Jennifer Schlesinger and Obscura Gallery
I first met Jennifer Schlesinger a number of years ago at a variety portfolio review events around the country, in her role as the Gallery Director of the Verve Gallery. As I nervously shared my work with her at the reviews, we’d have lively conversations that continued on when I visited the Verve Gallery in Santa Fe. Later I created a Mixtape about Jennifer where I highlighted her talents as an artist, educator, mother, and gallery director.
Eventually, my work hung on the walls of Verve and I had the wonderful opportunity to observe how a master gallery was run and the level of professionalism brought to all things, where the artist was treated like royalty and work was carefully considered with white glove attention. Needless to say, I was dismayed when John and Wilson Scanlan decided to close their doors after fourteen years of celebrating photography in Santa Fe, but change sometimes leads to new opportunities, and Gallery Director Jennifer Schlesinger decided to become Gallery Owner Jennifer Schlesinger, as she opens the doors to the new Obscura Gallery. I am so happy to celebrate this exciting transformation and always thrilled when new gallery doors open–and being transparent, I am happily represented by Obscura. An interview with Jennifer follows.
About the gallery:
Obscura Gallery, LLC is pleased to announce our new gallery based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Obscura Gallery, named after the original Camera Obscura, is founded on our passion for photography which is deeply rooted in the history of the medium. Obscura Gallery encourages the ways in which contemporary artists are using photography to create unique additions to the history of photography which began nearly 200 years ago.
The gallery was conceived by Owner and Director Jennifer Schlesinger. A photography dealer and artist herself, Jennifer brings to Obscura Gallery the experience of being the Director of VERVE Gallery of Photography in Santa Fe, New Mexico for eleven years. Jennifer’s career experience has led to developing long term relationships with artists, clients, and collectors as well as the local, national and international photographic community.
In addition to offering for sale the artwork by Obscura Gallery’s roster of artists and gallery inventory, we also offer collection building, consulting and advising, and can assist in many facets of photographic collection, de-accession, and research.
Congratulations on Obscura Gallery! Tell us how you moved from Gallery Director to Gallery owner…..
Thank you Aline, and thank you so much for spotlighting my new business venture and joining on with me as one of my represented artists at Obscura!
A year ago, last October, the owners of Verve Gallery sat us down in a meeting to tell us employees that they were closing the Gallery and they were giving us notice of 6 months to help them close up shop. They were in business for 13 years, and I had worked for them 11 of those years as their Gallery Director so it was a fairly somber moment. I was immediately saddened to hear of the news, we all were. I loved my job and in that moment I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do. When I went home to tell my partner the news that evening and how I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, his immediate response was, “Then you should start your own gallery, you can share my new building space when it’s up and running” and the very next day I woke up with a plan and renewed vigor to pursue the concept of starting my own gallery. Honestly, if I had taken a few days to sit on the idea, I may have reconsidered my other options! My impulsiveness, in this instance, really played an important role on moving the idea forward in a positive way. Can’t say that is always the case with my impulsive traits!
I took the next 6 months to help Verve return their consigned work to their artists and close down, while also in any spare time of my weeks, I started my own business venture of Obscura Gallery. I worked with one of my artists, Jeff Louviere who is also a graphic designer, to help me realize my concept for the logo, and the design of my website. Caitlyn Soldan, whom I worked with at Verve Gallery and is now one of my represented artists, helped me get all my artists’ inventory on the website, and I launched Obscura Gallery online last February 2017 after Verve closed to the public.
The next many months I formulated my business plan, and built my artists’ print inventory. The building that my partner and I will share needed a complete demo and remodel from the inside-out, including all new electric, plumbing, heating, a/c, interior framing… you name it. So while we are currently working to get the building remodeled, I have been working on various projects that have been building Obscura’s presence and business, including clientele, artist representations, as well as other projects that keep me super busy and afloat until we are in the new space. In addition, I’m meeting with clients and our audience privately at our residence studio gallery where I have all our inventory, which has worked really well in the interim.
Tell us about Obscura Gallery.
The artists at Obscura Gallery are each representing photography in a new, unique way, sometimes taking from or adding to many of the 19th and 20th century photographic processes that the medium was founded on. Each artist represented at Obscura Gallery offers a hand-crafted, thoughtful approach to their work. In addition to offering for sale the artwork by Obscura Gallery’s roster of artists, we also carry a selection of 19th – 21th century photographic inventory. In addition, we offer collection building, consulting and advising, and can assist in many facets of photographic collection, de-accession, and research.
Does owning your own gallery shift your approach to promoting and selling photographs?
Absolutely. This new realm of being a business owner and having to budget out what I will spend money on to bring in revenue is a very carefully crafted venture. I started this business with a very small business budget and I have been very careful on where I invest revenue back into the business. Being a business owner as opposed to an employee are two very different roles. I am excited and invigorated to generate business for my artists and promote them in new and exciting ways that I was not in a position to before. I’m thrilled to be in this new chapter and can’t wait to be in our new gallery space open to the public doing regular exhibitions. In the meantime I have been so excited to share my artists inventory with clients and visitors who come by our residence studio gallery; to do pop-up exhibitions, traveling exhibitions; and next I will do Obscura’s first photo fair, Classic Photographs Los Angeles at Bergamot Station in February 2018. I am in a position now to try new things and experiment in new ways to broaden my artists careers and Obscura’s presence.
