Interview with Gallerist Arnika Dawkins

Gallery Owner Arnika Dawkins
D&B: What inspired you to open a fine art photography gallery?
AD: After obtaining my Master of Arts at the Savannah College of Art and Design, I went through a bit of soul searching to determine what I wanted to do with my newly minted degree. Did I want to pursue a fine art photography career, work at a gallery or own one; was my perplexing question. I realized that a path to making, showing and exhibiting work for a fine art photographer was full of ‘twists and turns”; and was often times obscured by obstacles that come about along the way. I was especially interested to learn how one would get a career such as this going. I interned at a prominent gallery and learned that I enjoyed greatly not only making work but also working with artists and collectors.

The thrill of assisting a collector with building a collection and finding the perfect piece resonated with me; as my husband and I have built an art collection that we enjoy everyday. I discovered that in the world of fine art photography there exists an under representation of African-American photographers. The goal and mission of Arnika Dawkins Gallery is show great work by great photographers who traditionally would not have their work shown in certain galleries.

D&B: What kinds of obstacles have you faced in opening your gallery?
AD: The most significant obstacle that I have faced thus far is one of there not being enough time. The reception of the gallery has been nothing but positive! I only wish I could have a few more hours in the day to get everything done.

Old Rich Man by Allen Cooley
Courtesy of Arnika Dawkins Gallery
D&B: Is there an appreciation and demand for fine art photography in Atlanta, GA?
AD: Atlanta is a perfect place to have a gallery as it has a thriving arts community with several galleries specializing in fine art photography. Additionally, the city hosts an annual photography festival called Atlanta Celebrates Photography. It lasts about six weeks with venues around the metropolitan area showing fantastic work, portfolio reviews and lectures by noted photographers at the High Museum of Art. I believe Atlanta's embrace of the arts community creates a welcoming environment for a gallery such as mine.

D&B: When choosing work for the gallery, what do you look for in a photograph?
AD: As a long time collector of art, I realize that art needs to move me, make me think, be visually appealing and technically sound. These are the same things I look for in choosing work that will appeal to the collectors that I serve. I would not show the work unless I myself would collect it. Additionally, I look for artists that are serious about art, not those that are trying to make a "pretty" picture. I look for artist that are making work with a compelling point of view.

Kaskad by Titus Heagins
Courtesy of Arnika Dawkins Gallery
D&B: What advice would you give photographers looking for gallery representation?
AD: To seek gallery representation an artist should ensure that their contribution to the visual dialog is interesting. That their work is ready for a gallery to show, support and encourage collectors to acquire it. An artist I feel needs to be serious about their work, it should be tightly edited, technically sound and compelling When seeking representation the gallerist needs to be assured that their investment of time and resources into that artist will also benefit the gallery. By demonstrating their commitment to their craft a gallery can be assured of a long-term beneficial relationship.

D&B: Do you personally collect photography or photo books? If so, please share some of the photographers in your collection.
AD: I have built a collection of photographs and photo books that has complimented my larger collection. Some of the artists in the collection are: Willy Ronis, Elliott Erwitt, Bruce Davidson, David Johnson and Bob Gomel. Some contemporary artists in the collection are, Andrew Moore, Jodi Cobb and Shelia Pree Bright. My photo book collection is extensive and includes books by noted author and photographer Deborah Willis.

D&B: Are there any upcoming photo events/festivals that are a must-see for you?
AD: As a collector and gallerist I enjoy attending photography fairs! It gives me an opportunity to view a lot of work in person. I recently attended Basel Miami, PhotoLA and Classic Photographs Los Angeles; I enjoyed seeing interesting work at these fairs. In March I will attend AIPAD in New York, which is the largest of the fairs that focus solely on photography. I also look forward to attending Paris Photo in November.

Mami says you have fallen by Marlene Hawthorne Thomas
Courtesy Arnika Dawkins Gallery
D&B: Name 3 contemporary photographers that you are fond of right now.
AD: I am fond of the work of Allen Cooley, who is a talented commercial photographer. The breadth of his technical acumen, which is rendered in each of his images, whether it is his commercial work or fine art photography, displays his level of talent. I am fond of his Porch Top Life series captured in Albany, Georgia. His reference to photography from a historical perspective as well as his ability to say so much in one simple shot, I find ingenious.

Marlene Hawthrone is an artist that does work about her memories and dreams. Her images are of miniatures and are abstract in nature, and are beautifully rendered. I love the fact that one can superimpose their own thoughts and memories on the images. The images tell a story but have enough room for the viewer to come up with their own story.

Another contemporary artist that I admire is Titus Brooks Heagins, who is a social documentarian and tells the story of people that would be considered by some as "other than". What I love about Titus' work is the dignity and humanity that he shows in his subject matter; the images are "soulful".

I also enjoy the work of Builder Levy who captures the beauty in people, tenderness in relationships and strength of character. The manner in which he connects with his subjects is palatable. Builder is a Guggenheim Fellow and has published a wonderful book on his 50 years as a photographer. My gallery represents all of these artists!

D&B: What's next for the Arnika Dawkins gallery?
AD: I look forward to exhibiting interesting work by great artist, as well as being a valuable resource to collectors. During Atlanta Celebrates Photography [October] 2012, Deb Willis will curate a show called Ladies First: Dreaming Identities; which will feature work by Linda Foard Roberts, Carla Williams, Delphine Fawundu, Sheila Pree Bright, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Lynn Marshall Linnemeir, Susan Kae Grant and Susan Ross. It will be outstanding, if you are in Atlanta, please be sure to stop by!

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