Friday, August 13, 2010

The Season of Show Entries

No one will ever notice if I just tweak it a little in Photoshop.

During the past 2 weeks I entered 5 competitive exhibitions and I have at least one more entry coming during the next couple of months. Perhaps not as many shows as some enter but enough to make me a little crazy until the forms are completed, the digital images created, checks written and packages mailed or online entries completed.

Some years ago I entered many of this type show but images were sent in as slides. You set up your work, made the photographs, sent them away for processing hoping they would be good and if not you made more photographs .... if you had time.

Now we are in the new age of digital images and this is where things get really scratchy. In many many ways this technology makes it easier and cheaper to photograph your work if you have a decent camera, a couple of good lights (some shoot without them), a wall to hang your work on and a computer and some type of image editing software. Here comes the scratchy part.....The multitude of varying directions presented for you to follow.

One show wants this size, another group wants a different size, one mentions the size of the file, another requests jpegs and tiffs, etc. Wouldn't it be lovely if all of the supporting organizations for the exhibitions got together and created some Standardized Guidelines. Almost everybody does the initial jurying from the digital images and other than working with either the Macintosh or IBM platform what is the reason for all the different image requirements?

If it is because they might need larger and better files for a catalog? If so, why not requests those files from the entrants who are accepted. I'm sure we would be happy to supply them. Is it due to the requirements for online entries? I did one of those this week and it allowed a fairly large size file to be uploaded. Is it because many juries are done by multiply jurors and the museums/galleries are trying to accommodate the jurors as to how fast the files load? I don't know, but imagine this...

A group of informed members of some of the major shows getting together - online of course - and establishing on some standard guidelines. Each institution could have these guidelines online for prospective show participants to download. We could create new image files as we completed work and we could use those same files anytime we wanted to enter the work in a show.....much the way we did when we got a good slide.

Museums, galleries, and art associations get together and communicate and collaborate for their mutual good all the time. I hope one of you is reading this and finds it in your best interest to help us out here and promote this concept.

My second point relates to the preparation of images using Photoshop or some other image editing software to enhance the appearance of our work. This is so strange to me. We can use the software to size the work, we can use lights to show off the work, we can hire a professional photographer to do the work if we can afford that (not many can) but we can't use the very thing that makes having a computer

Of course I am not suggesting anyone use these programs to make their work look better than it really is( I just saw the Mona Lisa in Paris and I prefer my version) but if you are looking at your piece on the wall and you are looking at the image you just shot on your computer and they do not match, why is it prohibited to adjust the color to make the image match the work. I sold hand dyed fabric online for a couple of years and there are colors the camera just would not pickup but I could adjust the color and to match the actual fabric. The proof of my success was that after selling hundreds of yards of fabric I never had a single complaint about misrepresentation of color.

If people are silly enough to make adjustments which "improve the quality" of their work, they will be discovered and rejected during the object jury.

This might sound like a rant but everyone I am in contact with and enters more than a couple of shows has expressed the same irritation. If you have any influence with these venues, mention this concept and perhaps this can change.

Thank you for spending time with me and I love to hear from you.


  1. Amen to all that! Eventually this may occur, just as colleges have adopted a uniform application form, but (a) art show organizers aren't always the most technologically adept folks around, (b) they just got through the trauma of going to digital entries in the first place and haven't stopped trembling yet, (c) there's no complaint from the entrants, and (d) people don't like to change.

    Maybe we should all start writing letters to our favorite art venues and suggest they get together.

  2. These are very good points. I like your idea about writing to our favorite art venues. It would actually make things easier for them once the standards are established because there just wouldn't be as much margin for error. Thanks Kathy.

  3. You are right, Terry, that there should be a uniform size and resolution required for images. I have never seen anything about not adjusting the brightness or color - only that if a piece is accepted, it has to look like the image. Recently we had this happen with a show I helped organize where the jpgs of two pieces were so unlike the real work that it was barely recognizable. The curator decided to accept the work because she liked it anyway, but she said that next time she would be sure to stress that she had the right to reject any work that was adjusted so much that it was another work altogether.

    I just posted on my blog some images about Rothko paintings in NY and how my shots varied so much from the official shots. I also mentioned how impossible it is to get a true representation of a work in a digital image. But I certainly wouldn't trade the ease of taking digital photos for slides. What a pain that was with all the little labels, multiple originals, having to take the work to a photographer and then the expense, etc., etc.

  4. Terry, you have said it eloquently - the sizes/resolutions/blah blah blah vary so much that they are a nightmare. NOT to mention how each venue wants the jpgs labeled. Not only does the information vary, the order of it varies. So even if you are entering the same piece in different shows in the same year, you have to revise the names of the entries. ANd you have to label them full and detail, as if the jurors can't tell the difference when they look at both. ARGH.