Obscura has many exciting projects that launched in the past year and it is certainly taking on a life of its own. For example, one project that presented itself was the new Curator of The Baldwin Photographic Gallery at the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), Jackie Heigle, approached me in May 2017 to ask if she could curate her inaugural curatorial exhibition from my Obscura artists. I was so delighted and accepted her request. That exhibition titled, Constellation, included over 60 Obscura prints by our artists that traveled to the Baldwin which opened this September and was on view through the end of October. I went to MTSU in September to give a lecture about all the artists in the exhibition and teach a short workshop to the students. That was a wonderful opportunity to promote the Obscura artists that I was so grateful to be able to have while our building is being remodeled.
What kind of work are you drawn to as a gallerist?
The type of work I am drawn to is a very intuitive approach for me – sometimes hard to put into words. I see it in two different ways – there is work that I find intriguing or interesting but maybe I don’t see it as easy to market in a gallery setting to my clients. And then there is work that I am so drawn to that is easy to market because I believe in it so wholeheartedly. The latter is what I’m attracted to in the business aspect of the gallery because if I feel passionate about the work, then I can easily talk about it to my clients and the audience I am trying to market the work towards.
Also, what I am drawn to has to be a combination of both my attraction to the print and the image itself. I want to see a fine photographic print, no less. The print itself must make the hairs on my neck raise! Then, the artists passion and commitment to their chosen medium/process/project and their intention behind the work. Then there is the artist behind the work, their personality, and how we can conduct business together. It’s all a very delicate dance. I can be highly attracted to a body of work, or a piece of work, but I have to ask myself all these questions when I’m deciding to move forward with bringing the work into the gallery.
The gallery template seems to be changing…can you speak to selling photographs in 2017?
Well, I think like in any business, one has to be constantly creative, open to new ideas, and stay on our toes. It’s important to constantly be thinking of new ways to market, to exhibit, to cultivate clients and to think outside of the box. For me, it’s wonderful, actually, because I am a very creative person I like the challenge of finding ways to get my artists work out there. However, that being said, I still love the traditional model of giving an artist an exhibition in a gallery space devoted to the photographic medium, to honor the work they have spent a long and hard time creating which deserves a larger audience. There is nothing that replaces the dialogue that a physical audience will have with physical objects of art. It’s what goes on behind the scenes and parallel to those exhibitions that has to continue to evolve.
As a practicing photographer, represented by galleries around the U.S., does straddling artist/gallerist affect either roles?
I have always been able to be both an artist and a gallerist/curator/educator. They really feed off one another for me. I think one of the differences now is that I feel highly compelled to use my creativity to broaden and explore new ideas for Obscura. It does feel like Obscura has become part of my new creative process, so in a way I am now cultivating a new artistic project as I would with a new body of work. I’m still making time to create my own work, certainly less so at the moment – but it all sort of mixes together now into one giant creative process. When an artist is also a gallerist, we have an advantage in that we know how we want our galleries to represent us and treat us as, and so we can strive to do that reciprocally with the artists we represent at the gallery. Luckily I have wonderful gallerists who represent my own work at Catherine Couturier Gallery, Tilt Gallery, and at Vision Neil Folberg Gallery and most of those Gallerists are artists too, so we all understand this process.
What are your recommendations for emerging photographers wanting to approach a gallery?
I would say firstly, make sure you have at least one strong body of work, if not a few under your belt. Of course, it is easy for a viewer to get drawn into a singular image or one body of work, but personally, I want to know you are consistently making work I am drawn to. Once you are ready to approach a gallery, be respectful of the Gallery’s time, the way they want to view work (don’t send unsolicited material), and communicate with the Gallery to be sure you understand their policies for viewing work. Join a network, ask questions, and most importantly – continue to make your work, be passionate, kind, and if the timing is right, it can work for you. I think getting your work out there whether it’s through juried exhibitions, portfolio reviews, or meeting individually, it’s all integral to growing your work and career.
What are you excited about?
I’m so excited to get our gallery open to the public and start holding exhibitions for my artists. I am also so excited about curating specially crafted exhibitions with my partner, Brant Mackley, who is a dealer of Antique American Indian and Tribal Art. We have a lot of ideas churning around and we are excited to cross-curate our inventory into exhibitions for our audience to experience in Santa Fe and beyond.
And finally, describe your perfect day…
My perfect day always starts with a sweet trail run with my mini-dog on a sunny, cool brisk Santa Fe morning. Then, after having coffee while I get quite a bit of morning work accomplished, on a perfect day I’d then go up to the Santa Fe Ski Mountain to get in a few runs in and lunch with my daughter, Kaya. Then I’d come home to have a delicious dinner date chef-ed by Brant. It’s simple, really.
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