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Chris Coffey
photographer and occasionally a juror

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Juror for 2009 Columbus, Long's Park and Boston Mills

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On The Booth Slide
I'll start with the booth slide because I think itís a consistent place where I see weakness. Whether it's a new artist or someone who's been doing the shows for years, the booth slide is usually the thing you can improve upon the most.
While we're not paid, and the customers don't recognize us for setting up a nice booth, as someone who's spent 22 years in the women's apparel industry I am kind of tuned into presentation and the importance of it. One of the things we used to teach the store employees was to go outside, clear your head and walk back in like a customer. How does it look to the person on the other side of the counter, for example? What do they see, not what did you intend, but what do they see? Because when you think about how long those slides go up on the screen, they're up there for about as long as it takes to walk by your booth without stopping. Itís what they call fleeting eye contact. The public is not going to take any more time to look at your booth than the juror gets to look at it in a slide presentation. So I really think that's the area where a lot of people fall down.
However much your work evolves and changes, you still have to take the approach that this is my work, this is my vision. The jurors either get it or they don't. However the booth slide is a business slide, not an artistic slide. That's how your store looks to the public. And the customer won't look at it any longer than a juror does. So you want to stop them in their tracks and the little things add up.
How many shows say your name shouldn't be in the booth slide, and yet you jury a show and there are always a few. I think at Columbus there were about a half dozen, but at that level of show you don't expect to see that. As a juror, I'm not swayed by your name one way or the other. I don't need to see you in the booth. I need to see, when I look at a booth slide, a consistency of vision. I need to see that the three or four slides you showed weren't that you got lucky and made three or four good pieces in your whole life. When I look at the booth slide, I want to see the cohesive body of work, and thatís what the booth slide should indicate. And as a juror, if I'm on the fence about a body of work, when I get to the booth slide I can kind of tell. I can see the hands of the maker and because I can see a consistency of vision, I can see pieces that look like they came from the same mind.
Hereís another analogy. Your booth slide is like a first date. You won't show up with a booth that looks better than your booth slide. You go out with somebody on your first date, that's probably the best they'll every look. Some people aren't going to like that comparison, but when I was in the apparel industry I interviewed, hired, and had all types of people working for me. There was one fast rule that never changed. They never looked better than the day they interviewed because they're upping their game. They're trying to get hired just like you're trying to get into the show. You're trying to get that customer to stop walking and come in. So how does your booth look from the outside? Go stand outside and look.
Chris Coffey's 2008 booth slide
Chris Coffey's 2008 booth slide
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When I make my own booth slide I don't do it at a show. The lighting at a show is usually terrible. I go to the trouble to set it up at home, in fact, photographing it at night. I don't know if some people would agree or disagree with that but I get a lot fewer flare or reflection problems. As a photographer I can tell you I get better control of the lighting when I do it at night because the lights I run in my booth have color corrected bulbs. Even though I do black and white photography, I use daylight bulbs, similar to what I would use to make someone's portrait to get accurate skin tones. In the days of film, the wrong color light would make my whites look cream and my blacks look brownish. Itís a non issue now and easy to clean up with digital. In any medium, if the representation of the color in your work is important, you owe it to yourself to show your work in the best possible light. So, if I set up my booth slide at home to where I can control it, I can take my time. I don't have to worry about people walking in and out or getting to the show early in the morning when the light's good or bad. I can control the light. And I can set up and stand back and really look at it and see what doesn't belong in the picture. When my make my booth slide, I don't put the Visa/MasterCard signs up. I don't sell those. That's not important. The juror doesn't care how you take the money. When I set up to do my booth slide, I put it up pretty close to how I set up a show, but I don't put a desk in it. I don't put in any of the peripherals because awnings are for keeping the sun out, not for making booth slides. I mean, if the only choice you have is to make it at a show, then I would try to get closer and get tighter and take that stuff out. As a juror I'm not going to ding somebody because I can see their corner weights. But it does take away from the presentation. The booth slide's not about your work. It's about your presentation, the consistency of your vision overall in your work. I think you should go outside, clear your head and walk in like a customer or a juror would look at the booth. What isn't necessary in this picture, like corner weights and Visa signs and don't put your name sign up.
I've been on three juries this year and I saw name signs in booths at every jury. And I've seen where someone has taken their booth slide at a show and they've got the back door open for airflow or back stock. I do that, too. But when I stand at the front of the booth and look to the back, instead of seeing one more wall with your work on it, I see your van parked behind it or the parking lot in back of your booth. I see something that isn't your work and it's the brightest thing there. As human beings, our eyes are drawn to the brightest thing in any picture, whether it's a painting or photograph. It's human nature. It's how we see and thereís no way to train your self not to do it.
I take the color out of my booth slide. Those were black and white photographs to begin with. I do it because I think the lighting makes it a little warmer than the way I made those prints. So if the lighting punches them up and the whiteís look creamy, taking the color out makes my black and white prints more accurate. When I set up my walls in my canopy to make the booth slide, I carpet all the way to the floor and I cover the floor. I saw a fair amount of booth slides at the juries I did this year that had the pavement striping or a booth number spray painted in orange, things that detract from the overall crispness of the presentation. So when you set it up at home you have control and don't have to deal with those distractions. In fact, I use these rubber floor mats at shows where it's not going to rain. And I cover my floors with them when I make my booth slides so it's clean. So my eye doesn't go to the floor. It doesn't have a chance to stop there. It goes right up to the work.
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On Artwork Slides
Like your artwork, your images speak for you when you cannot. They're going to speak to people who may never see or stand in front of your work, or hear what you have to say about it.
