About going to see an exhibit of Francesca Woodman photographs at Jackson Fine Art in Atlanta
In this episode of the Fine Art Photography Podcast, I’ll tell you what it was like visiting Jackson Fine Art — one of the top fine art photography galleries in the U.S., located in Atlanta, Georgia.
Full episode transcript
In this episode: I’ll discuss my recent visit to one of the nation’s top fine art photography galleries
Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of the Fine Art Photography Podcast. In this episode, I’ll tell you what it was like visiting Jackson Fine Art — one of the top Fine art photography galleries in the U.S., located in Atlanta Georgia.
I’ve spoke on this channel in the past about how important it is — in my opinion — for a photographer to print their own work, but also to visit photo exhibits in person — at art museums or at art galleries.
There are art galleries that carry other forms of fine art like painting and sculpture along with some photography — and there are galleries that specialize only in photography and photo based art.
I don’t know the number of photography art galleries in the US but I’d be willing to bet it’s no more than a few dozen. One of the best is located in Atlanta, Georgia — I’m talking about Jackson Fine Art.
Before I discuss my visit, let’s talk about the difference between a museum and an art gallery.
Museums do have galleries of work within their walls, and many art museums do have photography collections. but the role of the museum is to display art to the general public. Typically, the art held in the museum is owned by the museum, and is not for sale. Museums are established to provide a place for visitors to learn about, contemplate, and experience the arts held in their collections. Of course, museums do also host traveling or visiting shows that may not be part of their own collections.
Art galleries on the other hand are commercial establishments created to sell artworks at a profit. The work is usually owned by the artist and held by the museum who represents the artist to the seller. Art galleries welcome the general public, but ultimately their job is to find qualified buyers for the artworks in their possession.
According to their website, Jackson Fine Art is a world-renowned gallery with a 33-year history of supporting artists and collectors. The gallery is member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers or AIPAD, and it participates in big art fairs around the world. In addition to the gallery walls, Jackson also hosts an online ecommerce store where some works can be purchased directly.The gallery was opened in 1990 by Jane Jackson to specialize in 20th-century and contemporary photography. In 2003, Jane Jackson became the director of the Elton John’s Photography Collection and sold the gallery to her gallery director, Anna Walker Skillman. I met Ms. Skillman during my visit and she was delightful and friendly and introduced me to the gallery dog, who had been sniffing around my ankles — I wasn’t even aware because I was so busy looking at the Woodman pictures!
Speaking of the Elton John collection — I published an episode about that previously. Elton John is a major collector of important photographs and he held much of it in his Atlanta home for a long time — I’m not sure if he still has a place in Atlanta now.
One of the marks of a great photography gallery is that they are able to place photographs into important private collections and prominent art museums, and Jackson Fine Art lists a large number of museum partners on their website.
They also offer critical support services to collectors, such as art installation, appraisals, collection management, shipping, and framing.
OK, I’ve laid the groundwork, now let’s talk about my visit.
On the day I drove down to Atlanta, which is about a 3 and a half hour drive from where I live near Nashville — on a good day — the gallery had just opened a showing of three artists and had planned a gallery talk. I decided not to stay for the gallery talk, because I don’t like crowds and I also wanted to do some other things in Atlanta — but I really made the trip for one reason — to see the prints made by Francesca Woodman.
The show consists of a collection of small prints made by Woodman while she was a student at Rhode Island School of Design, and given to her friend at the time, George Lange. The show also holds a series of Lange’s portraits of Francesca in the studio.
The gallery is at home in a home-like building in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. When you enter the glass doors to the first gallery, you see what appears to be a large foyer, serving at the first gallery space. That’s where the large black and white photographs by Sheila Pree Bright were displayed. These images were stunning! I examined them closely to observe the type of paper used, the amount of sharpness in the enlargement, and the image noise or film grain visible.
One of the important reasons for photographers to see gallery shows like this is to see the quality of top notch artists working at the top of their game. Learn from their decisions. Observe what a high-quality fine art print looks like. How is it framed? How large is it?
To the right and down a set of stairs, is a larger display space holding the fantastically large and vividly colored photo collages by the Swedish duo of Cooper and Gorfer, two female artists who start with photographs, and then cut and paste, paint and embroider them into something new.
I enjoyed seeing this work, but being more of a photography purist, I was eager to see the more quote “straight-forward” photographs the gallery had on display. That larger room had two exits, the stairs down from the foyer, and a rear door that leads to the back of the gallery. The foyer uses a hallway to reach that same space.
There, in the room where there were offices, and lots of flat files for storing prints, the walls were lined with the small framed prints made by Francesca Woodman Mounted in a tidy row, were a series of self-portraits of the youthful Woodman in varying stages of undress. Fans of her work will know that nudity played a large part in her photography practice while a student at Rhode Island School of Design or RISD in the 1970s. There was a photograph of her topless with the black outline of a hand and arm painted across her chest.
Most of the prints were shot in medium format — printed at perhaps 4 or five inches square. Some of them were tidy while others showed the print on a larger sheet of photo paper, off center or maybe askew. Some were stained. It became quickly apparent that many of these darkroom prints were work prints or castoffs — not intended to represent the penultimate finished work.
There were several portraits of Woodman nude in the landscape — sitting in a stream or folded under the roots of a big tree along a river bank.
The photographs of Francesca Woodman made by George Lange were small too, but larger than Francesca’s own prints. One photograph showed the two side-by-side, wearing costumes, big smiles, together in a mirror in an untidy studio. There were pictures of Woodman alone too, working to set up a shot in the studio, or applying makeup in a mirror.
Seeing these small photographs made an impact on me. Laying eyes on them felt like seeing a celebrity or maybe more like seeing a ghost. Given her passing by her own hand at a young age, prints made by herself are a true rarity.
It’s a shame she gave up on life so young, before her true genius could come to fruition. Given the acclaim her work has since received, one can’t help but wonder what she may have accomplished had she persisted. Her father suggested in a 2010 documentary called The Woodmans that she had become depressed about the lackluster reception of her work in New York, a failed relationship, and unsuccessful attempt to receive an NEA grant.
I also wonder if the mythos built around her early and tragic passing hasn’t helped stoke her legend. People love a tragedy and the art world loves rarity.
Regardless, seeing her work in person only confirmed my own belief that she was a monumental talent way ahead of her time. An artist making photographs before the art world was truly ready for photography as an art form.
If you’re in Atlanta, give the gallery a visit. Everyone at Jackson Fine Art was friendly and welcoming. They took time to talk to me about the Woodman pictures and explain her friendship with George Lange, even though the Woodman price tags of 30-60 thousand dollars is way outside my price range.
The gallery has an enticing store room with slots filled with prints by major band name artists. What amazing gems are they hiding in there?
There was a framed original by Sally Mann laying on the countertop beneath the Woodman prints. It had been pulled for a potential buyer coming to the gallery later that day. I also saw other works by Mann, and other notable artists including one large black and white print by Dutch photographer Bastiaan Woudt, a small color photograph of a white building in Hale County, Alabama by William Christenberry, and many others including Tabitha Sorin, Henri Cartier Bresson, Trine Søndergaard, and Meghann Riepenhoff.
The second floor holds some offices and a small reading room lined with photography books.
Prior to the gallery talks, the space began filling up with all kinds of interesting people, some of whom seemed to be present for the networking, and some who were genuinely interested in the art. One guy showed up with two Leicas strapped over his shoulders.
Given that Nashville has no dedicated photography galleries, I found the entire experience to be a lot of fun, and the chance to see world-class fine art prints to be an education in itself.
Well that’s all I’ve got for this episode. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you again real soon.