Think Tank Gallery Presents: YOU ARE HERE (2011) was the Think Tank's first ever art exhibition, and it was an ambitious one. It was also my first photography exhibit (I was one of the 32 selected, holla), and my first job as a producer of any kind. There wasn't yet a "director" role in the Think Tank per se, but if there was, I was that dude.
YOU ARE HERE was a photography experiment that tasked 32 photographers with documenting a single square city-block for ten days, and then printing and framing their work to be hung in an undisclosed location. Targeting street photographers, hundreds of artists responded to the call, but a variety of skill sets were selected so as to offer a diverse show.
Architectural, fashion, local, international, color, and black & white photographers were hosted, with the tying element being that each artist came into the experiment knowing nothing except they were excited to be a part of the project, they would shoot for about a week in October, and would be confined to a map in some part of Los Angeles – though they didn't know where.
The challenge was getting people to know about the Call without letting them know about the location – the square block around our gallery. The biggest help is that our space (and its address) was undiscovered back then, but obviously that made it hard to make talented photographers want to apply to this risky show idea. We definitely wanted to host it at our gallery, not just because it was ours, but because the idea for the show itself was born of the literal "night and day" difference of the Santee Alley Shopping Neighborhood because it is so insane during the day but a ghost town at night; so we didn't consider collaborating with a more well-known gallery an option. Instead we opted to bring in influencers of other kinds. One was Leica Camera, our title sponsor, and the other was a selection of five "featured photographers," our media partner Eric Kim Photography included (who runs the biggest street photography blog in the world).
Three photographers were selected by our curators (Think Tanker) Neema and (old friend) Eric, all three of them artists who had proven their value by having both original styles that embodied street photography and large followings to match. We created a Call with their guidance, which they released across their social platforms and in Flickr groups and photography forums across the web. Hundreds of applications poured in with their cosigns, and we chose the group of 32 (with this invite) that we felt could most honestly tell the Alley's story. The recap video below captures that sentiment (as well as a bit of our art-hanging naivety) well.
The best way we knew to get the big name streettogs on board as our featured artists was to get an undeniably huge partner on board first. We went straight to the top and hit up Leica Camera in what remains our smoothest brand integration to date. Curator Eric Kim just so happened to have worked with one of their marketing guys a few times, so getting a message to them was a gift we knew we had waiting for us, leaving the only remaining task of planning our first ever art show as an exhibit co-presented by the pinnacle in high-end street photography equipment. We had to use our big, smart, marketing brains, and this is what we came up with:
Since the show was confined to a map, we were planning to exhibit each of the photos with a tiny map below it, with little red dots representing the place on the map where the photo was taken (similar dots to the "sold" stickers you see in galleries that sold work, which was very well-noted on the night of the opening). You can see a photo of this system above. We also planned to put a giant map at the front of the gallery with all of the dots on it (photo missing, unfortunately). Luckily for all of this, Leica's logo just so happens to be a little red dot.
You can see the pitch below or by clicking here that describes the request to them of "32 photographers with three photos each, framed by us in uniform 16x20 black frames to most purely document the neighborhood." Starting with the declaration of Leica as the pinnacle of the genre, we asked for three judges to select a winning photographer to whom to donate their new on-the-go VLUX-30. Collaborating with our featured photographers, Jordan Dunn was selected and ended up becoming a curator of the second YOU ARE HERE exhibit. We also asked them to loan us five cameras and lenses for our featured photographers to use, though we did not restrict them to Leicas, instead just encouraging them to play with the cameras.
While we did not pay for printing or a framing service, we did find a discount to offer our participants, and all that was left was the cost of the frames themselves. Simple and uniform was our goal, and Leica also provided a monetary contribution to make these purchases. With the free use of branding thrown on top, we had our first partner ever, as well as first ever art show. The photographers flooded our neighborhood and noted the challenges of this unique experiment while maintaining an excited feeling and spreading that feeling to the neighborhood.
We also incorporated a large, found-object, site-specific installation into the space, providing our sculptor with similar guidelines (photos above). With a $200 budget, Brandon "Monk" Muñoz was tasked with finding trash and purchased materials exclusively in the gallery and the square block around it, eventually building a massive, Google Maps-style pin "crashing" through the ceiling into the center of the exhibit. Brandon did well to reference the bartering methods of the neighborhood within his constraints (aptly naming his piece "VASILE!") while hinting at the gentrification of an invasion of artists to the Alley. The recap video explains how, since he could not find a sheet of ply with which to cut a circle, he had to cut a hexagon out of found planks of wood and incorporate bright fabrics and toys from the neighborhood to finish his project.
With a solid marketing campaign tied to flyer distribution (including ammo packs of flyers for our streettogs to hand off as they popped shots of unsuspecting subjects and ran around the corner) and shareable social media content, the at-first wary neighborhood ended up embracing the experiment, a true testament to Leica's trusting and non-intrusive integration. The video recap below captures the feeling of the show well.
You can download the proposal deck we made here.
You can download a behind-the-scenes packet, including action item lists and a journal entry by myself after the show, here.
And the catalog from the show, printed by MAGCLOUD, can be purchased here: http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/299394