The first thing I would say is if you don't do your own dental work, why photograph your own artwork? I go to a dentist who went to school for that and I trust her. And I want to add that I don't photograph people's work for a living. I have nothing invested in this. It's not like people are going to come to me and ask me to photograph their pottery. I don't do that. I'm not set up for it. I don't have the lighting that you need for that.
I can tell you that I've seen great work that didn't present well in the slides. And when I saw it a show, if I know the person well enough, I'd suggest that they hire somebody who specializes in that kind of photography. Whoever has the skills to do that kind of photography can't make pottery or paint like you can. Hire somebody that can properly illuminate and photograph your work. I've seen mediocre work look really good if it's lit dramatically.
I think one of the ways people kill themselves is that they want to show how diverse their work is in three or four slides. And that'll shoot you in the foot.
On Applying to Shows
Everybody goes through phases where you hit a time that you're not getting into shows or you stagnate. I changed my policy about this. There are a handful of shows that I haven't gotten into in a long time. Rather than just sending the money with the same slides they rejected me with for the last few years, I have a different way of looking at it. Until I have a different body of work because what I'm doing isn't working for that show, I wonít be applying. I would have hoped that changing jurors would have turned that around, but maybe it's just voodoo or luck or something. I just think that I've got to shake it off. That maybe what I'm saying isn't different enough or doesn't present as well as a group as I thought it would.
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On Image Order
One of the things I like about ZAPP is you can choose your slides and then you can see how the show's going to project them. Five across, three over three, and you can play with the order of what feels right artistically. If a show wants six instead of five or they want three of the work instead of four, it changes completely how I arrange them. Itís because of the shapes and how they'll relate when projected. In this part of the world we read left to right. Even if you're left-handed you tend to start on the left side of the page. I watch other jurors and their eyes tend to go from the left to the right most of the time. So you want to start with a really strong one as your first slide but I think there's a balance point to where the number of slides will dictate what order they're in so that they balance and flow and feel right.
On Artwork Descriptions
I would say that itís another place where less is more. When I'm sitting on a jury I want to know your working method, and there are times during the jury where I'll stop and ask them to read the description of how that work is made. I care less about their influences and muses. I think that's interesting but should be on an artist's statement at a show.
Photographers tend to be equipment centric and like to mention what camera or lens was used. I occasionally eat dinner with painters and have never heard a discussion about brushes once. They talk about money or art. But photographers are obsessed with method, and as a photographer and a juror, I can tell you it doesn't make any difference to me. It's about your vision, not your equipment.
On Monitor Calibration
I'm not a fan of monitor jurying at all. I'm not a fan of monitors for the technical reasons. Not for the fact that someone's sitting at home in their pajamas with the dog on a Sunday morning and they're checking their Facebook page in between. It's because your monitor won't be calibrated the same as everyone else's. I've got to tell you, just looking at the monitors at the shows that I was a juror for, and looking from monitor to monitor there was enough color balance difference that if you thought you saved money by making your own jury slides you just blew it. It went out the window. It did because you lost that much the first day you weren't at that show. If you hire someone to photograph your work, at least the images will be consistent. They're going to use consistent lighting and backgrounds.
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On Open Juries
There are a fair amount of shows that are open jury. You can go and sit. And I've got to tell you, I thought I was getting in a pretty good amount of shows and pretty high level shows and that I was doing the right thing until I went to my first show jury. Then I went to my first ZAPP show jury. I learned something every time and changed something when I came home. So when I hear somebody that complains about never getting into a show and I ask them if they attended the open ZAPP jury which was only 100 miles from their house, and the answer's no. Youíre a professional and have got to invest in your business.
You can't scream about the process until you go. If nothing else, when you go to look at it you can see that it's fair and there is a jury system. And even if you havenít applied, you can see what your peers do and how your work would stack up. It takes the witchcraft out of it. It also puts the onus on you as the professional to think about what you need to change. Or here's one of my competitors or peers who looked really great. I've got to do this or that differently. If you come away from it and you don't change anything then you kind of missed the point. I change something every time I've been on a jury. It might just be the lighting. It might be the order of my slides. But I come back thinking that it didn't present as well as I thought it would.
On Jurying
I don't think as a juror you should look for something wrong. You try to give everyone a fair chance. These are artists who are trying to earn a living.
I think the booth slide that looks like a gallery appeals to academia that don't live in the real world and don't do art fairs. They got hired to sit on the jury. So that might work with them. As a person who has done shows for awhile, I can tell when you've done that and when I say make it look like it does at the show, Iím not looking for a crushed Coke can on the floor and the stripe from the parking spot that your booth is in. But if you're going to sell prints of your work have the flip bins out there. I have one in my booth slide. Now take the photographer who has one bin in the booth slide but shows up with ten bins. And the people who pay for one 10 x 10 booth and set up a completely separate 10 x 10 booth behind it because no one's back there. The show has to police that. I don't think the juror should. And it doesn't endear you to your peers or your fellow artists. I'm more concerned with people who jury with one body of work and show up with a completely different one. That bothers me.
But you know, situations like these just prove that if there's a rule, there's someone to figure out how to get around it the minute you make it. So I think in good intention you set up your booth the way it's going to look in the show. And there would be somebody who says that I took the MasterCard/Visa signs down before I took my booth image. Well, okay. Yeah, I did. But as a merchant I can tell you I don't sell those signs. I sell my work. I didn't think it added to the presentation of a booth to have it on the wall. In fact, as a black and white photographer with gray walls I think having an orange and blue credit card sign on the wall is a distraction. I also think a hot pink booth sign made by the show is distracting to the overall presentation and should be removed if you are making a booth slide.
Itís like I said in the beginning: you have 5 or 10 seconds to impress the juror or the potential customer walking by your booth. Clean presentation, a cohesive body of work, and the removal of visual distractions serve all of us well.
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