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Place your work centre stage: 11 top tips for putting together an exhibition with Elise Dumontet

4 years ago

Not only is putting on a solo exhibition a great creative project to gain a deeper insight into your personal practice, it’s also a wonderful platform to share your work with a wider audience. Commercial beauty photographer Elise Dumontet takes us through the creative challenges and lessons learned when putting together an exhibition. 

When thinking about where you’d like to host your exhibition, venue and location are obviously key factors. Make sure the space is as accessible as possible. For my exhibition, Skin We’re In, I contacted the PR department for Show Space Gallery. I made sure I had a complete plan ready as I knew the gallery would want to know about publicity, estimated turnout, and the benefits for them to exhibit my work. 

It took me around six months to finalize the curation for the display. There was a lot of thinking involved when choosing the right printing, framing, and sequencing, as I wanted the display to work specifically for the space. Design for the book and invites also required quite a bit of consideration. 

I wanted to have exhibition partner paper merchant G.F Smith as fully involved as possible in the presentation process, as their products are services are of such high quality. After running a few test prints to ensure I was happy with the reproduction, I went to their factory in Hull to check out their different framing types. I wanted to make sure the colors of the frames matched the photographs. 

I was lucky enough to have the most incredible help from two very special people: Publicis Creative Director Paul Hogarth and Graphic Designer Michiel Van Wijngaarden. They helped me design everything, from the book to the invites to the posters. They also gave a lot of input into the image layout for the exhibition. We worked very closely together so that all the different aspects of the show were cohesive. To help make the series distinctive, Michael created a specific font for Skin We’re In.

For any creative professional, having a solo exhibition is a dream come true. I have been a commercial beauty photographer for more than 20 years, so I set myself the goal of working on a personal project and for it to be exhibited in London. Showing your work to a public audience is a great way to show clients – new and old – that you’re not just defined by the commercial brief you get booked for. Being able to work and show personal work is essential for me to keep my creativity alive.  

Printing for the exhibition was a labor of love. It really took me back to the days when I started out in my photography career. I never really print anymore; now after a shoot, I’ll edit the pictures and email the files to the client for approval. It was so wonderful to go to the printers and try different types of paper, various sizes. For this exhibition some of the pictures will be simply mounted and framed, some will be printed on perspex and a large scale piece will be printed on canvas. It was fun to experiment with different media. 

Plan, plan and plan again – you never know what challenges might crop up so it’s always good to be as prepared as possible. Also, I found I had the most fun when I was bold with my creative decisions.  

Don’t give too much information away before the exhibition - having an element of intrigue is key. Don’t rely on too many people for their advice, definitely listen to their feedback but remember that you are your best critic. And finally, try and keep a cool head! While parts of the process can be stressful, everything does have a habit of working out in the end. 

Pricing your photographs is always going to be tricky. You need to find that balance of not being too expensive but also not undervaluing yourself. Definitely get advice from others on this, I asked my agent and the gallerist at Show Space for their thoughts. Also, make sure you incorporate the cost of the printing and framing so you cover your costs. 

For advice on how to market and promote the exhibition, I again seeked out advice from friends. One of my mates runs a PR agency, so they helped with contacting the press and finding sponsors – she also wrote the press release and sponsors pack. 

I decided to produce a coffee table book, which has been made by G.F Smith and printed on fine art photographic paper. I wanted something really special and tactile for people to enjoy and remember my work after the show.

is on show at Show Space Gallery, 27-28 Eastcastle Street, London, W1W from 12 to 13 September
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