Putting Together My First Photo Show

Faces and Places: Albany, Israel, and Beyond

Scroll down to read about and see the clusters of pictures as they appear on the wall in my photo exhibit.

With months to plan, I jumped at the chance to organize an exhibit of my photographs at our synagogue. 

Plenty of time for a series of interesting and sometimes costly decisions on the number, size, and presentation of pictures, as well as arrangement, hanging, lighting, etc.

I knew I wanted to feature a plethora of photos, more than the 30 or 40 I had seen in previous exhibitions in the same space, on a potpourri of subjects — flowers, sunsets, landscapes, and Judaism; travel shots from Ireland, Italy, Hong Kong, Holland, Florida; people in Israel, India, China, Scotland, and Mexico; plus a few abstracts, some baseball photos, and many from dog walks near my home in northern California. I named the show Faces and Places: Albany, Israel, and Beyond.

First decision: prints. If I limited the photo size to 8 x 10, which I could print myself, I still shuddered to think of the expense of matting and framing dozens of prints in the usual manner. And the thought of hanging and leveling all those glass-framed, wire-hung photos was daunting, to say the least.

I decided to use photo tiles for the prints in my photo show, because they were both economical and convenient. I stumbled upon photo tiles through their ubiquitous ads on social media and ran some test prints from two vendors, Mixtiles and Phototiles. Both companies produced only 8 x 8-inch tiles, either unframed on foam board or with dinky plastic frames. No glass. The print quality was excellent—clear, sharp, and accurate renditions of the brilliant, saturated colors I wanted to feature.

Each tile came with adhesive mounting tape on the back to make it easy to stick on a wall, then remove and restick, many times. Or so they claimed. The convenience, hopefully, would more than make up for the 20% of print area lost in the 8 x 8 pictures, compared to 8 x 10. I had to re-crop nearly every photo to accommodate the square format, and I couldn’t use some of my favorites that just didn’t lend themselves to being square. 

Both my tested vendors allowed me to order photo tiles from an app on my phone. But only Mixtiles would let me order from a website on my desktop computer, where I had many thousands of photos and professional picture-tweaking tools. That made the choice of printing company easy, and I opted for unframed tiles, which were simpler visually.

Mixtiles had a reasonable pricing schedule — $49 for the first three prints in an order, then $9 per print thereafter — plus frequent two- and three-day sales offering discounts of 10%, 20%, and more. Serendipitously, I was able to print my entire show in two large orders, during 30%-off sales. Turnaround took four to five days from order to delivery. And the show was easy to hang with a small level. My wife Susan and I put up 87 tiles in about three hours.

The biggest decision: how to arrange the pictures. I toyed with the idea of grouping them all together in a large massive clump with no space between them, but the cuteness and simplicity of that idea were soon eclipsed by the realization that clumping diminished the photos when they shared so many common borders. With no buffering space, individual shots lost impact. 

But when I grouped them in checkerboard clusters, three tiles high, kissing only corners, they took on a group identity while maintaining their individuality.

I planned to hang the photo exhibit just after Labor Day in the Social Hall at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, a large, utilitarian room with walls of pale orange and beige. Over the summer before, I examined and measured the room and photographed the room several times. I found (on three different walls, in between doors, windows, sconce lights, and large potted trees) seven separate spaces of various widths available to me for clusters of photos. Some spaces would accommodate one small cluster just a few tiles wide. Some were huge and could handle several large clusters. The room was brightly lit, and additional lighting was out of the question.

To help plan, I printed some dull, one-and-a-half-inch thumbnails of my pictures on plain paper, then cut them out and spread them on a table. The effect was bland and boring, so I printed them again with bright colors on photo paper, two inches square, and they came to life! I had a great time tweaking and pushing and sliding them all around during several sweet weeks of fiddling, then “locked picture”— finalized the order, photographed each cluster of thumbs, and numbered the pics, 87 in all. 

Printed thumbnails laid out on a table

I assigned the lowest numbers to the most prominent wall position in the Social Hall, between the two kitchen doors, above the beverage service. From there, the numbers proceeded clockwise around the room. 

Using these numbers, I uploaded an online guide to the show, including captions, descriptions, and locations of photos: billzarchy.com/photoshow

I had considered arranging my photos in clusters by subject, but that didn’t always work. Seeing half a dozen sunsets together cheapened them. A similar thing happened with my close, intimate shots of spring blossoms. Spread out, or sprinkled among other types of pictures, they grab you and invite you to move in and study them. Crowded together, they’re just a bunch of flowers.

You can see the clusters below, as they appear on the walls.

I made ten clusters in all, some based on similar color tones, like red, blue, green, and pale pink. I split up many sunsets and landscapes, clustered together most of the Judaism and Israel photos, grouped a lot of the people-on-the-street shots, and used the blossoms as accents. Closeup shots faces all face into the cluster, rather than toward the edge (a technique I learned doing newspaper layout when I was Managing Editor of The Dartmouthback in the day). Each cluster has an identity of its own, though sometimes I can’t describe it in words.

