Editors’ note: To celebrate the launch of our Project Review: Gallery Focus, the LensCulture editors are highlighting some of our favorite interviews with fine art professionals. Looking for feedback on your photography? Interested in presenting your work to a gallery? Check out the Project Review page for more information.
From its founding in 1988, Janet Borden, Inc. has served as an essential source for discovering contemporary photography in New York City. As one of the first places to dedicate itself to fine art photography, Borden has had the honor of showcasing a long lineage of great artists from the medium—Larry Sultan, Martin Parr, Lee Friedlander, Lewis Baltz, Weegee, Tina Barney and many more.
But perhaps even more impressive is the way in which Borden’s gallery has always retained an intimate, down-to-earth feeling. Unlike many of the other contemporary art dealers in the city, who have succumbed to temptation and transformed their spaces into corporations and/or mega-galleries, Borden’s outfit has always felt distinctly accessible. Especially with the gallery’s recent move to Brooklyn—where it now occupies a ground-floor space in Dumbo—the open-door spirit is more present than ever. In Borden’s words, “I like the weirdie-ness of photography…my gallery feels like a clubhouse to me—I want photography to be a super-cool club!”
At this year’s Paris Photo, Borden will show a wide variety of works, ranging from vintage, 1970s silver-gelatin prints by Robert Cumming to recent color work by Martin Parr. Particular highlights include portraits by the long-overlooked Neil Winokur and work from Jan Groover, whose inventive still-life photographs made her a “late-20th-century heir to Edward Weston” (in the words of MoMA’s legendary photography curator John Szarkowski).
In advance of her participation at Paris Photo, we emailed Borden to learn more about her views on the world of photography—particularly from her perspective as a gallerist—nearly 30 years on.
Untitled, 1974. Chromogenic color, unique © Jan Groover
LC: The internet & digital photography have changed everything. Yet we have also seen an increased interest in materiality over the past decade—e.g. photobooks are all the rage, and film is gaining new adherents. How have you seen the gallery world transformed, for better and worse, over the past ~30 years by these enormous changes?
JB: The photographic work changes and responds to innovations in technology and culture. But it’s all the same, over time. As I’ve long said, the technology isn’t the art part. For example, when I was starting out, people were enamored with Xerox imagery (now subsumed under the quaint term “non-silver.”) Today, it’s social media…
I guess social media is the scariest part, right now. It can make (temporary) stars out of people who are just making a lot of noise. This is also applicable to some of the mega-galleries…Eventually, though it will all work itself out. Cream rises, etc.
LC: I think many photographers are anxious to find gallery representation. But as many gallerists have told me, it’s not a simple process: more like a long-term marriage than a one-night stand. Can you walk us through your process of choosing to represent an artist? What goes into the decision?
JB: I like to see new work, and every once in a million times, I get a real jolt from discovering something new. But often, I will need to see it a few times to see how it grows. Besides the work, my relationship with artists is extremely personal. There has to be some chemistry—so that everyone is in it together. Like you said, a marriage. It is sort of relentless that way.
It seems that photographers think that looking at new work is a gallerist’s job—but that isn’t our job. Our job is selling the work we already represent.
Looking at new work is fun and beneficial for us; it helps us think and grow—but that isn’t our actual job. So don’t be mad when gallerists can’t take the time to look at your prints.
LC: Besides selling photographers’ work, how do you see the role of the gallerist in the artist-gallery relationship?
JB: First, I’m their cheerleader. I promote and support their efforts. Beyond that, I think each gallerist is different, which is what gives each gallery its distinctive quality. Some galleries are able to provide stipends or other financial support for their artists, which is great. We’re small, so that’s not happening, but in trying to make shows and sales occur, we are constantly promoting our artists.
Or, for example, we recently began working with a young artist who is really excited to be collaborating with us. When he travels, he asks who we know in each city and introduces himself. He shows up at fairs, and tries to meet as many people as he can, promoting himself and his relationship with us. That’s the sort of symbiosis that is helpful; dropping off a pile of work at the gallery less so. The best scenario is a collaboration between the artist and the gallery in which everyone benefits.
—Janet Borden interviewed by Alexander Strecker
Visit Janet Borden Gallery’s booth at Paris Photo this November to discover more work from Martin Parr, Jan Groover, Robert Cumming and more. The fair will run from November 10-13 and will be held at the Grand Palais.