Guest Lecture: Elliott Halls Gallery

In this guest lecture from 26th March,  Addie Elliott-Vassie and Liz Halls, co-Directors of Elliott Halls Gallery, provide useful insight into their processes for selecting and working with photographers.

Elliott Halls Gallery in Amsterdam is a diverse gallery currently representing 26 photographers from across the world.  They are in receipt of up to 20 email submissions per day from photographers seeking exhibitions or representation.

This lecture gave some very interesting pointers as to how to go about working with a photography gallery, and many of these tips are included below, beginning with the basic distinction between galleries simply offering a space, and galleries offering longevity of relationship by way of representation and nurturing.  It is not simply a situation of galleries choosing photographers, but it is also important for photographers to think about what it is they want from a gallery, and to find the right gallery/galleries for their own work.

Research about a gallery is very important at the outset.  Research should include the gallery’s history; the people; their development; and who they already represent.  Photographers considering making contact are advised to look at catalogues, lists of photographers, past exhibitions and to ask “Do you fit beautifully into that?” (Addie Elliott-Vassie).  This does not mean, however, is your work similar.  The gallery won’t be interested if they already have someone working along similar lines. New work has to complement or add, in some way, to the artists already represented.  Also, we are reminded that the world is a small place, and not to limit ourselves to local galleries.  Elliott Halls have 26 artists – only 1 is based in Netherlands.

Photographers are advised to consider their longer term situation when identifying galleries to approach, and accepting the first offer of a show may not be the best decision.  It seems that very careful thought is needed, and we are to consider who we want to build a relationship with over a number of years.  Addie Elliott-Vassie reminds us that sometimes the relationship can be 10-20 years before a solo exhibition takes place, so that a strong relationship between gallery and photographer has had time to build.  An example given in the lecture was Choi Byung-Kwan whom Addie met 17 years ago, and the gallery started working with 2 years ago. After meeting at a talk, periodically he has kept in touch via email and a sustainable working relationship has formed.

Having identified a suitable gallery, there were some tips offered in this lecture about what to do next, including how to structure that all-important initial communication:

  • Call first and find out the gallery submissions policy.  An initial phone call often leads the gallery to looking at the email when it comes in as connection has already been made.
  • Generic email content is unappealing – it indicates that  time and effort has not been taken in the submission. Customise each application to each gallery.
  • Address all correspondence to the correct person, politely and formally use their name, rather than Dear Sir, for example.
  • Think of the contact process as similar to a job application and treat it with the same specificity and politeness.
  • Do they offer space for hire, do they exhibit represented artists only, or do they choose work from outside, too?  Each gallery differs on this.  Elliott Halls’ approach is to exhibit only their represented artists.
  • Is it important to work with a gallery using a selling platform online?  If so, which one(s) do they use?  Elliott Halls work with Artsy and have an international client base.
  • Seek advice on which to send from someone detached from the personal meaning of work.  Consult others on which images work for them. perhaps print out 30 or so and ask people to pick their favourite 6 for example.  Ask them to put them into an order.
  • Send a taster of images (6-10) in the contact email, don’t just include a web link.
  • Make sure the images are eye-catching, especially the first one in the series which is very important.
  • It was suggested to use the image from the series submitted also as a business card image as finding a business card can act as a prompt to memory later on.
  • Once the chosen the images have been curated into an attractive flow, they are ready to submit.
  • Addie advises that you can attach an artist statement but it won’t be read at this stage. The advice is to put 1-2 lines only about the work in the email instead/as well as.  This is enough initially.

The chances of a gallery loving a new submission immediately is slim and we are reminded that if you get a response – any response at all – it’s a big thing.  Elliott Halls respond to around only 5% of submission emails because of the volume and time constraints, and much of what they receive is poorly presented. Even a ‘sorry’ email is good news as it at least provides a basis to build a relationship.  Every 6 months following this, or every project, it is advised to update the gallery with new work.

One other useful point was that it may be that it is a curator rather than a gallery space that appeals. The curator may move from space to space in the course of their work, but it may be that continuing to keep in touch with them and update them as individuals as they move will continue to build on that relationship for the future.

Many people write to Elliott Halls and say they are ‘looking for an exhibition’, but the gallery offers more than that. They are unlikely to offer an exhibition straight away as the relationship needs to be nurtured and developed, and the work tried out among the clientele,for example in a group show.  It is perhaps not usually perceived as such but exhibitions don’t always lead to sales, and we are reminded that a gallery should work for their artists all the time, not just for exhibitions, for example keeping a stock of prints and showing work to individual clients.  Galleries offering representation are also in a position to offer advice and support – we are reminded that it is a collaboration.  The gallery  can discuss new bodies of work, presentation ideas etc.  They can discuss tone, paper, print size, framing, glazing for example and help the series to morph and grow. Trust in the gallery is important, and it makes sense that the time is taken to build that trust and understanding of one another.

Instagram is another really important outlet for photographers wishing to sell and share their work.  Elliott Halls were resistant to it in earlier years but have successfully sold images as a result of putting them on Instagram and now look at the Instagram feeds of anyone they are interested in.  It is a good step to follow galleries on Instagram and share work in this way.  Portfolio reviews were also suggested as an important step, e.g Format, Houston etc.  though it is important to choose the right person to share your portfolio with.  Addie suggested that the 20 minute review, though expensive, can be a real investment in the future.

Interestingly a ‘fine art’ / ‘photography’ discussion arose, with the discussion about conceptual pieces and one off pieces, e.g with stitching,and where the best place for them would be.  With such work, it was mentioned that a fine art gallery might also be appropriate, and not necessarily a dedicated photography gallery, but this is why initial research is key – to get it right at the outset.

This was a very useful lecture and gave a lot of tips for photographers interested in exhibiting work in gallery spaces.  Perhaps the most surprising elements were the length of time a relationship between photographer and gallery can take to build; and also that so many people overlook basic manners when making contact with gallery professionals.

Featured image: Elliott Halls Gallery