An interview with Jenna Banat about Salon/13

It is just before Christmas when I meet Jenna. Jenna works at Photofusion as a Gallery, Membership and Marketing Administrator. The opening night of this year’s members’ show Salon/13 is over and she can finally breathe – and meet me for a cup of tea. We sit in the Members’ room; suitable for our tea perhaps as she is the person to talk to about memberships at Photofusion. Here is a library filled with books about photography, but this is first and foremost often used by people who use the darkroom and need a coffee break, or want to see their prints in daylight, or dry them.

It feels busy today as Jenna tells me how she started working in the photographic industry. At first, during a general art foundation degree in Bournemouth, she was equally interested in photography and drawing. However, she was convinced that photography would offer her a larger range of possibilities come graduating, which is why she then went on to do a BA in photography at Brighton University. She likes the work of some of the lecturers there and especially mentions Aaron Schuman and Mark Power. Power, who has photographed Polish landscapes, was a big influence for her final year project which brought her to explore her half Polish roots.

During her studies, Jenna realized however that she was more interested in working behind the scenes of the photographic industry. She explains that she wanted to be surrounded by photographs “all day long” and did a couple of gallery internships (one at Fabrica and another at Proud Galleries) plus magazine internships (at HotShoe and 1000 Words Magazine). After graduating she came for a gallery internship at Photofusion – and when the previous gallery and membership administrator role became available she was offered the job.

Photofusion Salon/13

Last year’s Salon was Jenna’s first exhibition to fully coordinate at Photofusion. When looking back today she laughs and remembers forgetting to set a size limit for submission prints, which lead to some initial chaos as the gallery space is limited at Photofusion. It all worked out well in the end but she had learnt an important lesson which was not repeated this year. Despite this though, some photographers were exempt from the rule this year – for example Roy Milani’s real life size print of a human being.

Jenna finds organizing the members’ show “insanely exciting” beginning with the first submission per email to the last weekend before deadline when most submissions come flooding in. She gets very inspired to do her own photography by seeing the high quality of work – but then realises that she doesn’t have enough time… Jenna calls herself an organization freak because she enjoys the running up to exhibition time and all the small bits and pieces that need to be dealt with to create a whole.

So how do you make a selection among all the submissions? The members of the selection committee sit down and mark all entries they personally like. They all have different tastes and interests, which makes the process challenging on one hand, but since a broad range is what they are looking for, the end selection results in exactly this. Winning photos are powerful on their own but have a strong story behind them. Planning how to hang the pictures is exciting too and takes some time. Jenna tries to find a way of leading the eye through the plethora of photographs. But first, she might dedicate different walls to specific things that the pictures have in common, such as colour.

Photofusion Salon/13

If there is anything you don’t particularly like with organizing the Photofusion Salon? Writing the captions. They are so tedious, and there are so many of them. After all the planning on paper, the hanging itself often results in a lot of reworking as different framings may not work together after all and need another space. Hanging the last picture however, is one of the highlights for Jenna. That, and maybe foremost the opening night. There is something in the air before this evening, people get excited and look forward to seeing each other again. Then this is about the great community the Photofusion members create together.

As a plus this year, the pizzeria Franco Manca in the Market Row in Brixton supplied hungry party visitors with pizza. They will also be kindly contributing to the bursaries for the 4 artists chosen to progress through to Photofusion Select/14. Jenna says that Photofusion offered to mention Franco Manca in their publicity materials, but were turned down: no need, they said, there is a queue every night to get a table. They just like photography and were happy to help out a neighbour.

Jenna gets excited once more as she mentions that the final selection of “Select/14” will take place soon – it will be a couple of meetings of intensive discussions by the gallery committee.

Jenna was interviewed by Mari Boman, Photofusion volunteer