I love hearing, “Oh, I just noticed those are all green,” or “I’m glad you put a flower in the middle of those other intense pictures,” or “I just noticed it looks like this person is looking at that sunset (in another photo).” It’s fun when people notice there’s a method to the madness of the cluster arrangements. 

1  Yad pointer with Torah scroll, Congregation Beth El, Berkeley, California
2  Street scene, Jerusalem, Israel
3  Torah crown (detail), Congregation Beth El, Berkeley, California
4  Dinosaur menorah, Albany, California
5  Book of Esther, Congregation Beth El, Berkeley, California
6  Orchid canna (aka Canna lily). Dog walk photo, Albany, California
7  Sunset, Point Isabel, California. Dog walk photo
8  Lantana. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
9  Windmill and canal, Gouda, Netherlands
10  Food seller in street stall, Beijing, China
11  Tulip. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
12  Lovers’ padlocks on canal bridge, Amsterdam, Netherlands
13  Sunset with wife and dog, Sea Ranch, California
14  Sunset, Sea Ranch, California
15  Street scene, Hong Kong, China
16  Tea rose. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
17  Shop owner in Old City, Jerusalem, Israel
18  Policeman, Jerusalem, Israel
19  Abstract street scene, San Francisco, California
20  San Diego Padres’ Everth Cabrera flies around the bases, AT&T Park, San Francisco, California
21  Giants’ catcher Buster Posey watches 3rd baseman Pablo Sandoval try on Panda hat at 2011 FanFest. Within a few months, Posey’s season ended after a devastating collision at the plate, and Sandoval broke his wrist. AT&T Park, San Francisco, California
22  Giants’ outfielder Angel Pagan gazes heavenward as he pops up. AT&T Park, San Francisco, California
23  At full extension, Giants’ pitcher Tim Lincecum prepares to let one fly. AT&T Park, San Francisco, California
24  Lily. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
25  Butcher shop, Shanghai, China
26  Ladies at bus station, Mandya, Karnataka, India
27  Garden tulip. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
28  Young couple, Tel Aviv, Israel
29  Peruvian lily (with bee). Dog walk photo, Albany, California
30  Narrow canal, Venice, Italy
31  Purple azalea. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
32  Young man in cafe, Bangalore, India
33  Tea rose. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
34  Garden rose. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
35  Sword fern. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
36  Calla lily leaf. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
37  I love this fanciful, meandering brick wall under construction a few blocks from my home. Dog walk photo, Albany, California.
38  Sweet fennel. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
39  Romanesque cauliflower (aka Romanesco broccoli), El Cerrito, California. What a wonderful, natural fractal pattern!
40  My pal Mush and his Porsche. Albany, California
41  Tree aeonium with droplets. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
42  Flying low over the verdant fields of the Emerald Isle, approaching Dublin, Ireland
43  Enchanted Kingdom, aka Backyard, Albany, California. That moment when the foliage is most glorious, and the light is just perfect …
44  Bodega Bay, California
45  Gondola on the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
46  Young women on bench, Mexico City, Mexico
47  Curio vendor, Shanghai, China
48  Children with grandmother, Thirukolakudi village, Tamil Nadu, India
49  Kids posing eagerly for the camera, Mandya, Karnataka, India
50  Museum coat check gadget, Rotterdam, Netherlands
51  Street scene, Shanghai, China
52  Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel
53  Woman with red bindi, Thirukolakudi village, Tamil Nadu, India
54  Sunset, Sea Ranch, California
55  Woman with orange sari, Mandya, Karnataka, India
56  Harbor view from hotel, Hong Kong, China
57  Grand Canal at night, Venice, Italy
58  Piazza di Santa Maria, Florence, Italy
59  Mt. Shasta hovers over the freeway. Interstate 5, Northern California
60  Ambulance at dusk. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
61  Turbaned forklift driver, Aalsmeer Flower Market, Netherlands
62  Rainy evening street scene, Venice, Italy
63  Sunset, Point Isabel, California
64  Water birds, Green Cay Nature Center, Boynton Beach, Florida
65  Old woman, Thirukolakudi village, Tamil Nadu, India
66  Garden tulip. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
67  Smoker with ear buds, Jerusalem, Israel
68  Woman with stroller, Gouda, Netherlands
69  Wild iris. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
70  Tourists! Gondola riders with photo bomber, Venice, Italy
71  Exuberant tour guide, Scotland
72  Dutch sky, near Gouda, Netherlands
73  Yad with Torah scroll, Congregation Beth El, Berkeley, California
74  Couple in cafe, Tel Aviv, Israel
75  Old man, Mandya, Karnataka, India
76  Outside Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel
77  Ice cream eaters, Mexico City, Mexico
78  My lighting gaffer, Dragon Lau (on left), buying roasted chestnuts from street vendor, Shanghai, China
79  Young family on bench, Mexico City, Mexico
80  Rainy day, Leiden, Netherlands
81  Street scene with shadows, Solano Avenue. Dog walk photo, Albany, California
82  Dramatic sky at dusk, Delft, Netherlands
83  Street scene, Dublin, Ireland
84  Family tableau, Amsterdam, Netherlands
85  Dramatic sky, Point Isabel, California. Dog walk photo
86  Family scene, Amtrak Station, Sacramento, California


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