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An Art Show Photographers View of "Jurying by Zapp"
by Clark Crenshaw

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Friday, December 18th was day one of the two day digital jurying of the Fort Worth Main Street Art Festival. That evening I logged onto the Zapp web site. The first thing that you see after logging on is a list of the shows that you have applied to through zapplication.org. Next to Fort Worth under "status" was something I hadn't expected or wanted to see. "NOT INVITED" News can travel quickly when using the Zapp system. Obviously, I had been cut during the first days jury. I had noticed the same two words next to my Austin Fine Arts Festival Application several weeks before I received my official "Dear John" letter from them. No matter how kindly they try and word those notification letters it might as well said "Congratulations on having such a fine show in Austin this year, but we are sorry to inform you that you will have to go earn that money elsewhere in 2005." So are the ups and downs of applying to the bigger and better shows.

I still planned on driving to Fort Worth for the second and final day of jurying, despite the bad news . You rarely get a chance to attend the jurying of a show, much less the new digital system at work. I live in the Dallas area and an hours drive would get me there. I invited another artist friend who had also applied to come with me. We found our way to the conference room in a Downtown Fort Worth Hotel where the jurying would take place. After a short wait everyone was seated, the lights turned out, and the days work began. I didn't count the observers but I would guess that less than 10 were present and we all sat near the back of the room. I won't go into great detail describing the set up because Sarah Corkery's Fort Worth article on this same web site does that very thoroughly. I will give a quick summary. The images were simultaneously projected onto five 3' x 3' screens. The five jurors each had a laptop with which to post their scores for each group of slides. They would jury each category separately. They first previewed the artists in each category with a 5 second preview. Then they went back through the category and viewed each artists work (4 images of their art and 1 image of their booth) for about 10 seconds. Then the jurors gave them a score from 1 to 7 with 7 being the best. We could not see the scores. It would have been interesting if we could have. Friday had started with 900 artists whose fate was determined by either a yes, no, or maybe. That number had been cut to 435 for Saturdays jury. We stayed for all of the jurying on Saturday. I must say that everything seemed to go smoothly. The projected images looked fine. It probably would be hard to tell the difference between a digitally projected image and an actual slide that was projected. Since my own images were not shown on Saturday, I did ask them after they were finished with the jury if it was possible to pull mine up and let me see them. They were kind enough to oblige. After all, when would I have another chance to see how my work looks on the system. I had prepared them myself and was confident that everything had been done according to the specifications that we were given. They looked just fine. Just as they should. Anyone with a decent understanding of Photoshop should be able to prepare their own images. You really don't need to go out and buy your own Roku and digital projector. A good calibrated monitor should get you by just fine. I feel that many more shows will go to this system in the next few years.

Despite having declared the system a success, I was left with a few things to wonder about. Several times during the jurying I noticed booth slides that showed the artists name clearly visible and readable. Since this was to be a blind jury process I would think that to be a big no no. I also noticed numerous booth shots that just weren't all that attractive. One time 5 slides of an artists work came up with no booth slide. It all made me wonder just how important is the booth slide if these made it to the final cut.

I'm also beginning to loose faith in the "consistent body of work theory". Many of the applicants seemed to have it but many did not. As for my own work, I now have a better booth shot than in the past and a more consistent look to my work. My sales have improved greatly but I don't think this same work is getting me accepted into shows as well as I have been. I definitely feel that what sells the best is not necessarily what will get you into the top shows. I believe a selection of your work that will grab the jurors attention in 20 seconds or less will get you better results. I have gone back to submitting a selection of my images that always seems to get everyone's attention. In a few months I will know if that was a good move or not.

If you analyze the numbers you can easily see what a long shot it is to get in any show like this. They received 900 applications. The show only has 190 booths and 24 of the artists have been pre-invited. That leaves only 166 spots available which means that 82%(734) of the applicants will receive a "Dear John" letter. The odds get even worse if you are a photographer. Only 15 names are listed as accepted photographers on the Fort Worth web site. I would think that at least one of them was pre-invited. That means that 90% (116) of the photographers that applied won't make it in. It really becomes a crapshoot when you take into consideration that the whole process is quite subjective no matter what panel of experts makes the decision. I have sat through about a zillion camera club competitions and when a qualified, expert photographer does the judging about 25% of the choices make me scratch my head and wonder why. If someone with only an art background judges the photography then about half the choices will make me wonder why. I have come to accept that this is just the nature of the process. I will agree that taking 900 artists and choosing the 165 you want to keep in the show is quite a daunting task, especially when most of the work is of high quality. It is safe to assume that quite a few talented artists will always have to be left out in a process such as this.

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Contents of this article copyright Clark Crenshaw

Clark Crenshaw, is about to start his 4th year selling photography at art shows.
His work can be seen at


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