'Visual Notes of Curiosity' - Creating My First Solo Exhibition / by Andrew Wilson

My first solo exhibition, 'Visual Notes of Curiosity', has been an exciting event and an enjoyable challenge for me. As it draws to a close I wanted to share the journey and different phases of creating this exhibition with you.


'The Library Van' on display at the 2015 WCAF Photography Open. 

Rewinding back to October 2015, I entered my photo 'The Library Van' into the Warrington Contemporary Art Festival (WCAF) Photography Open. I took this photo in the Lake District towards the end of November 2014 and it remains one of my favourite photos so far.

I'd entered the competition for a number of years, but this time I was awarded first prize, winning a cash prize and a solo exhibition for the following year. I knew this would be an exciting event to work towards and learn from.

Early Planning and Sponsorship

At the beginning of this year in January, myself and Emma Kelly (curator at The Gallery At Warrington Bank Quay House) began basic planning of the show by deciding on a provisional date and discussing the idea of sponsorship.

I knew I wanted my prints made by WhiteWall.com as I'm a fan of their service and prints. I also knew that making many prints could be expensive, so I thought seeking sponsorship would be a good idea. 

After some thinking I approached Wilkinson Cameras, a photography equipment retailer with several stores in the North West - the same region as myself and the exhibition. I felt comfortable approaching them for several reasons:

- I had shopped several times in their Liverpool branch over a number of years and found it to be a positive experience.

- I've had success in winning a number of their #WilkiWeekends themed competitions, so had some contact with them and they knew my name.

- Their events such as Digital Splash and workshops showed they have a passion for photography, so I thought they might be interested in backing my exhibition.

In the end Wilkinson Cameras agreed to sponsor me, which I was really pleased about. As well as sponsoring me, they have helped promote my exhibition through their social media channels. Big thanks to them and to Alex Wilkinson for helping me out with that!

Photo Selection and Final Details

By early June I knew I had to start preparing the work for the show, but where to start when you have taken thousands of photos over several years?

From the start of the year I caught up with work from last year alongside creating new work. Through doing this and editing my photos down into blogs I built up a feeling of the work I wanted to show. For my first solo exhibition I didn't want to have a single series of photos as I wanted diversity, but at the same time I didn't want photos that were wildly different in feel to each other.

I decided on a number of my most successful series of photos that would give the viewer a feeling of a journey and place. Ultimately I wanted to show photos that I felt represented myself and the type of photography I enjoy most.

Once I knew the type of work I wanted to show I started preparing by making a rough selection and ordered them all as little prints. This would allow me to play quickly and freely with arrangements and to see my selection as a whole.


A not-so-small initial selection of prints!


Some of the photos in my initial selection were not ready to print. Using the occasional roll of film meant I needed to 'scan' my negatives in order to print from them. I was able to use some equipment at Liverpool John Moores University which provides an efficient method to photograph the negatives. 

This set up of my camera and macro lens, attached to an adjustable column, gives consistent results when photographing negatives. The lightbox illuminates the negative... 

...which gives me this type of result. I then process this in Adobe Lightroom to turn the negative to a positive. I can then make digital prints from this negative.

Eventually I got to a point where I was struggling to edit down the work. I needed to find out the amount of space I had to help enforce a limitation and so I knew what size to order my prints at. I met up with Emma at the gallery to discuss the selection and my thoughts, and just from having a conversation with someone else and hearing their viewpoints, I was able to go back and narrow down my selection and arrangement.

Initial Oslo photograph selection...

...narrowed down final selection arranged into groupings.

At this point I decided on the exhibition's title 'Visual Notes of Curiosity'. My thinking behind it was that in a similar way that a person writes notes to document a journey, I use a camera to capture visual notes of people, places and details, always led by my curiosity. It took a while for me to come up with the title, but once I had it felt right.

'Norsk Red Beetle'

With the title decided Emma was able to finish off the exhibition poster. I decided on the photo 'Norsk Red Beetle' as I thought it would look good for a poster and had a parallel with 'The Library Van'; a nod to how I ended up exhibiting this work. Also I thought this photo worked when cropped to a portrait orientation, which would hopefully catch people's attention more if seen on their phone.


Final poster designed by Emma Kelly. 


Creating titles and working out pricing for all the work was one of the final details that I worked on right up to the opening of the exhibition. Pricing wasn't so tricky, but creating titles was. Some titles came to me easily, whereas others took more thinking. Once I was on a roll I was determined to title them all!


I worked out my titles (including scruffy handwriting!) on paper with my little prints to hand. I could work on them anywhere and felt my thoughts could flow better than on a computer.


The Prints

The prints waiting to be opened up!

Once I finalised my selection I ordered my prints from WhiteWall.com (43 in total!). I eagerly awaited their arrival at the gallery, which happened three weeks before the opening. I was excited to open them and see all my photos printed to a high standard.

Christmas Day arrived early for me when I saw the amount of boxes! The type of print I chose for this exhibition was a direct print on aluminium dibond which struck a good balance between quality and cost. I opened them all up and made sure everything was correct and nothing was missing. Everything was good! Now it was a case of waiting to hang them.


There was one more thing I wanted for the exhibition - a little something that visitors could take away with them. I've always felt postcards were good for this as there is a visual link to the exhibition and you can put your contact details on the back. Ideally people will put them somewhere in sight, and perhaps somewhere down the line they may think to get in touch with me or pass my details on to someone else.

I ordered my postcards from printing.com and decided to match the same image with the poster.

The Exhibition

It was now time to hang the prints! Myself, Emma and my partner Hannah hung the work in the space of a few hours the day before the opening. I knew how I wanted the work to be grouped, it was just a case of figuring out how to arrange the work and the space of the gallery with the movable boards. The three of us worked well together to achieve this and I was happy with the layout.

The exhibition opened on the 4th of August with a good turnout of new and familiar faces - thanks to everyone who made it along! 

I wasn't sure what to expect from the evening. I thought I was going to be a bit nervous as I'm not a fan of the spotlight and being the centre of attention.

Instead I was quite relaxed and I found the two hours of the opening went by very quickly as I spent the whole evening talking to people, so much so that I only got a few photos.

As I write this the exhibition has less than a week left. Although I've exhibited a few pieces of work over the years and edited and curated work within my blogs, not since leaving University have I had to think about how to present a body of work within a space. It felt challenging and worthwhile to do this again. I certainly look forward to doing it again. 

So lastly, I would like to give a special thanks to:

- Emma Kelly for helping me to organise this exhibition. It was a pleasure working with her!

- Alex Wilkinson and Wilkinson Cameras for helping me by sponsoring my exhibition. Their support was appreciated

- My friends, family and followers for their continued support and encouragement.  

- You, for reading my blog. I appreciate it when they are read and it's even better when comments are left as they genuinely encourage me to make more. So please leave a comment to let me know what you think - thanks!

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. To round it out here's a little tour of the exhibition in photos: