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  • Writer's pictureEllen Fisch

Curating a Photography Exhibition/Judging a Photography Competition

In this post I take a different direction from my usual, which is analyzing photography and art concepts in terms of my own photography. The work of other photographers and visual artists also has an impact on my work. And, in this vein, it is my privilege to judge and curate photography and art exhibitions as well as competitions. Further, I have advised photographers and artists through the process of portfolio reviews and resumes/statements, which also require constructive critiques. I have often been asked about the criteria I use to guide me through the process of curating or judging other artists' work. I have several standards that are a great help to me and I thought I would share these.

I always step back from my own art when judging another artist's work. I am an architectural photographer whose images, both commercial and fine art are very specific and recognizable. I set the principles I use for my own photography completely aside and look at the images of others with fresh eyes. Just what does that mean? If I am curating or judging floral photographs, I cannot expect these to imitate architecture. I see them for what they are: photographs of flowers or whatever the subject may be. Typically, my fine art photography is monochromatic, black and white or sepia. When curating and judging, I appreciate the use of color in works to which color applies.

However, as much as I detach myself from my photography in critiquing other photographers' and artists' work there are fundamentals that always apply to all images:




Values (light and dark)


Presentation, which includes appropriate framing and matting


Style or personal relationship of artist/photographer to the subject


There are other criteria, but I have targeted the most important for me, as a curator and judge. First and foremost, it is critical that certain principles of aesthetics be followed by the photographer/artist. There may be one line on the page or canvas, but the placement, quality, form, shading and texture of that line will determine whether the work is merely a line on a page or a work of art. The composition, form, light and dark, and technique used can make one line a masterpiece or an amateurish creation. Abstract photography and art are rooted in knowledge of fundamentals that have been successfully used as framework for images for centuries. Therefore, the same principles that are applied to representational photography and art are the underpinnings of abstraction.

Presentation of a photograph or art work is also very important. A sloppily framed piece with no mat or an unevenly cut mat will surely detract from a work. Presentation of an image can either enhance or detract from its appeal.

The uniqueness of a photograph or artwork is important. The Mons Lisa was painted once. The photograph of the sailor dipping the nurse while kissing her is another famous work. These are iconic works that have been copied many times, but never surpassed in their unique quality. A photograph or artwork can be unique simply by telling the artist's/photographer's story. Recently I advised a photographer to shoot a well-known monument from an angle that is not common. Frequently, I judge a work because it attempts to present a different perspective than simply copying the many recognizable images on Google.

The photographer's or artist's style should be associated with his/her body of work over a period of time. Even young artists should try to develop a style characteristic of their relationship to subject and the story they are telling. One can easily pick out a Picasso painting in a gallery or a Karsh portrait. Their styles are distinctive and closely relates to subject. Further, style imparts the story of the photograph. A wintry scene that is blindingly while with a small red bird in the foreground definitely tells a story. The same scene without the brightly colored bird may be just another snow scene. The image that draws the viewer in truly stands out among the competition.

These are some of the qualities I look for when judging or curating. Perhaps there same characteristics may be measures of works in museums, galleries, printed materials or on the walls of homes.

Empire State Building Reflected. NYC Black and White Architectural Photography

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