How to organise your own photo exhibit

Picture 3

A year ago, the Oxford Flickr Group, a group of slightly geeky amateur photographers, were sitting around a table in a pub somewhere in Oxford. This is not at all unusual, but the difference was that, on this occasion, they decided that it’d be a marvelous idea to hold an exhibition. None of them had had any real experience of organising or taking part in an exhibition but hell, why not give it a go?

Jump ahead to the present day, a year later, and their exhibition is about to open. So how they get this far? How on earth do you go about organising this sort of thing from scratch? Anna Badley explains…

The Big idea

We hold regular photo meets and pub social meets in Oxford, and at one of these meets it turned out we’d missed the deadline for the annual Artweeks event that takes place locally – so we decided that we’d go it alone. We’re quite an active social group, there are probably 40 or so people who turn up to the meet ups so we thought it might be worth a go. That was about 12 months ago.

The first step was finding out where we might be able to stage the exhibition as that would determine the space, how many pictures people could hang and how much that might cost per person. We found a helpful bar/restaurant/gallery that suited our informal group better than a very formal space, and worked out that we could hang 30 fairly large pictures in the space they had – so, 30 exhibitors.

The next step was to find out who in the Group might be interested in exhibiting. There are around 1,500 members at the moment and we had no idea how many of those might be actually located in Oxford and interested in putting in a picture. We thought we’d get loads of people expressing an interest who would then drop out things really got going, but that didn’t happen. Also rather surprising was that quite a few of the final 30 had never been along to any of the meet ups and we had no idea who they were – we’d never met them. This did make us a little nervous at first; what if they didn’t pay up? What if they didn’t turn up with a picture?

The plan takes shape

The poster for the Flickr exhibit in Oxford

The poster for the Flickr exhibit in Oxford (click on the image to see it full-size)

By the end of March this year we were pretty much set on what we were doing, we’d got our 30 exhibitors, and 5 organisers (not quite sure how they were elected, it just sort of happened).

We had a bit of a break in early Summer then got the money in from the majority of the exhibitors during July and August. That was far less of a hassle than we’d imagined it might be, but apart from putting the money down on the venue not a lot else happened over the Summer months.

The exhibitors had a theme to work to; we wanted to show a different side of Oxford to the one the tourists see when they visit. So we’d asked everyone to try and show their own perspective on the city, and tried to give them as much freedom as possible.

Oh my God it’s only 8 weeks away, how did that happen?

With only 2 months left before opening night, there was a sudden flurry of activity. A summit was held with the five organisers and a horribly large task list of things that needed checking, fixing, chasing, designing and printing – the whole lot.

By the time the summit had finished, we’d divided up the tasks; collecting the high res jpg files to put in the accompanying book, keeping in touch with the venue, writing the press release, designing the map for the photos to be placed on and setting up the email address were some of the more major ones. Somewhere along the line the exhibition also got a title – Made In Oxford – and suddenly we were almost ready to go!

One of the group also had a tame graphic designer who immediately set to work on making us a fantastic poster. It was definitely worth having someone professional do this because as soon as we saw how good it looked it was pretty clear none of us had the design skills to even get close to that.

Final tweaks

The Made in Oxford book is available to purchase via Photobox for £21

The Made in Oxford book is available to purchase via Photobox for £21

Finally, we arranged a meet up (mainly as we were really intrigued as to who our mystery exhibitors were) and had a frankly scary meet-up that felt more like a board meeting than a group of photographers! Thankfully we managed to fix that problem later in the evening with a few ales, once all the important information had been dished out.

The book was proof-read by three of us (not taking any chances there) and is now available to buy from Photobox!

When we first looked at all the pictures together it became apparent that the majority of photos had nobody, or just a lone figure, in them. Many were taken at night or very early in the morning. Even the usual tourist traps and colleges look deserted which is not something you ever see during the day. It was really exciting seeing a completely different side to the city and we were happy that the theme we’d chosen had actually been okay to work with.

So we’re currently four days before opening night. We’ve had plenty of local press interest and the posters are starting to appear round town. We have 29 pictures ready to go and the last one is almost there so it looks like everything is ready to roll.

Once all the pictures are safely hanging on the wall in the venue we’re intending to get the beers in and sit back to enjoy what’s been achieved, and maybe even start thinking about next year’s theme – well, maybe not quite yet.

The exhibition is open 7 days a week to the general public from 3rd-31st October 09, at the Jam Factory, Hollybush Row, Oxford, UK OX1 1HU (map).

Hang on a minute. What on earth is the Oxford Flickr Group?

We’re an offshoot of the online photo-sharing site, We love taking photos, finding interesting things to shoot here where we live and welcoming new people to our city. There is normally a degree of photographic geekery happening but it’s certainly not a pre-requisite for joining in; we don’t care if you use your iPhone, a dinky little point-and-shoot camera or a fancy-pants film SLR with all the lenses. We certainly don’t compare mega pixels (okay, most of us don’t do that).

There’s no charge for joining and we’re a friendly bunch so if you’re interested in saying hello, come and find us on Flickr!

Oh, and of course if you’re not in Oxford, UK, there are loads of other local Flickr groups all over the world. If there isn’t one where you are, nothing’s stopping you from starting your own – get busy!

This article was written by the inimitable Anna Badley (Flickr / website), who in the past has written the Beginning in Portraiture article here on Photocritic. If you would like to get involved and write a guest article, drop me an e-mail!

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