You have invested a lot of time (and money) into your photography and there is nothing like having your work displayed up on a wall for everyone to see.
Artists have been exhibiting their work for centuries and the reasons artists exhibit their work vary from artist to artist, but if your goal is to put your work up on a wall to show other people what you are capable of, then exhibiting your work can be very rewarding.
While your ultimate goal may be to exhibit your work in a gallery (where it can be sold), starting off on a smaller scale may be a more realistic approach. A good place to start is your state's fair.
The state fair is a quintessential part of many Americans' summers, and all fifty states have a state fair. Many offer a photography category and award ribbons.
While being honored with a ribbon is certainly rewarding, keep in mind that simply having your photograph hanging on a wall at your state fair for all to see is certainly very rewarding, too. I know many accomplished photographers who have never won a ribbon. And most of the photographs that I have entered into my state fair have never won a ribbon (there have even been times that I have entered a photograph one year, when it didn't receive a ribbon, but the photograph received a ribbon a few years later when I re-entered the exact same entry).
For this discussion I will explore the process of entering a photograph into the Kentucky State Fair. The process should be similar in other states. This information is current for 2018.
Prepare and Register
First, find out when your state fair will be held and your fair's registration deadline.
The Kentucky State Fair, one of the oldest state fairs in the country, is typically held during the second half of August. For additional information search for "Kentucky State Fair Premium Book" for fair dates, registration deadlines, and the rules for submitting your entries. Photography is included in the Fine Arts and Crafts department.
For 2018, the Kentucky State
is held August 16 through 26 at the State Fairgrounds in Louisville.
Select which division you want to compete in. Photography is divided into three divisions within the Fine Arts and Crafts department:
Division 4004 is the Aspiring Division for intermediate and novice photographers.
The Kentucky State Fair defines aspiring as photographers who have never entered before or have never won a blue ribbon but do not sell photographs as described in the Accomplished Devision.
Division 4005 is the Accomplished Division for photographers who make photos and sell them, or for those who are a teacher of photography or those who operate a commercial studio. Exhibitors who are eligible to enter the accomplished division may not enter the aspiring division.
Division 4006 is the Student Photography Division for middle and high school students in grades 6 through 12.
For the aspiring and accomplished divisions all photography must be the original work of the artist with the exception of the printing. Each entrant is permitted one entry only in each class. Photographs may not duplicate an entry in another class (in other words, you can't submit the same photo for more than one class, including one color and one monochrome of the same photo). For the student photography division the conceptualization, set up, and taking of the photograph should originate with the student.
If one of your entries won a blue ribbon in a previous Kentucky state fair, that photograph cannot be entered again.
Select which classes you are going to enter for your division. Remember that you can only enter one photograph per class (and cannot enter the same photograph in more than one class). The classes tend to change each year so read the descriptions for the class and select your best photograph that fits the description for that class.
Register as an exhibitor following the instructions in the Premium Book. You can either mail a General Entry Form or register on-line. There is a deadline for entries.
For 2018 the entry fee was $10 per department ($8 for seniors age 55 and older and $6 for juniors under age 18). A late entry fee of $20 applies to those who enter late (July 2 in 2018). There is a registration cut-off date (July 10 in 2018).
Prepare your entries.
Some categories require that your photograph be entered digitally either on-line or by compact disk. The submission deadline for digital entries is earlier (for 2018 the deadline is July 16).
Most categories require a physical photo to be submitted on a 16 inch by 20 inch mat board or foam core board. Photographs are only accepted the weekend before the fair opens. Any print up to 16 inches by 20 inches is permitted and the print must be mounted proportionally and securely to mat board or foam core board (glass coverings, frames,
wires, clips, strings, thin poster board, or any sticky substances that can be felt on the front or back of the entry are prohibited). The thickness of an entry cannot be greater than one-half inch.
I print my entries as 11x14 prints. Many framing shops can trim and dry mount these prints to mat board or foam core board, but it is usually cheaper to do this yourself.
Because one of my photos typically is not the same proportion as an 11x14 print, I have to create an extra white border along the two longest sides. To do this, I create a white 11x14 300 dpi image in Photoshop and then place my photo onto this image, flatten the image, and then submit the file for printing as an 11x14 print.
Then I need to trim the print before I mount it to 16x20 foam core.
To trim the photo you will need a straight ruler, a knife, and a cutting board (all of which you can find at an art supply store, such as Hobby Lobby).
Please be careful with the cutting knife, and the blade should be very sharp so that you can make a clean cut. Push away with the knife (rather than pulling towards you) as you make the cut.
Place your photograph on the cutting board,
line your ruler where you wish to trim, and carefully pull your knife along the edge of your ruler making a clean cut along the length of the photograph.
Check your photograph to make sure you have a clean cut (and correct if necessary).
Once your photograph is trimmed, mark your foam core board so that you know where to place your photo after the adhesive has been applied. One of the easiest ways to do this (in my opinion) is to use Post-It notes as a guide. Post-It notes can be easily removed without leaving any marks on your foam core board.
I use two Post-It notes to mark both ends of the longest edge (so that my photograph is straight) and one Post-It note to mark where one of the short edges needs to be placed.
While working in a well-ventilated area, place your photograph face-down on a clean surface and apply the adhesive. Applying an adhesive to a photograph is not considered archival (but, in this case for me, this isn't going to be an archival print that I am ever going to sell). Mount your print to the foam core and allow it to dry.
You should receive your entry tags from the fair one-to-two weeks before your entry is due. The fair is very particular about how this entry tag has to be attached to your entry (if it is not attached properly, your entry will not be accepted but they will allow you to correct your mistake on-site). Loop the included string through your tag and, with your entry face-down, securely tape the string to the top right hand corner (so that when your photo is hung for display, the entry tag will hang over the top of the left corner). You should also make and attach a tag with your name to the back of your entry (just in case something happens to your entry tag).
Your entry is now ready to submit to the fair.
When your entry is placed in an upright position, the entry tag should hang over the top left corner. Be sure to detach your claim check from the entry tag and save in a safe place (you will need this claim check on the Monday after the fair ends to pick up your entry, and any ribbon).
Fold the bottom of the tag to cover your name for the judging process and slip the edge under the tab.
Be sure to attend the fair and spend some time viewing all of the other photography entries. Studying those entries which received ribbons is a wonderful way to learn! And roaming around the fair is a great photo opportunity.
I am a fine art and conservation photographer from Louisville, Kentucky, who uses photography to advocate for conservation outcomes, protecting nature and improving the natural environment. Conservation photography furthers environmental conservation, wildlife conservation, habitat conservation and cultural conservation by expanding public awareness of issues and stimulating remedial action. You can see more of my work at www.hultgren.org.