Interview with Gallerist Jennie Ricketts

D&B: How did you get your start in the photography industry?
JR: I started working on the picture desk for the Observer colour supplement in the latter half of the 1980’a after meeting then picture editor June Stanier. But I had actually been working with photography in an advertising context for a few years before that.

June Stanier was looking for an assistant on her desk and had heard of me from a past colleague of mine at the ad agency. We met for lunch one day and I agreed to go work as her picture desk assistant.

The move to the picture desk really marked a graduation from the “applied” photography used in advertising to the more profound work of photojournalism and art photography that existed in colour supplements at the time, and that lead to my deeper interest in fine art photography.

D&B: What was it like working as an art buyer in the 1980’s?
JR: Working as an art buyer in the 80’s was for me a wonderful, challenging experience. It was the start of my career and I was unschooled in the arts so it was a massive learning curve and hard work. I was among some very talented, generous people and aware that my future depended on their perception of my performance.

The ad agency Ayer Barker, had only recently bought out Roles & Parker who were my original employers so there was a lot of change happening which provided me with the opportunity to expand my knowledge and experience of photography and other forms of art. I was particularly attracted to visual art forms such as illustration and photography early on and was able to focus in on them at this time.

The Creative Handbook became my bible and my Filofax contact book was my lifeline. I attended photo shoots of various kinds from Mercedes truck campaigns in cove studios, still life shoots for Chanel perfume bottles, to amazing ads referencing master photographers such as a memorable one on Wimbledon common in South West London recreating the famous shot “The walk to paradise garden” by W.Eugene Smith. I can’t recall who the ad was for but I remember the day very well.

That period for me was lots of intense hard work cushioned by laughter and meeting people from different backgrounds. I am still in touch with friends I made back then and then CEO Patrick (Paddy) Murray, who was/still is a very charming egalitarian who treated everyone the same and ensured we were well looked after, providing us with an environment in which to work, relax, and in my case grow as necessary.

Figure 1: Portraits in Black 00004, Copyright Marco Ambrosi

D&B: What kind of photography work do you represent in your gallery?
JR: I currently represent a variety of work from 16 photographers who are well established in their own fields. The keywords range from landscape through to abstract so there is a bit of most things and I think this reflects my colour supplement background where I handled an array of photography.

I tend to bring in photographers whose work appeals to me as I need to be able to connect with the images in some way before I can allow myself to present them to anyone else. If I can’t find an attachment with them I find it difficult to be enthusiastic about them.

D&B: What do you look for in a photograph?
JR: I look for something I can engage with that goes beyond the obvious image. It can be the harmony of colour or black and white; the tranquility of a scene; the humanity; the sheer aesthetic beauty or the implicit symbolism of an image. There needs to be a synergy between the image and how it is produced.

In Marco Ambrosi’s ‘Portraits in Black’ for instance [figure 1], the velvety almost tactile warmth and richness of the colour attracted me and drew me in to look more closely at the portraits of each individual where I might have passed them over had they been finished in another style.

Lisa Creagh’s images in the series ‘Alice’s Adventures under Ground’ [figure 2], not only references the Lewis Carroll fable but have a symbolic dream-like quality which for me represent that timeless early teenage phase where fertile imagination and reality can intertwine and create something that only exists in a child’s mind.

On the other hand the seemingly hardcore subject matter of Robert Yager’s gritty “LA Gangs” work [figure 3], shot in a black and white documentary style has an aesthetic beauty which sparks my instinct to search for the commonality of humanity of the people in the images, empathizing with Robert as the outsider in a potentially dangerous environment while wanting to understand the culture.

Figure 2: Poor Alice!, Copyright Lisa Creagh

D&B: What advice would you give for photographers looking for gallery representation?
JR: Decide what it is you want/expect from a gallery. Research what different galleries have to offer. Choose the one that best suits your needs. Be charming/patient when approaching. Don’t take it personally if they don’t invite you to join them.

D&B: Do you personally collect photography? If so, please share some of the artists in your collection.
I do collect photography, and photography books but I am wary of influencing other people to follow one artist or another, especially for their potential value. I collect photography purely because I like the work or they relate to something in particular.

So for instance a Simon Norfolk Afghanistan print was bought as a gift for my husband. A landscape shot of a vivid yellow oil seed rape field dotted with red poppies by Wayne Ford, one-time Art Director at the Observer magazine. A stunning single red rose stem which was an award-winning cover for the Observer magazine shot by Fleur Olby, the gardening photographer at the time. Or an amazing black and white print of a corner of Rosebury Avenue, London near the old Guardian buildings by Stuart Keegan, assistant to Danny Chau the wonderful printer who carried out many print orders for us and where I spent many an odd hour eagerly waiting for prints to send off for reproduction.

I prefer to collect work by unknown, obscure or ‘outsider’ photographers so I tend to buy on impulse. I am intrigued by outsider artists, especially those that are self taught, which does not mean that I don’t value academia but that I am totally convinced there are very talented artists out there who have not been through one school or another and therefore have not received the establishment stamp of approval.

Some favorite photo books from my bookshelves are:  

  • Hide That Can, Deirdre O’Callaghan, pub. Trolley, 2002
  • You Look Beautiful Like That, Seydou Keita & Malick Sidibe, pub. Harvard University, 2001
  • Truth & Lies, Jillian Edelstein, pub. Granta, 2001; 
  • The Original Paparazzo, Tazio Secchiaroli, pub. Photology, 1996; 
  • Objects of Beauty, Joy Gregory, pub. Chris Boot, 2004; 
  • Observer, Jane Bown, pub. Herbert Press, 1996; 
  • Afghanistan, Simon Norfolk, pub. Dewi Lewis, 2002.
Figure 3: Crack-Cocaine Cash, Copyright Robert Yager

D&B: Are there any photography events (festivals, shows, etc.) that are a must-see for you?
JR: I am quite keen to see the Vivian Maier exhibition at Photofusion, London. I am heading that way in the near future. For me she was a real outsider photographer/aritist, unknown at the time but has left a legacy of collectable work, and I am fascinated by the Chicago of the era she captured.

I’d also like to get to the Bamako photo festival, Mali at some point. But generally I enjoy going into galleries by chance if I happen to be in an area or city. I spent a lot of time on a picture desk perusing photography of one kind or another so now I prefer to discover new work while on the move, or on the internet which is a huge source of photography these days.

D&B: What’s next for Jennie Ricketts?
JR: I am slowly settling in Ireland but will develop the website and continue to bring in more photographers from around the world.

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