Story & Photos by Suzanne Rose
When I spied it on the wall in the back room everything around me fell into shadow. My small, framed picture took my breath away on the hallowed walls of a real museum. It had an air of quiet confidence as it held its own among the much larger works around it.
The narrow beam of warm light that poured upon it seemed to validate my image as a real work of art.
In was 1999 and it was the first time I had seen one of my photographs hanging on the wall of a group show and I immediately became hooked on the adrenalin rush of exhibiting.
The most uplifting feeling overcame me as I walked out of the building with a hyper-focused thought in my mind: Do this again, immediately.
This one small “win” opened up a universe of optimism while the support of my community cemented my resolve. I found saying “yes” to every creative opportunity gave my photography higher purpose and deeper personal meaning.
At that decisive moment, it wasn’t possible to even conceive the thought of having a solo exhibit in that same space, but just a little over a decade later I’d be filling the entire museum with my work. What did become evident early on is that applying to juried shows or having my photographs eligible for a prize has the power to initiate a perpetual cycle of success.
In scientific terms this is called the “Winner Effect.” It’s the neuroscience of success fueling success. It’s not just for athletes; it is a phenomenon that comes into play on any competitive field including art. Acknowledging this effect and using it to your advantage can be a game changer. The positive emotions harvested from being accepted into a show, winning an award or selling a photograph produce a positive mood which in return creates physical energy and a new found resilience to set backs. As artists we can tap into this drive and use it as fuel to rise to the next level and quickly surpass those not entering into the stream of competition.
Opportunities for photographers in Door County vary from year to year with the exception of three steadfast annual events. In 2017 the Hardy Gallery will have their 55th Annual Juried Exhibit, the Miller Art Museum will host their 42nd Juried Annual show and the Hal Prize Contest, in its 18th year, dedicates almost an entire issue of the Peninsula Pulse in August to the prizewinners. These three competitions draw the largest audiences, the highest quality of work and the most prestigious awards.
The Hal Prize currently has an open call for entries with a deadline of
May 1st, The Hardy begins accepting applications in early spring, and The Miller wraps up the summer season with a mid-September deadline.
Even though these events are many months off, winter is the perfect time to begin sorting through and finding your best work. Preparing so far in advance gives a photographer ample breathing room to perfect a budding workflow in complicated software, master printing your own work or sending out the work to have processed by a pro without paying premium prices for accelerated service.
Over the years I have risen up the ranks and now receive invitations to be a juror. When I jury work into a show, be it as an individual or as part of a panel, I look for quiet gems. Works of art that have a certain something - a “je ne sais quoi” - that speaks volumes of a genuine style that authentically delivers a pleasing combination of a fascinating subject matter, interesting perspective with an emotional element that holds my attention for just a little longer than expected.
On the flip side, putting your work out there also invites rejection – the unavoidable possibility that can really sting.
I’ve learned from being on both sides of the experience that rejection isn’t personal – it is just part of the process, though sometimes quite unpleasant, it isn’t all bad. The lessons learned from rejection, if you wrap your brain around them properly, can motivate a photographer to scrutinize and elevate work to new levels of excellence.
Rejections can mount up and even eclipse the “yes” notifications, especially when first starting out. It is important, though, to forge forward as well as attend every show that you had received a rejection. The opportunity to view the winning entries can be a master class in clarity by self-assessing whether the rejection you received indicates something lacking in your art, craft or possibly even the presentation.
Behind the scenes decisions are made that can not always be directly shared with the applicants. It can be any number of reasons why work was not included in a show, from not meeting the criteria of the entry guidelines to extremely stiff competition. You can be confident that each individual entry has been given its due and sometimes even trigger intense discussion or debate amongst the jurors themselves.
Regardless, if you have received the highest award or a stinging rejection, channeling the energy from the experience to launch into future ideas and continued image making is paramount. As photographers we should not dwell in any one place for too long. It is not about where you have stood but where your creative journey is heading next.
I still feel the adrenalin build as I begin to form my ideas of approach when I’m considering entering into a competition. As the deadline draws near and I put the finishing touches on my entry, I still get butterflies in my stomach when I think of the possibility of being displayed with my ever-increasingly talented peers. It is a feeling that never wanes or one that I have ever outgrown.
Take the risk and put your best work out there: set out to meet a deadline (or two) by getting your photographs out of the digital ether and into the limelight. The sweetest artistic merit is in the eye of the beholder. Being on display in quality Door County venues allows the community at large to view your work and celebrate in your success.
Good luck and good light!
Please visit my website, www.suzannerose.com, for a local source list to prepare your work for exhibit - from a digital printer to suggestions on where to get work matted and frame. Also find past FOCUSED articles, my upcoming workshops offered in Door County and more.