Getting The Picture

It doesn’t matter if your gallery is really a vintage schoolhouse-turned-library, and if your gallery lights were a yard-sale find. It doesn’t matter if your pedestal is really an end table with a castoff white cloth on top and the complete speeches of Winston Churchill piled underneath to level up the legs. It doesn’t matter if the pristine white gallery in the background is really an old projector screen held open with a frayed bungee cord.

The only thing that matters is that it all looks good in the photographs.

Excellent documentation is not optional. It took me a long time to understand that, and in some ways it still frustrates me; I want to be judged on the basis of my work, not the quality of my images. But there are so many situations in which photographs are the only impression that people have of an artist’s work. I have participated in the jurying process for several juried exhibits, and have witnessed the initial round of image screening for grad-school applications. Sorting through hundreds of images is tedious and exhausting work — it’s very unlikely that someone will have the energy to squint carefully at a blurry or poorly-lit photograph in search of artistic treasure.

I never look forward to documenting art. It’s tedious, and the truth is that I’m not very good at it. At least for me, it’s one of the more frustrating aspects of professionalism for an artist — a task that creates new opportunities, but also takes away from my time and energy for actually making art. But it’s a necessary part of my work, so from time to time I pull out the camera and set up some lighting and get the job done.

Good images are certainly easier to take in a dedicated lighting studio, but an enterprising artist can do quite well with an okay camera and some materials found around the house. This morning Scottie and I set up a makeshift photo studio in the library here to document some of his artwork for a juried exhibit that we’re both entering. Our set-up looked a little sketchy with Winston Churchill piled up under the table and extension cords running everywhere, but it proved functional. The lighting was good, and we were able to find angles that showed only the white tabletop and projector screen behind.

The shoot itself took less than an hour, and I was done editing the photographs before lunch. (So much for whining about tedium and lost time!) The images were good — and that’s what counts.

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All artwork by Scott Dillman.


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About Sarah Jane

Working artist, university professor, community educator. Currently living in community at the Grunewald Guild, Leavenworth, WA.

One response to “Getting The Picture”

  1. Lew Curtiss says :

    As a former product / fashion photographer I can relate! It’s absolutely true that even a dining table, a clean, pressed white bed sheet, and a couple of desk lamps can transport a work of art into a beautiful visual context. And the camera doesn’t even have to be a large, expensive DSLR. You are so right on the mark! Thanks for sharing this vitally important aspect of our art practices.

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