The Economy Tour – My First Photo Show
By Mark Sliwa
Recently I received an invitation hang some travel photos at the Green Gables Playhouse in Jennerstown. The showing would be in the entrance hall to the theater and compliment a seasonal play. I had an interesting selection of prints from former Soviet Republics around the Black Sea region, Moldova, Ukraine, and Romania in particular, however everything was in digital and nothing was framed. Before accepting the invitation, I asked if any grants or assistance were available for a starving artist. Not being a trust fund kid enjoying a flavor of the week whim, printing/framing enough photos to fill up the entrance hall would not be a cheap undertaking. No jealously against the better funded, just financial realism.
So I delayed my acceptance for potential fame and began to research a more economical way to make this happen. First I rode up to the Green Gables viewed the hall; deciding 20 to 30 pieces would be required to fill the walls. To professionally frame and print that number would add up, particularly if none of my work sold. I then ran this by an illustrator/artist friend of mine, John Ritter, who has an amazing 007 color printer in his studio bunker here in the Ligonier highlands. He said to accept the invitation and we’d make it work. With that confirmed, there was 5 weeks to put it all together.
Starting with framing and matting, John suggested using pre-matted units from Walmart or Dollar General. What a great idea! China sourced components never entered my mind. An 11x14 black frame for $6.00 at Dollar General seemed the best ticket. After selecting 50 photos, the editing process brought the number down to 30 and further editing down to 22. With that number in mind, I began to buy out all the 11x14 stock at the Ligonier, Jennerstown, Latrobe, and Derry Dollar Generals. Most of the stores only had 3 or 4 of that size in stock and additional inventory only coming in on Sundays. Having only a motorcycle for transportation currently, I bounced from store to store bungeeing stacks of frames on the rear of the bike.
Now for the printing: John recommended a white water color paper as opposed to the standard glossy photo stock – this would be less expensive and easier to print. One challenge though in printing from digital to paper is that many of my photos had a different pixel size that affected resolution. Not wanting to have an art show of blur, much creativity was utilized to have each final print in a similar size that would not only be clear but also come close to the matting borders. The printer from Q branch delivered the goods! A few photos came out smaller than the mat but a white background would alleviate the gaps.
Finally all the pieces were framed, matted, and ready to go. Bravo! Borrowing a friend’s car (multiple bungee trips on the bike got old), I took the whole collection up to Green Gables. I had gone a few days prior to my opening to avoid any rush. Arriving, I was told a wedding would be hosted in 45 minutes upon which the hall would be closed. With a flurry of hammer and nails, I shot-gunned my frames all over the walls. I returned the following day - using better communication for access to the hall - and finished my work. Armed with a tape measure, I was surprised how minutes turned into hours to neatly arrange everything. Rechecking things, I also noticed several pictures looked distorted; apparently moisture in the air had made the water color paper wavy. No problem, taking an old cardboard box I cut out some strips and shimmed them in between the mattings. Hand printed 3x5 note cards under each piece completed the hanging. The result turned out to be a good balance. The show opened, and the images of faraway travel appeared well received by patrons on their way to see the play. After the play’s run, four of my pieces did get sold.