For a long time, I have quietly debated the idea of mounting a public exhibition of my photography.
Now, it’s happened in an unexpected way, and it’s a little weird.
More than one friend has suggested that I hold a vernissage of my personal work, but I have always resisted that notion. Part of the issue is the upfront cost, as there’s no guarantee that I would recoup the investment through the sale of the prints on exhibition. Then there’s the difficulty of advertising and promotion. I would need a larger audience than just friends and family to make it work, and I don’t have an established name as a photographer.
Nonetheless, these are merely logistical problems, and they are solvable. My main stumbling block is more philosophical: I’ve never been sure what an exhibition would achieve in terms of career goals.
There’s a photographer from whom I have learned a great deal. His name is David Hobby, and he runs a blog about lighting called Strobist. But the most important lesson he taught me is not about using a flash.
In assessing his own career as a newspaper photographer, he came to this realization:
Photography is not my life. It’s my special sauce. It’s the thing that makes me much more effective—and valuable—at lots of other things. It’s an ability, not a raison d’etre.
Knowing photography is like being multilingual. It’s not an end-all. It’s an ability, like any other. You can hang out a shingle announcing your multi-lingualness and offer to multi-ling stuff for people and that’s fine. But being multilingual is much, much more powerful as a secondary skill that leverages other abilities.
And that’s me, too.
I take pictures. I write instructional material and marketing collateral. I build websites. I create graphics. I shoot video. I do voice work. All these things and more, people have paid me good money to do.
I’ll never be able to pay my mortgage with photography alone. But I think it must be part of the mix of things that I do. And that’s my current struggle, which will be the topic of a future blog post.
So after all that, how did I end up mounting a permanent exhibition of my photography?
My employer asked for it.
We have been doing some redecorating at work, and it was decided that the office needed art. I was asked to put together a portfolio of Montreal-themed photos from which the staff could choose to decorate the office. Out of a shortlist of almost 40 photos, they chose eight.
I ordered the prints — all of which are on the large size; one is printed 55 inches across and is delightfully overwhelming. I chose and ordered the frames, did the framing, and hung them myself.
Having my own photography displayed in a large format like this is disconcerting. My relationship with my own work — which I normally see on a relatively small screen — is very different when it on a wall and fills my peripheral vision. It’s forcing me to re-evaluate the value of my own creative work.
And the upshot: the office where I work is now my own personal art gallery.
Above is the final selection of photos chosen by the staff.