Tuesday, November 6, 2012

DIY Distribution

DIY distribution is a great way to get your photos out in the world. Unlike traditional exhibition methods like galleries or online portfolios, the key to DIY is to embrace the surprise element. I like to distribute photos with absolutely no information. No name, no website, no statement, just the photo. The goal is not to get your name out there. It's to make people ask WTF? Why is that photo there? DIY distribution is not like handing out business cards. You're spreading fucking art, dude. Or maybe littering, depending on who's keeping track. So just keep that in mind.

As a general rule deliberate placements receive more attention than "accidental" ones. A photo which is lying on a park bench may have been placed deliberately or it may have just blown there. Without careful placement no one can tell, and very few people except other artists will examine something which just blew there. But a placement which shows conscious intent usually gathers attention. So if you want to reach a wide audience you must make your placements appear deliberate. All DIY placements below follow that rule.

A multitude of Library DIY possibilities
1. Library Books. My preferred method. I check out a handful of photography monographs each month from my local libraries. Before I return any book I always insert a workprint randomly in the pages. The prints are held flat and protected from light. For books with low circulation sometimes they aren't seen for years. But when the time comes, surprise!

2. Telephone poles or kiosks. Treat these like rock posters. The most efficient system is to take a stack of hundreds of prints, a swing stapler with plenty of ammo, and just carpet the street pole by pole. One photo per pole should be sufficient. When distributing many photos in close proximity it's important to avoid reprints. Every photo needs to be original. And no photo should have any info. Just thinking about some stranger encountering those poles makes me chuckle. WTF?

3. Chain link. Most chain link fences have links which are perfectly spaced to receive and hold a 5 x 7 print by the corners, or two photos back to back. I love the way a fence holds a photo against the sky in a sort of semi-transparent framing. In fact I'm surprised more galleries don't use chain link framing. Chain link is probably closer to litter than other methods. The prints will likely blow away into the street soon and lose their deliberate feeling. So I like to ration these carefully, maybe one or two per block. For back alleys you can probably double that amount.
Chain Link, Lee Friedlander, 1963
4. Gallery desks. Most galleries have a public desk for local exhibition announcements and photo related flyers. These are great places for DIY distribution since they're generally out of the wind and rain. A small stack of photos can last several months with little deterioration. As a bonus the gallery crowd is a bit unique in that many of them actually give a shit about photography. So your target audience has a higher degree of specificity.

5. Phone booths and newspaper boxes. Both of these structures are on the wane. In another decade or so they may disappear entirely. One way to celebrate their swan song is DIY distribution. Most booths and boxes are relatively weather proof, although elements will eventually penetrate and degrade the photos. I like to prop my prints out of the muck using tape. Staples usually won't work here.

Car wipers awaiting DIY placement
6. Car windshields. This is a very short-term method. The photos will only remain until the driver returns. But that's fine since windshields are in full weather and photos won't last long anyway. It's imperative to place the photo carefully under the wiper to show intent. Otherwise it might appear accidental and be dismissed as simple garbage.

7. Hand outs. Standing on a street corner handing out photos has its ups and downs. As a method of displaying intent, this is the most effective tool available. Your photos will definitely not appear accidentally blown by the wind, although what your exact purpose is may still be ambiguous. The downside is that you lose the WTF? element. People can attach a name to the photos and thus dismiss the whole effort as a publicity stunt. To obviate this potential I like to scream loudly while I'm handing out my photos "THIS IS NOT A PUBLICITY STUNT!" That usually helps me regain the surprise element.

Let your photos rain down like confetti
Photo: Brant Ward, The Chronicle / ONLINE_YES
8. Bridge toss. I'd save the bridge toss as a last resort. If you're having trouble with the above methods a good one-shot distribution method is to find an freeway overpass with exposure to cars below. Rush hour is the best time when traffic is slow. Not only do drivers have a chance to look around, they will be bored and hungry for a diversion. Let the stack of photos rain down like confetti. Some will land on cars, most in the street. Maybe one in a thousand will actually find its mark and penetrate an open window. But all it takes is one. That photo which got inside someone's car is special. Odds are good that it'll get looked at, especially if it pokes the driver in the cheek or something. Congratulations and welcome to the bigtime! You've finally found someone who cares about your work!


Christian said...

Long time reader, infrequent commenter, piping up to say that this was massively fun to read! Thank you.

loongan said...

the exact same thoughts were running through my head as I was sticking up missing dog notices. Problem is the weather where I come from is hot, wet, humid, and most of the time all three at once. Not exactly print-friendly. But I suppose I could do the Library book one...


Elisabeth said...

I read your blog frequently, but haven't commented to date. Just wanted to say how much I loved this post—one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking I’ve read on the ‘net in some time!
Your library example reminded me of an experience I had several years ago. I checked out a children's book from the library for one of my kids, and tucked in between the pages was a 4x6 snapshot of a Bactrian camel crossing a city street in Baikonuur, Kazakhstan. “Wow,” I thought, “that’s so random!” The photo has an inscription on the back ("To Jenna and Ian from Julia in Baikonur"). I work at NASA Johnson Space Center, and many of my co-workers have traveled to Baikonur to support the launch and landing of our astronauts to the International Space Station. Perhaps someone from JSC named Julia took the photo? Maybe Jenna and Ian are/were kids (I’m thinking something like niece and nephew?) and that’s how the picture made its way into a children's book? Anyway, I've enjoyed imagining the possible stories behind the photo and it's one of those little found treasures that I keep in my desk drawer and pull out occasionally to look at.
I think I may print up a few photos of my own and pay a visit to the local library.  Thanks again for this post and for your always-entertaining blog. You have lots of devoted readers who check in frequently but don’t comment very often. But trust us, we’re out there!

Anonymous said...

yeah -what she said.

pH said...

8. sending a pack of workprints to Dr.Karanka's Print Stravaganza and have them travel the world
(joni editing Blake's panel)


it is always a pleasure to hang one of your pics (or steal them)