How to Promote Your Personal Work

May 29, 2017

© Amy Stein

Amy Stein’s “Two Tall Trees,” 2010, from her series with Stacy Arezou Mehrfar, “Tall Poppy Syndrome.” Stein built long-lasting relationships in the fine-art world as part of a group called Piece of Cake (POC).

Photographers now have more ways to share their newest work with audiences, but it’s also harder than ever to know what kind of exposure is most likely to help them achieve their goals. Understanding what will stick in the minds of clients, gallerists or collectors amidst a constant flood of new imagery is challenging. PDN has talked to many photographers who have used ingenious methods to build an audience or generate positive attention for their work. We’ve also evaluated some of the tools available to photographers who want to raise the profiles of their projects. These excerpts from PDN’s archive offer information and advice on how to distribute and publicize photography projects. Subscribers can click on the links to see the full stories.

What Can a Publicist Do For You?

For photographers who want to use their gallery show to land a book contract, or use their book to land commercial assignments, a publicist can help get the work in front of more people through newspapers, magazines and online publications. Margery Newman, a publicist who has worked with David Maisel and other photographers, notes, “Once a photographer’s name gets out there over and over, and people start to recognize it, that enhances your career.” Publicist Andrea Walker believes photographers should think of publicity as another part of their self-promotion: “If I have a gallery opening, and I hire a publicist to help, I could get twice as many people to come.” Publicists not only pitch story ideas to reporters, editors, and TV and radio producers, they also keep track of the lead times and deadlines at monthly, weekly and daily news media. To meet publications’ deadlines, publicists expect photographers to supply photos and captions as soon as possible, and then make themselves available for interviews. “If this is a museum exhibition planned well in advance, and there’s an opportunity for coverage in a national magazine, I want to get started early—ideally, six months ahead of the opening,” says Newman. “For a gallery show, I can have the materials ready for the press releases four months before the exhibition.” While many photographers use social media to announce their projects to their current circle of acquaintances, what a publicist can offer are contacts at less obvious media outlets. Publicists can be hired by the hour, on a project basis or put on a retainer to handle public relations regularly.

How to Be Your Own Publicist

Photographers who want to save money on their publicity campaigns can often find freelance publicists willing to work on an hourly basis just to brainstorm ideas for organizing newsworthy events or to think of some publications to contact. But for those photographers willing to put considerable time, effort and energy into running a publicity campaign on their own, professional publicists PDN interviewed had a few suggestions for how to get started. Kate Greenberg, for example, suggests photographers “sit in front of the computer and think [about] where would be the best place to get press.” Publicists also suggest photographers widen their scope by thinking how the subject matter of their photos might interest people outside the art world. Holding an event can offer you a timely reason to contact—or follow up with—reporters and writers. “I think it’s incredibly helpful to have book-signing events, exhibits, school visits,” but only if they’re all coordinated and timed, says Greenberg.

Lori Vrba

Lori Vrba at her pop-up exhibition during PhotoNOLA, staged in a 19th century home. © Jennifer Schwartz

Put on a Pop-up Show

Photographers who have mounted pop-up exhibits have found that hanging photos in a space not designed for displaying art presents numerous logistical challenges, but can offer a way to present photos in a new context and lure an audience that might not seek out photography in a gallery. When Janene Outlaw, former photo editor-turned-independent art dealer, held a pop-up exhibit at a luxury apartment in Manhattan, she envisioned a one-night event to bring together people from the worlds of art, photography and real estate. Outlaw spread word of the exhibition through photo editors, art directors, arts patrons and friends in the media; a friend who works at a real estate firm brought brokers and potential property buyers who also had money to invest in art. Outlaw says, “I was shockingly pleased with the feedback and interest,” including inquiries about the artists and requests to organize shows in other spaces. Afterwards, Outlaw and the broker decided to keep the art up for weeks. Outlaw liked showing photos in a domestic setting. “Something that might seem avant-garde and strange seems more livable or familiar when you see it in a home.” In December 2010, photographer Lori Vrba debuted her series “Piano Farm” at a one-night public display mounted in a largely unrefurbished 19th century home in New Orleans. The pop-up exhibition was inspired by her dealer, who had urged her to “stir [up] some attention” during the annual PhotoNOLA festival. Close to 300 people attended the opening, and Vrba sold several prints. Preparing a show in an old house was intimidating, Vrba says, but she felt the finished installation worked as an art piece. She notes, “That show completely changed how I think as an artist.”

