The Jennifer Schlesinger Mixtape
Jennifer Schlesinger is a pretty remarkable person. Maybe I should say she’s pretty AND remarkable, but we are concentrating on the remarkable part today. You may know her as the Gallery Director of the Verve Gallery in Santa Fe, a gallery that is known for quality and excellence in photographic works, often featuring artists working with alternative processes. You may also know her as a talented photographer, creating otherworldly photographs using the albumen process. Or maybe you have taken one of her workshops or sat across from her or next to her at a portfolio review. In addition to her rich photographic life, she is a mother to a beautiful daughter, Kaya.
The first time I met Jennifer was at the Photolucida portfolio event, and over the years I have sat across from her at reviews just to benefit from her thoughtful considerations and wise council–she has a clear vision of what she is looking for as a Gallery Director, but also takes chances giving emerging photographers an opportunity for exposure. Recently I had the pleasure of seeing her at the Portfolio Walk at Review Santa Fe and when I teach at the Santa Fe Workshops, she has graciously hosted my students at the Verve Gallery, giving them insights into the exhibition and the collection. I have watched Jennifer’s own photographic career take flight and soar into remarkable levels. What I have learned by creating these Mixtapes, is that our community is so lucky to have people like Jennifer inspiring us with her own journey as someone who shapes careers AND is an artist at the same time, who understands the photographic life.
You can also read more about Jennifer in this terrific interview by Tom Persinger on the F295 blog.
And now, it give me great pleasure to present The Jennifer Schlesinger Mixtape:
Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography.
I did not know I would use my artistic skills as a career until I was about 20 – and even then, I think I assumed I would do photojournalism. I grew up in the woods of Connecticut and played outdoors all the time. My family did a lot of outdoor activities when I was growing up and I loved soccer, softball, camping, and canoeing. My father is very creative and had a woodworking studio in our basement and my mom played the piano, and she still knits and is a great cook. I took an occasional art class or music class, but I didn’t feel like I was a natural at it – I really struggled musically, although my brother is a talented musician, I just did not have rhythm come easily to me. And while I could paint or draw ok, I didn’t consider that my strong suit either. So it wasn’t until I was about 20 when I picked up a camera that I truly identified with the art of photography.
This occurred when I left the Northeast to move to Atlanta, Georgia to take some time away from school to really figure out what I wanted to do. I was interested in the studio arts, exploring drawing and painting on my own and met a friend who put a Pentax K1000 in my hand. We explored parts of Atlanta such as Cabbage Town and other areas that were intriguing to me, and I started photography by doing street photos of these areas. I then saw a Sebastiao Salgado exhibit in Atlanta in 1995 and I was struck. I got a job at a photo lab where I learned C-41 process and how to print black and white silver gelatin prints in the darkroom. After that, I took a trip to Europe and became enamored by the history of art, and photographed everything. It was on the return from that trip when I was convinced that I wanted to study photography, and learn everything about it – the history, the art, the act, the philosophy. I knew I wanted to be in the Southwest, as I had visited my brother there once and loved the landscape, so in my search for photography schools in that area, I came across the College of Santa Fe. I made the transfer of my college credits and finished my degree in Santa Fe in Photography.
I was young and did not realize at the time what a hub of photographic history that the Southwest was until I entered the College and I studied with David Scheinbaum. Scheinbaum is a wealth of knowledge in the history of Photography, an accomplished photographer and educator, and photography dealer. He also engrained in me what a fine art photographic print should be and I am forever grateful for that. He and his wife and established photographer, Janet Russek, who operate Scheinbaum & Russek Ltd. became mentors to me and to this day have had a huge influence on my continued passion for photography and the appreciation of fine art photographic prints.
What is your title and job description and tell us about a typical day?
I am the Director of VERVE Gallery of Photography in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I work directly with the artists we represent in marketing their work, creating their exhibitions, building collector clientele for their work, and managing our overall business relations with them. I also work directly with collectors, potential collectors, and clients in relation to the artists we represent. In addition, I am always scouting for new potential artists via our submissions and/or reviews. I am also usually the first person one sees when they enter the gallery, so I am generally responsible for educating the public on our current exhibitions and our roster of artists.
I typically begin my day by responding to a numerous amount of emails! In general, email is the main source of communication between my colleagues, our clientele and our artists, so it can sometimes set the agenda for my day. By the end of a typical day I have responded to several print and artist inquiries, communicated to a handful of our artists and clients, and in general, handled the business aspect of managing hundreds of clients and our stable of over 40 artists.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
In relation to VERVE I am most proud of the reputation all of us here have built for the Gallery especially in regards to how we conduct business with our artists and clients. I am proud of the work we do encouraging and promoting emerging artists and helping to give many artists a jumpstart to showing their work to a larger audience.
My favorite moments in this position are when I can offer up opportunities to artists. One of those moments was when I could invite Henry Horenstein, someone whose books I studied in college, to join the VERVE roster. It is situations like those when I see things coming full circle in rewarding ways.
I am also proud of many exhibitions VERVE has mounted and produced. We culled together a major exhibition entitled Do Process, where we showcased several 19th and 20th Century photographic processes by the artists we represent. In this show, we created an exhibition that was educational, as well as engaging and received a great response from the community at large. We are in the process of producing an educational video surrounding this exhibition, very much in the similar style we have made for a selection of the artists we represent, using the Santa Fe video company Story Portrait Media to create the videos.