    I just looked through my past entries and see, off the top of my head, SIX variations of how jpgs must be labeled.
    - Gillmanr_name of work_size
    - raynagillman_name of work_size
    - Rayna Gillman_name of work_size_year
    - Gillman_ year_ size_ name of work
    - Gillman_name of work_full or detail
    - Rayna Gillman_entry #_(full)_name of work_size

    Thanks for bringing this up -- it is enough to keep me from entering more than one show a year!

  5. Nancy and Rayna, Thank you for MORE examples of why we could benefit from some standards. The labeling issue is definitely arbitrary and the venues can Always reserve the right to reject a work due to misrepresentation intentional or not. While some shows may not have rules about digital adjustment, many shows featuring quilts do have these rules. If it is proven (I have no idea how that would be done) that you have adjusted the image the sponsoring organization reserves the right to ban you for life!

  6. A good post - and the difficulties close to our hearts! With the "new"requirement that the image have a space all around it I had to decide whether or not to include my grey cards, spirit levels, edges of flood lights and so on. Grey cards which I was not supposed to use to adjust the color!

    I think they should standardize the background colour too and since most books are printed with white pages, why not just make it white and have done with it?

    And Rayna, I couldn't agree more about the labelling. Everytime you relabel and resave, it affects the quality of the file (or so I'm told). And requiring labelling that covers everything but the kitchen sink leaves you worrying that you'll be rejected cos you got your underscores in a knot!!

  7. Right again Elizabeth! I have been in conversation with another well know artists and I think she is onto something relating to how to create better images. I'll write about that later but still, all the varying rules simply make things more difficult than I feel it should be. My friend has also suggested a book on digital photography but I'll withhold recommending it until I have had an opportunity to read and try out the information. Thank you for commenting!

  8. I agree with your sentiments. There should be and could be standardization of digital images for entries. Writing to favorite venues is an excellent suggestion.
    In the graphic design world, it's clear what the standards are for projected images v. printed images.
    Art venues need to standardize.
    Get the ball rolling and write away!
    As far as the quality of images changing each time you save a file. It's true. That's why you need a high resolution tiff file as a permanent archive for yourself. Tiff files don't degrade. Jpegs do with each save.
    Not with each Close-File, but each SAVE-File.
    So if you open a jpeg and rename it for show A, then open it again and rename it for show B and so on, it'll degrade.
    Imagine a rake running through your image with each time you save the jpg. It will remove tiny pixels here and there. It's removing what the program thinks you don't need to be able to see the file.
    That's why jpg's are called "loosey files". A jpeg is a compressed file. (Like a trash compactor)

    Open the tiff, save the file as a jpg. You could open the tiff hundreds of times and continue to save it as jpg as many times as you like with different file names, as long as you have a "Master" tiff file - the tiff remains the same.

    Terry, how would you like to put out a short list of favorite venues and contact names and start a writing campaign for digital entry standards?

  9. Oh, Terry--the "no software manipulation" thing is a real pet peeve of mine! It is an indication of ignorance, in my opinion. I have not seen anyone asking for RAW files, they generally want JPEGS, which are manipulated, by definition. They have "baked-in" settings that increase contrast, boost sharpness to compensate for the softening created by digital sensors, and so on. On many cameras you control these settings, sometimes you don't, but the software is still "manipulating" the image. (And remember in the old days, lots of people would recommend using Fuji Velvia film, because it resulted in more saturated colors?) So personally, I go with the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law--the spirit says the image should represent the actual artwork as closely as possible. Yeah, I'm into civil disobedience, I guess...


    And yes to the standardization issue, too!

  10. Thank you Christine for the very informative comment. I am going to post an interesting email I received this coming Monday on the topic of digital photography and, as you suggested, I'm going to include a list of names and address of my favorite venues for people to contact. This is not a rant situation but encouragement to those running competitive competitions to make entering shows a little bit easier.

    Your description of the way jpeg files operate is eye-opening.

  11. Thank you Lorraine. The points you make are well taken. The main objective for all of this is to have the best, most accurate images possible, not to "misrepresent" yourself into a show.

  12. I agree with all of you. But there is another issue too. Your images will still only look as good as the juror's monitor. At our house we have our working "mac". But after I burn my images to the cd I always check to make sure they will open on the old pc. They do but oh that monitor is pitiful.

    Now I have to ask the question what happens with online entries? My understanding is that email does other compressions.

    Marti Plager

  13. Thank you Marti. These are very valid questions and concerns. I have posted Part II of this discussion which has more information and things to consider. One of the points that is mentioned in my Open Letter relates to how jurors view the images. I don't have a solution but I certainly feel the sponsors of juried shows should share more information with participants in their shows as to how the images are presented. Thank you ver much for joining in.