13 Tips for Building Your Fine-Art Network

An important part of working as an artist is establishing relationships with people who will give advice and critiques, make introductions, advocate for and support one’s work. Some artists meet like-minded peers and form crit groups. Amy Stein, for instance, is part of a group called Piece of Cake (POC). “Some of my closest, most nurturing relationships have resulted from being part of this group,” she says. Also, the focused, intense environment of artist residencies offer artists a chance to talk, work and form relationships with other artists that they can’t form in other settings. Richard Barnes notes, “For me they have been really important in creating networks and establishing friendships that have far exceeded the time of the residency.”

Though it’s unrealistic for new photographers to get meetings with high-profile gallerists, they shouldn’t be discouraged about the value of meetings with other gallery staff. Staffers move up the ladder. Ariel Shanberg, the former director of the Center for Photography at Woodstock, notes for instance, that when Jona Frank approached Yancey Richardson Gallery, he was handed off to an underling named Michael Foley. Frank made an impression on Foley, and became the first artist Foley exhibited when he opened his own gallery in New York City.

Internet Phenomenon: Isa Leshko’s Elderly Animals

Isa Leshko had been working on her series “Elderly Animals” for four years before the work was featured in exhibitions at the Houston Center for Photography and the Silver Eye Center for Photography in Pittsburgh. She began making black-and-white portraits of aged horses, dogs, pigs, chickens and sheep that reflect on mortality and decay, in 2008. She had spent a year looking after her mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. Photographing aged animals on farm sanctuaries “seemed to be a very raw expression of the grief and fear I was feeling.” Leshko showed the work at a handful of select portfolio reviews, including FotoFest in Houston. Her meetings at FotoFest almost immediately brought her space in a group show. A post on PDN’s Photo of the Day blog inspired public interest in the series, which led to exposure in Boing Boing, The Guardian, The Observer and other publications. When interest from blogs and publications slowed, she decided to look for an audience outside the art world. “I knew I needed to find a way to get this work seen by a larger audience in order
to be able to fund future shots,” she says. “I began brainstorming on ways to have that happen and thought that a short film would be an ideal vehicle.” In March 2011 Leshko commissioned San Antonio filmmakers Mark and Angela Walley to make a five-minute film about “Elderly Animals.” When the film was released in September, it was picked up by NPR, The Atlantic and The New York Times websites, which led to articles about Leshko in several publications. “The response was beyond my wildest dreams,” says Leshko. Since her breakthrough year in 2012, Leshko was accepted as an artist-in-residence at the Millay Colony for the Arts, won a grant from the Culture & Animals Foundation and was asked to speak at Oxford University, at a symposium organized by the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. University of Chicago Press will publish her “Elderly Animals” series as a book in fall 2018.

Are Storytelling Platforms a Good Thing for Photographers?

Unlike photo-sharing sites such as Instagram and Tumblr, which are designed for sharing single images, platforms such as,, Maptia and VSCO Journal are designed for multi-image stories. They appeal to photographers with their clean, bold design templates that display images in large sizes, the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editing tools that make them easy to use and their perceived value as tools for self-promotion. Since the publication of our article, Storehouse, a platform for sharing multimedia stories online, has folded. But with the competition among numerous other platforms comes a bit of confusion about how the sites differ from one another, and their value: By self-publishing, do photographers attract clients and opportunities? Or are they just providing free content to platform owners, who will reap most of the revenue benefits if and when the owners figure out how to monetize the sites? PDN interviewed photographers who drew attention and landed paying deals after they shared their work on some storytelling platforms, as well as some who felt that publishing on one of these sites failed to connect them with an audience of receptive readers.

Breakout Advertising: RJ Shaughnessy’s Cool Commercial Work

The images in advertising photographer RJ Shaughnessy’s  self-published book, Stay Cool, show a group of young friends skateboarding, running, biking and strolling through Los Angeles. In some shots, they’re gamely trying to post a sign that says “Stay Cool” on signposts and freeway signs. Though the images exemplifies the popular, casual style associated with fleeting moments shared via Facebook or Instagram, Shaughnessy chose to preserve these moments in a $25 hardcover book sold through fashionable retailers like Colette in Paris and Fred Siegal in Hollywood. According to his rep, Jen Jenkins, the “Stay Cool” signs he posted around Los Angeles helped generate attention even before the book was printed. Shaughnessy had previously gotten assignments after  he produced Deathcamp, his book of images of kids partying and hanging out. Back then, he thought his slice-of-life imagery had little commercial application, but he liked them. He notes, “I think brands appreciate that kind of confidence.”He printed fewer than 2,000 copies of Deathcamp but it caught the attention of creatives at Sid Lee in Montreal as they were planning a campaign in 2008 to redefine adidas Originals. Jean-Francois Dumais, co-creative director at the agency, notes.