I was also proud when we curated a Magnum exhibition in 2009, when we curated Figures Studied in 2013 – an exhibition celebrating VERVE’s 10th Anniversary with all of our artists, as well as when we collaborated with Diffusion magazine on their 5th Anniversary to present their retrospective at the Gallery this year.
In relation to my own work, I would have to say the honing of the albumen process has been very rewarding for me. I set out to learn this process for the most part on my own, and after wanting to give up several times, I kept at it and finally figured out a good working method for myself. It was very challenging to iron out the process – taking me nearly a year of trial and error – and now it feels like a great achievement to have this work in museum collections, exhibited, collected, and taught via my workshops.
What do you look for when attending a portfolio review?
This is a double-header question for me, as I’ve attended as a Review-ee and a Review-er! I would say when I attend as a Review-er, I am looking to fill a niche within our roster of artists at VERVE, by finding artists who are using photography in new, exciting, and aesthetically pleasing ways.
When I attend a review as an artist, I am looking to enhance my network of opportunity and make connections that otherwise would be very challenging to initiate.
What’s great about being on both sides of the coin, as you know, is that you learn quickly what not to do and what works. In the end, no matter which side of the table I am on, I always walk away with great connections and an overall positive experience.
Any advice for photographers coming to a review event?
From my personal reviewer standpoint, I would recommend showing their tightest, most well-edited, exhibition-ready, work. One thing that is difficult in my position as a Reviewer who is there looking for work to exhibit is when an artist says, “These are meant to be large, or printed in some other medium, etc. etc” and a Reviewer such as myself is expected to imagine the final work. Being a visual person, I need to see the work in it’s final presented state. I think it’s best to present the work as it is intended to be exhibited. I know some artists go to reviews to get feedback on works-in-progress, but if they are hoping to exhibit, this is my advice. I’ve been in such situations where we accepted work that I saw at Reviews, but when we actually got the work in the Gallery, the quality, color, and tone of the photograph was not nearly up to par when they were blown up larger, on different paper, etc. and it was extremely disappointing.
What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you?
I am turning 40 in August, and in celebration of doing so, I trained to run my first half marathon this past May! I have been a runner for years, but I never ran as far as 13.1 miles. It was a ceremonial event for me not only physically, but emotionally. I trained with a small group of female runner friends who were pillars for me. The only other major accomplishment I could even compare it to was when I gave birth to my daughter Kaya at home without any pain meds, and this, of course, was THE most momentous achievement I have ever had and the most rewarding!
And since this is a Mixtape, what is your favorite song, band, and do you dance?
Adding this to your question about what the average person may not know about me, I used to be a Breakdancer. A friend and I won the New Mexico State Breakdancing Championships when I was 24! We even got a trophy! I love fun hip-hop with great beats and a positive message. Some of my all-time favorites are the Gift of Gab, Tribe Called Quest, and De La Soul. I do not Breakdance any longer, however, but I love to jam out with friends or with my 8 year-old daughter at home.
And now, I had over the turn tables to Jennifer….
First of all, thank YOU and for all YOU do for our photographic community. You are such an important inspiration to those of us who are photographers and working professionally in the field.
Here is a little background story as to how I work in the mediums I do and how I got to where I am today:
When I was about two months away from graduating with a major in Photography and a minor in Journalism in 1998, I was working on an internship at the local newspaper, the New Mexican. I had to go out on assignment one day photographing a person mourning on Veteran’s Day. Despite my love of photojournalism, and my love of the work of Bresson, Salgado, Weegee, and many others, I personally felt awkward asking this subject if I could photograph him, as he was sobbing by a Veteran’s Memorial gravestone. I felt as though I was encroaching on his privacy and I did not feel comfortable with this. It was this very moment that I decided I did not want to pursue photography from this aspect.
I was passionate about photography nonetheless and continued on with it after graduation. After I graduated, I had a stint doing event photography (photographing musicians and performers was far more comfortable for me!). But then I landed in an administrative position at a local arts organization that eventually led to more, better positions. Ultimately, over time, I built the skills necessary to run non-profit arts organizations such as being the Assistant Director of the Santa Fe Art Institute and then the current for-profit arts business I currently work for, VERVE Gallery.
Along the way I was inspired by the many artists that I was fortunate enough to work with throughout these many years at these arts organizations. Santa Fe Art Institute hosted artist residencies and I worked for SITE Santa Fe as well. I was lucky enough to coordinate for artists such as Christian Marclay, Susan Meiseles, Woody and Steina Vasulka, Spencer Tunik, Gregory Crewdson and many others I admired. All of these people eventually influenced my own approach to photography and I was able to explore the photographic medium from various angles in various media.
I finally settled into my own comfortable exploration photographing the landscape and working in the wet darkroom process, which is where I found my passion with photography to begin with. While I have experimented in the digital medium and have respect for it, I always come back to the tactile nature of photography being of most interest to me. To this day, even as I have learned to incorporate the relationship of humans to nature into my work, landscape predominates my subject matter. I understand now how I could never have what it takes to be a photojournalist in the traditional sense. I am ultimately an introvert, at least in the sense of how I want to use my creative process.
That being said, it gives me great joy to be able to give back to artists I do respect, working in various media. In fact, I am constantly intrigued by photographic artists working in approaches that are not my own strong suit. It is very gratifying to have that fill a place in my soul that I can not fill on my own.
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