Juried Shows – A Matter of Aesthetics

EdgeOfSomething, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

It’s time for me to continue with the series about juried shows. As I said in this post, if you’re interested in getting into juried shows, a big part of getting in rests on your ability to gauge the aesthetic of the juror (or jury panel, as the case may be.)

So, let’s talk about what that means.

One of the most obvious things you can do before sending your work off to a juried show is to type the name of the juror into your search engine of choice. Googling your juror will show you the type of work that he or she is looking for-it will get you into the ballpark, at least. With some jurors, it’s a bit harder to predict what they might like, but this is usually a reasonably good starting point. If the juror is a painter who works with abstract minimalism and color fields, for example, don’t send them “busy” work. That much might be obvious, right?

Sometimes though photography is a bit trickier than that.

The “Eggleston Christenberry” aesthetic is typically quite popular but many photographers starting out (even some who are more advanced) don’t fully understand what that is, so I thought it would be a good idea to delve into this a bit.

My take on the “Eggleston Christenberry” aesthetic is that it’s “American landscape” style photography-a peek into otherwise ordinary, everyday people, places, and “Americana” type things. In many ways it’s almost a “snapshot aesthetic-” the images could look like snapshots at first glance. They aren’t works about travel or gritty documentary images from the war, they are more like “slice of life” glances into everyday life (and living.) Sort of a celebration of the mundane, if you will.

The “Eggleston Christenberry” aesthetic lives on today in places like Jen Beckman’s Gallery (and corresponding Hey Hot Shot website.) So, if you were to submit work to the Beckman Gallery, and you asked my advice, I would recommend that you follow along with that aesthetic-that you submit work that is Americana-like (doesn’t have to be American here-this is more just a look than a specific time or place.)

Flickr, and the ranks of the Flickr Explore, have a slightly different aesthetic. Flickr, and the Flickerati, prefer nature-this is where you pick up the puppies, kittens, sunsets, and flower macros. An artist that was quite popular along these lines (and one that I adore, by the way) is Eliot Porter. I’d go so far as to say that, if Eliot Porter were producing work today, he’d be high up on the ranks on Flickr’s Explore, while some of the artists in Beckman’s 20×200 would not make the cut. Now, that doesn’t mean that either one is “bad,” “right,” or “wrong,” it’s just a look, an approach, a style, a vision.

There are many other styles of photography, some of which, much like schools of art, have formal names, some of which are named after a prominent photographer from the field, some that have just a short-hand style “notation” and some that are unnamed, but still exist. A large part of your ability to get into juried shows rests, not on the quality of your artwork, but on your ability to submit work that follows along the lines of an existing aesthetic.

If a gallery likes black and white work, for example, they might be Adams-like in their interest in the traditional black and white landscape, they aren’t going to go for splashy colors and they don’t want to see many portraits. Likewise, if a gallery is very sort of “modern art-ish” they aren’t going to want to see those same, traditional black and white landscapes-those are boring to them. They want to see more cutting edge work.

I think this topic is important enough that it should not just be limited to juried shows. You can learn a lot about yourself, both as a photographer and as a person, by understanding “where you are coming from” as an artist. What type of work do you do? What type of work do you want to do? Who do you identify with? Where does your work, your style, your vision fit in on the artistic spectrum out there? These sorts of questions will have to be answered for juried shows, yes, but they probably should be answered before you can become successful as an artist. Simply put, you have to know where you are coming from in order to know where you are going, or even, potentially, where you can go, with your work.

Hopefully, you will take this in the spirit in which it was presented-not a divisional diatribe about “the status quo” but more a means to help you advance to the next level with your work, whatever that might be (as you define it.)

Until next time…


  1. mythopolis
    July 31, 2009 / 8:58 am

    Interesting. Working as a grant writer for a university had some of the same process of exploring who the jurors were. You can't blindly answer the government's call for proposals. You have to know what kind of language to put it in. You determine this by doing advance homework as to what sub-committee in Washington will be reviewing the proposals? What are the specific interests of various members of that review team? What have they said 'yea' or 'nay' to in the past? With that knowledge, you couch your concept in language and terms that would appeal to them. Etc.

  2. Carol
    August 2, 2009 / 2:19 am

    It's very much the same thing, especially now. I think photography has become very fragmented, in terms of documentary, photojournalists, etc. all starting to diverge once again. We were brought together by the digital age, but now torn apart once again, by the galleries and marking that pull us apart.

    Sure, you can do work that's either strictly "documentary," "fine art," or whatever but, at the end of the day, when you go to market and sell it, it's going to have to fall into some accepted "genre" in order for it to be successful and rake up the sales. Kind of like the way the music industry did the same thing, right? I mean, we have people like Jason Mraz who start their own sort of little "genres" but then they too get lumped into something, somewhere, just for the purposes of marketing.

    But, yes, it really helps if you can speak their language too.

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