Sonja Gardien's Studio 541 has taken on the Auckland art scene, showcasing both emerging and established photographers. We took some time out to chat about what it takes to run a gallery space, and what photographers need to know before they submit their work.
Sonja wanted to create a space for photographers to exhibit, learn, meet and be inspired. “It’s important to identify a niche," she says. "There are a lot of galleries around. You need to be different. It seemed logical to utilise Studio 541, not only for a gallery, but also as a space to attend workshops and classes, meet with fellow artists for discussions, and create.”
“My partner and I found an old, character, brick building in Mount Eden at the beginning of 2015. We spent a year renovating it, which gave me an opportunity to set the space. I installed movable lighting and a hanging system for quick and easy changeover of exhibitions. The space can also be easily transformed from a gallery to a photographic studio, with studio lighting and cyclorama floor. The ground floor can also double as a gallery or space for workshops." It's a daunting but rewarding business venture, Sonja says.
Sonja talks about how an exhibition comes together. It all starts with the artist. "It’s important to do your own research on the gallery you’re applying to, and fill out any and all paperwork they require before contacting them. This gives them a chance to research you as an artist and look at your work. Be prepared. At this stage, I am able to run an exhibition on my own, with the help of the exhibiting artists, and don’t need to employ anyone. There is quite a lot to organise, so I am kept busy most of the time.” There are deadlines that need to be met.
“I would recommend filling out an application form first and emailing it in with a covering letter. The next step would be a meeting. I would recommend taking along some high quality printed/framed work for them to view." She says it's important to show the gallery how you selected the images. “They need to convey an idea or story. Images need to be unique and have thought put into them.”
“I am personally drawn to conceptual art; something that makes you think, not necessarily a pretty picture. So far the standard of images has been high. Unfortunately I still have to turn artists away if their work doesn’t fit with my requirements.” When looking for new artists to represent, she says, “I find artists through personal contacts. I also advertise for applications through my social media sites and posters at art institutes.” It helps to be connected in many ways.
Sonja believes that printing a photograph gives it a chance to survive the digital age, when these days, most images are stored on phones. “By printing an image, we give it a future.”
For more information about Studio 541, click here.