One of my resolutions this year was to have my photography work published and exhibited. In September, together with 7 other talented photographers from Kuching (my hometown in Borneo), a photography exhibition, with the theme “Exploration”, was held at Saradise Gallery. The work on display was not limited to street photography, and we had entries spanning architecture, conceptual photography, portraits, documentary work and even landscapes – all was fair game provided it fit the exploration theme. I also had to opportunity to serve as one of the curators for the exhibition. In this article, I shall share my experience curating a large set of photographs for a gallery exhibition.
The exhibition was open to all participants from Kuching and the submitted images to were subjected to a rigorous curation process by myself and two other professional photographers, Jee Foong and Lance Vun. Lance was the head organizer and coordinator for the whole exhibition. The theme was chosen because it enables a wider creative interpretation and is not too limiting to any particular genres of photography. Each participant could submit a minimum of 3 photographs per series, up to a maximum of 10. We received more than a dozen applicants which we finally narrowed down to 8 exhibiting photographers.
The most difficult hurdle for me was curating my own images. While it may seem like I had a large pool of photographs to choose from, it was challenging to piece the individual images together to form a cohesive narrative. I have images that appear spectacular in terms of the scene captured, or having intense drama in it, but they did not fit into a set that contained other images as well. My submission was titled “Hunting Urban Drama”, in which I showcased a series of photographs showing interesting moments taken at hidden corners, unpopular back-alleys and generally unknown locations around the city. The final collection of photographs include elements of urban landscape to establish sense of location, some environmental portraits to show people and context and close up details of the urban scene which adds depth and layers to the overall presentation. And of course, there were cats too – how could I not have them?
The curation was carried out by the process of elimination. The first round was merely about print quality. Though the largest print size for the exhibition was only 12″ by 18″ (A3 size), we were strict about the quality of files submitted. Believe it or not, we rejected an entire series of film scanned photographs, because they were no more than 1 megapixels each, which would not make a decent print. We rejected out of focus images or those blurred due to hand shake (unless there was a clear, creative reason for this), because these images will just look bad in print. The second round of elimination focused on images not fitting the exploration theme. Some images were eliminated because they made no sense and the description could not make them relevant to the theme. We asked the participants to amend their image descriptions to suit the theme, or choose other, more suitable images for the exhibition. The third and final round, was to ensure consistency and overall quality of images presented. The key criteria we kept in mind while doing this, was to ensure visitors to the gallery would have a pleasant visual experience.
Lance Vun, the man behind the exhibition.
Curation is extremely important in photography, and I believe Ming Thein has emphasized this several times. For me, it is still an on-going, learning process. One useful tip I can share with you; it helps to have another pair of fresh eyes to look at your photographs and give you honest feedback. This will keep your personal emotional attachment to your images in check. We sometimes love our own images too much to reject them, but rejection is necessary when it comes to tight curation. And tight curation is necessary to show the best of you as a photographer.
Special thanks to Saradise Gallery who is hosting the exhibition! Also hats off to Lance Vun for pulling this off – you are a miracle worker. To all those who dropped by the exhibition, thank you, it meant a lot to me, and I hope you enjoyed the images!
Images and content copyright Robin Wong 2017 onwards. All rights reserved