When showing photographs in a gallery, studio, or home, a strong display will catch your viewers’ eye and invite them to take a deeper look.
To make your first impression a strong one, consider these ways of designing your display. You can learn a lot by observing the entrance areas to museum galleries and exhibits. Serving as a sort of billboard or visual proposition, these designs often use extra open space and intense lighting to help focus attention on the artworks.
If you are fortunate enough to have a big, bold image that embodies the exhibit’s theme, you can follow the model in Fig. 1. Even if you don’t have a whole wall to work with, you can still place it in the most visible spot, and let it do the heavy lifting. Placing smaller works at a respectful distance on either side or on adjoining walls offer viewers a next step in the exhibit.
In the absence of one large image, you can cluster several smaller ones that have a unified theme, like the photos of oyster shells at an open studio in Fig. 2. The subtle color and sensuality of the series are offset jewel-box style by the wide mattes and open space, and set the tone for the rest of the exhibit.
The display in Fig. 3 takes this approach to an extreme. Dozens of photos are arranged in a grid that becomes its own work of art. Careful arrangement of images is essential, to provide focal points for the eye and to encourage invitation to discovery rather than create an overwhelming hodge-podge.
Another approach is to use two pieces to pose a question or invite comparison. Fig. 4 shows an unexpected but artful juxtaposition of Old Master and Modernist. The combination invites the viewer to consider the differing styles and time periods, and is likely to begin a dialogue about the works. Note the use of a wall-mounted art hanging system, which is an elegant means of display that allows for precise hanging.
Fig. 5 shows how engaging paired portraits can be. The man and woman have commonality, but are also conveying distinct impressions; the tension between the two generates viewer interest by raising questions and ideas. Combinations of people can create a huge range of feelings and emotions, and experimenting with shots from your portfolio can result in a great billboard.
After designing your display, take a break from the work. When you come back you will arrive with fresh eyes, and see things from the perspective of a new viewer. With a little experimentation and study of professional techniques, your works can make a lasting impression with the broadest possible audience.
Guest contributor Pete Dunn is director of marketing for Gallery System Art Displays, which supplies art hanging systems to thousands of galleries and other exhibition venues. It is his good fortune to be the son and husband of visual artists, which has provided him with hands-on display experience.