frames.
To get past the usual, I like bringing the world of experiential marketing to showing work. My 50-image “La Gente” Mexican portrait series was in a gallery show last year and I thought hard about how to exhibit the photographs in ways that went beyond the usual static framed print. I had the objective of creating interactivity, at least, delivering something different to capture attention. I exhibited my photographs via a projector; printed on skateboards; I commissioned a custom Chinese painting of one of the images; I printed a zine handout and, yes, a couple of framed prints. I also wanted to go beyond the usual silent gallery and played a Mexican music soundtrack in the background.
I’ve been thinking hard about the many ways that we can share our work to become unignorable. Here are presentation options that might spark some new ideas. Some are obvious. Some not. But the selection and use of any platform should be directed by your specific viewing objectives. Like everything in marketing… ask yourself: what do I want to achieve, who do I want to reach, and what reaction and action am I looking for?
Below is my current presentation list ending with a new platform that was invented just a couple of months ago.
#1. Own your website. Every photographer should consider having a branded website for their master work and specific projects. These can be low-cost (I use Squarespace) and, importantly, you control your destiny. Remember that when you hand over your work to a third party like Instagram, it can change the rules any time it wishes. Plus, the third-party website host could simply disappear. Remember Myspace?
#2. Produce a book. I created two small photo books a few years ago using the self-publishing tool Blurb. My Potlandia and Jointlandia books are a straightforward, historical, look at the origins of Portland Oregon’s emerging cannabis industry. Designing and producing the books was essentially free. However, there can be a pricing downside to self-publishing. The cost of my small print-on-demand books, which can be bought on Amazon, is a bit too expensive at $31 each. As an alternative, you could use a local printer to author a series of spiralbound books. Keep it simple works for books.
#3. Consider making objects. I have collected skateboard art for years. Now we can put our work on the very low-cost skateboard medium at around $30 per board. Plus, if you are a skater, you can ride your work to work.
#4. Project your work. Why not pick a room with a large white wall and go big by projecting your work? Consider putting the projector on your car and roam your town with giant images for all to see. One of the best photography shows I have ever seen was the huge multi-projector show of Gary Winogrand’s color work at the Brooklyn Museum. The project your work idea also includes showing the photographs on large monitors which can be placed around a room.
— FotoStefan (@FotoStefan) August 1, 2019
#5. Create woven art. The uber-popular Cindy Sherman is now showing her work, on 112 X 86” fabric tapestries.
Cindy Sherman, famous photographer, is known for her self-portraits that comment on our visual culture, is embracing a new medium in her latest exhibition. In her show titled, Tapestries, Sherman is using the medium of tapestry to create her portraits. https://t.co/0rIwtFombQ pic.twitter.com/TZvhx9FGaa
— IVLA (@VisualLiteracyA) February 20, 2021
#6. Make LEGO portraits. The world-class artist Ai Weiwei has made large-scale portraits out of LEGO. Up close they look like a wall of small LEGO blocks. When you pull back the portrait emerges.
— Reuters (@Reuters) April 13, 2019
#7. Laser print it. Ai Weiwei, who consistently pushes the envelope, recently created laser-etched all-weather banners of photographs of immigrants. These vertical banners were hung from lampposts. The images emerge from the light seen through the laser printing.
“A reminder of the artist’s responsibility to defend the understanding that all humans share the same meaning of life”: @aiww partnered with@PublicArtFund and @eBay to launch sale of benefit limited edition banners on #WorldRefugeeDay https://t.co/A3yraF82S3 pic.twitter.com/cj5hOWHmFp
— The Art Newspaper (@TheArtNewspaper) June 20, 2018
#8. Go sidewalk. Think about hiring a chalk-based sidewalk artist to recreate your photograph as street art. Imagine people walking by or even over your work, be imaginative and think 3D. This also has the allure of being a transitory experience as the rains will eventually wash away the images.
#9. Print postcards. I marvel at how receiving actual paper-based mail these days can feel like Christmas morning. Create a postcard series using an online print service and send out your work as collectibles. I am sure that a postcard will grab much more sustained attention than your fleeting Instagram post.
#10. Go postal. While you are thinking about postcards, why not do a series of photo stamps? Show them as sheets or just use them on those postcards.
#11. Think zine. I shoot people on location and think about how to share the work with the community. I created a dedicated large-format zine that was handed out across town for my Mexican portrait series. It is a physical way to share the work. I did the same in Selma, Alabama. These zines are also a sweet way to say thank you to your subjects and community.
#12. Go wall. I have been thinking of building a 4×6-foot frame out of pipe and affixing it to the outside wall of my house (I live in a city). I’d produce photos printed on vinyl and mount them using a plumbing pipe frame and bungee cord. I would change the image every month or so. I find the idea of ‘forced’ street viewing kind of interesting and, yes, unignorable.
#13. Outdoor boards. Speaking of outdoor, why not buy a local commercial advertising board to show your work? Or a bus shelter or even one of those bus stop benches? You could also rent the sides of a roaming advertising truck.
#14. Commission a painting. As I mentioned above, I sent an image to China to have a commercial studio make a very close painted reproduction. Many people use these painting services for family photos. This is a unique, totally unexpected, way to show one of your cherished images.
#15. Use the whole city. The French artist JR came to fame for pasting up massive portraits on the side of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. As JR says: “I own the largest gallery of the world – the walls of the city!”
Update on 8/3/21: I seem to be obsessed with trying to figure out how to generate awareness for my and your photography. So much of it seems to languish in boxes or on ephemeral websites or in the social media void.
Here is a new, very local, idea. I just literally stumbled on a new way to get people to visit your show, website, Facebook or Instagram pages. In fact, this idea puts your photograph directly in the path of future viewers. You are looking at a QR code affixed to a sidewalk in Miami’s artistic Wynwood neighborhood. This QR code took me to a Miami cosmetic store.
Where would you want your QR code to take your potential viewers?
About the author: Peter Levitan began life as a professional photographer in San Francisco. He moved into a global advertising and Internet start-up career. Peter photographs people around the world using a portable studio. This is his excuse to travel and meet people.
Image credits: Header stock photo licensed from Depositphotos