I recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Jennifer Schlesinger Hanson who’s been the gallery director at Verve Gallery in Santa Fe since 2005 as well as a terrific photographer/fine artist. This interview is part of an occasional series of similarly formatted discussions and interviews with gallerists, curators, and others that looks to provide a peek behind the scenes of what drives them, how they reach decisions, and their thoughts on photography today.
TP: Can you tell us about your background and the origins of your interest in photography?
JSH: My interest in photography points to a moment in my life when I simultaneously discovered art history in a college class and a friend put a Pentax K1000 in my hand. I was 20 and just beginning to see the world through a creative lens. Perhaps more specifically, I realized that moments could be creatively captured in poetic ways by recording them onto film and my life infinitely shifted from that point. My original attraction to photography was with photojournalism. I saw a Salgado exhibit and was instantly enamored with how photography can be used as a narrative, feel like an art object, raise awareness and consciousness, and raise the hair on my arms – all at once!
TP: What path did you take to becoming Verve’s Gallery Director?
JSH: Immediately following my degree in Photography, I landed a job doing art education for a few arts organizations and schools in Santa Fe, and also landed an office manager job for the local Center for Contemporary Arts. Over the next several years I gained experience in arts administration at other organizations that eventually led to the position of Assistant Director at the Santa Fe Art Institute. Verve had already represented my work at this point and Wilson Scanlan, the Owner of Verve, had designed my website a few years back. One day, I was dropping a print off to VERVE for a sale and lamenting about how I was ready for a shift in my professional life, when Wilson said in a casual way, “You should come be our Gallery Director!” I went home wondering if he really was serious. I called him the next day and the rest is history. At that time, Wilson and his wife were pregnant with their first child, and I was about to find out I too was only 2 months behind them! We have been raising our children together since that moment I began working at VERVE in 2005.
Portrait of Jennifer Schlesinger Hanson by Kevin Bubriski.
TP: How do you decide what work to show in the gallery?
JSH: I do portfolio reviews and am constantly immersed in photography and the careers of others. In addition, we (the Gallery Owners John and Wilson Scanlan, and myself) study our submissions very closely. We share what we find and vote – it is a very democratic decision making process! Two out of three votes wins.
TP: Are there particular criteria or things you look for when a photographer reaches out to you?
JSH: Ultimately we are thinking about our clientele and what they will want to see. We are looking for new and unique approaches to photography and how the artist is bringing this to their viewer in aesthetically pleasing ways.
TP: What are your feelings regarding the multiple ways – online, smart-phones, prints, in a gallery, & others that the public consumes images today?
JSH: I feel that photography has always been evolving as a technical medium. We used to spend hours developing film, making photo albums, sharing photos with families and friends, getting the latest equipment, etc. Now we just do this in a new technologically based way. I see it as an advancement in the medium, and for those of us who love photography, we simply have more tools to make photographs and to disseminate them. Photography, since it’s inception, has been controversial – it has been questioned as an art form, and many other art forms felt threatened by its invention. Yet ultimately, it still lives on, and is constantly defending its validity! Photography is and always has been in a constant state of flux, and probably always will be.
TP: How do you prefer to look at images – and why?
JSH: I love to see prints. I love photography’s tactile nature and I personally am drawn to a fine photographic print that was made with great care and intention – I was trained in the appreciation and making of a fine photographic print. That being said, we at the Gallery get so many submissions, that it is impossible to look at work in this way, when we need to be focused on promoting the work we already represent. This is why we prefer our submission process to be in digital form. Ultimately, our clientele are first viewing our artist’s work on our website in digital form, so we like to initially see the work this way to see if the work will translate to our clients well. However, nothing beats seeing prints in person, which is why the Gallery exists in the first place! We want to be a hub where photography enthusiasts can come to the space and fulfill their need for the tactile nature of photography.
TP: What is on both your and Verve’s horizon?
JSH: We have a great lineup for the next year. We have a group landscape show in the Fall that will encompass various unique approaches to the traditional idea of landscape; we have a locals show in the beginning of next year; and for the Summer 2015 we are producing a show on the theme of climate change and how various artists are broaching this subject. I personally will be showing new albumen work from a series titled, Utopia at Lionheart Gallery in Pound Ridge, NY in September, and Tilt Gallery in 2015. I just finished teaching an Albumen workshop for the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops this Summer.
TP: What drives you to do this work?
JSH: Photography has been the one constant in my life that I have continuously felt passionate about for nearly 20 years. I am continually intrigued by its ever growing evolution and ultimately I find photography to be a literal and metaphorical way of living in this life. I couldn’t imagine my life without it.
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