slides and the jury process

Successful craftspeople spend lots of time and money producing good slides of their work for the simple reason that good slides get them into more good shows.

It’s fair to say that no one knows what’s really on the jurors’ minds for those few seconds they are looking at your slides and determining your future success or failure. Every show is different, and juries convened from year to year are different even for the same show. Even the mechanics of jury slide display are varied: some jurors see an artist’s slides one after another, while for other jurors the show management projects all the slides at once, so as to suggest an overall body of work to be judged. Unless you are some kind of detective who can scope the names and backgrounds of the jurors for each show you apply for, and then develop a targeted set of jury slides just for them, your only hope is simply to put your best foot forward and cross your fingers. Fate, luck, whimsy, caprice and the phase of the moon will still be a part of the equation, but good slides will soften their effects.

So what constitutes a good slide? Maybe we should start with saying a little about bad slides. Bad slides are fuzzy (out of focus), contain hot or dark spots from bad lighting, have a color cast (too much green etc.), are poorly arranged, overpowered by the background or that model you’ve been dating, or just plain ugly. You generally can tell a good slide from a bad one. A good slide is aesthetically pleasing – you like it; it just “feels” right. If you aren’t comfortable with any given slide, do not include it in your jury set – period!

My advice to you is quite simple: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. Not one craftsperson in a hundred has the skill and the equipment to produce the kind of professional images that will maximize the chance of getting into that to-die-for show. Hire yourself a professional photographer, even if he/she isn’t familiar with these kinds of images. Feel free to go along to the studio and help “design” the shoot around the following guidelines. Find another photographer if you are not welcome in the studio. A real professional wants your advice when shooting your work.

Good slides start with good photographic equipment and supplies: the camera, slow speed film, tripod and a fortune in lighting equipment: soft boxes, umbrellas, reflectors, etc. Besides an ability to take a picture that is in focus, the reason you hired this photographer in the first place is that he/she is an artist when it comes to lighting. Lighting is the magic that separates a good slide from an okay slide, and your photographer knows how to take advantage of it. Also, jury slides call for a neutral, but contrasting background -- one that doesn’t call attention to itself. Don’t get artsy here: dramatic shadows and strong textures will merely detract from your work. Okay, there may be the odd occasion when a reflective surface would be a really cool way to show the 3D aspects of your piece, but keep a brake on it – don’t make your jurors have to think about what they’re seeing.

Now that you and your photographer have the studio setup in a tasteful manner, here are a few tips on shooting the work itself:

> One piece to a slide is the standard. If you have a very good reason for grouping pieces together, go ahead and do so, but then remember to only include one or two grouped slides in a given jury set.

> Objects should be shown as large as possible. Fill the frame. Use the full amount of slide area available to tell your story.

> Not everything on your piece will be in focus or lighted the same; that’s just the way photography works, so learn to deal with it. What’s important for you to know is that the eye is drawn to the brightest and sharpest (focused) parts of the slide. A good photographer can take advantage of this to bring out the nuances in your work.

> If your work is such that you have to use a model, then use a full view of the model. Headshots are acceptable for jewelry, but be careful when cropping.

> Angles can be used to visually describe depth in your work, and to concentrate the juror’s attention on important aspects of the piece. However, I caution you not to try to be too clever here.

> Don’t try to be dramatic – generally, shadows and props are inappropriate for jury slides. Save the funny stuff for your advertising images.

> Focus is important. If the entire piece will not be in focus (curves or whatever), then make certain that the part of the slide that is going to catch the eye is in focus. Keep the fuzzy part to a bare minimum.

> Shooting a three dimensional object? Try angling from slightly above and to the side for the best effect.

Then there is the booth slide. Many shows ask for one. This isn’t the slide to hyperventilate over. Mostly what the promoters are trying to do here is verify that you aren’t going to show up with a folding card table and chair, and just throw a rag over it for your display needs. If you can demonstrate some semblance of “design” in your booth shoot that takes it beyond the tacky tabletop image, you’re in. The jurors may not even see this slide!

So you’ve got a digital camera and your own homemade light box, and want to do it yourself. Don’t. Digital images may be great for print media – brochures, advertising, sales sheets, etc. Today’s digital cameras are up to the highest standards in resolution when putting ink to paper, but that’s not what a slide is all about. There are services that can convert your digital images to 35MM slides. The conversion is pricey, and the results aren’t spectacular. Nothing compares to the richness and depth of emulsion film when “first class” truly matters.

So, ensure that the slides in your jury set are professional and represent your body of work. They are your best chance of being juried into those great shows. But don’t expect to be invited to all of them just because you’ve got the greatest set of slides you’ve ever seen. The vagaries of the jury process are still in play – from the makeup of the jury to the “politics” and philosophy of the particular shows. All you can do is put your best foot forward. Good luck!


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