Finding a Job at an Art Gallery: Interview with MFA Photography and Image-making Alumna Carole Dana

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MFA Photography and Image-making alumna Carole Dana shares her journey from student at PCA to intern in an art gallery and explains her career goals as a documentary photographer.

Can you introduce yourself briefly?

My name is Carole Dana. I graduated from the MFA Photography and Image-making program at PCA. I currently have an internship at Salon H.

After graduating, it took a long time to find an internship. I was looking for so many months… maybe 8 months. I was applying left and right! I knew the market for freelance photographers and more specifically for documentary photographers, which is my area of focus. Finding work in this area is usually difficult, but it is even more so now due to COVID and the financial instabilities that the pandemic presents. So, I turned to galleries since I also have a BFA in Fine Arts, also from PCA. I thought this would be a good plan because I have the Adobe skills and art history and theory knowledge to do what would be required of me as an intern. I thought it was also a great way to start my career, build contacts, and discover the other side of the art world. I think that working in a gallery will also help me in the future when I might want to find a gallery to exhibit my own art again.

What was it like transferring your skills from documentary photography as you originally planned into working at a gallery?

It was a little discouraging in the beginning because I thought I could just find a job right away. That is obviously not true. As a photographer, commercial work is a little easier to find whereas documentary work is very difficult to find. I found it very difficult even with all the resources I attempted to contact. So, I thought that I could find another job opportunity that would allow me to supplement my income while I work on other personal projects.

Unfortunately, due to COVID, I don’t have the option right now to travel for leisure and do personal work in documentary photography abroad, so I had to think of another path. Working in an art gallery made the most sense as I’ve been in galleries before for my own shows, but I had never seen the other side of things. I applied to so many galleries until I finally got a response about an opening.

Tell me about your internship. What are your tasks like day to day?

Overall, it has been good. In the gallery, there are only two people, me included, so it is very close-knit. There’s only one person I see every day so there’s a lot of responsibility for things to go well. For my job, I do many things, such as anything to do with social media. I create posts for Instagram which involves using a lot of Adobe programs or filming anything that’s needed. Otherwise, I also create flyers, update the website, and I take care of opening or closing the gallery depending on the days. There are also day to day tasks like speaking to clients, talking about or presenting the art, and discussing the price list. There is also a lot of research that goes into the long-term tasks I’m assigned. For this, I have to know a lot about the artwork and artists. It’s similar to what we might do at PCA.

At the gallery, we haven’t had any need to change or put-up new artwork since I’ve been there. However, I take care of other things like emails, researching for new prospects for our artists, creating and sending portfolios for bursaries, and other administrative things.

Are there any specific classes that you think helped you?

I can’t even remember all the classes I’ve taken today throughout my 6+ years at PCA. However, I think it was a combination of all of them that helped me learn how to speak about artists and present artwork. Every class has a bit of theory regardless of the medium and so this theoretical aspect has been very helpful. Also, studio classes helped me learn different art techniques and it allows me to see the methods in other artists’ works. It’s very important to understand how an artist created a piece of art so that you may present it with ease if a potential client or collector asks.

Do you want to share anything about your personal projects doing documentary photography?

Last year, I put together a book for my final presentation before graduating from the MFA program because we didn’t have the opportunity to do a final show due to COVID. I put together some 3D rendering of what my project would look like if it was in a gallery. I used the book format to showcase my photographic series Gilets Jaunes. After graduating, I started looking for jobs while also working on figuring out how to publish my book.
Since I don’t have much liberty to go or move anywhere I want, it makes it difficult to do my work. Unfortunately, I don’t relate to artists who are able to create photographic work at home. In my artistic practice, I need to go to different places, such as people’s homes or the streets, to document and discuss different stories of social issues. So, I have decided to focus more on my book for the time being and send it out to publishing. Hopefully, that will lead to opportunities in the future when Paris opens up again, like launching my book at a gallery show.

Has this internship experience influenced your career path in any way?

While my goal wasn’t necessarily to work in a gallery long-term, it has been interesting to see what happens on the other side for my own knowledge. This might help me in the future when I want to display my work in a show and it’s also helping me build my networking skills.
During this internship, I met a lot of people. It would have been even better if there were more events to encounter even more people in the gallery. But still, I get the chance to meet a lot of interesting individuals and network. This aspect of the job has been the most beneficial to me.

How has it been making a network in the city of Paris as an international student?

I have been here quite some time. It is much easier now than it was when I first got here in 2014. For example, I worked at Paris Photo for two years. It was amazing! I had the chance to meet and speak to so many people of the photography world, from photographers and gallerists to collectors and enthusiasts. It is much easier to meet people when working and being part of the staff than if I was just visiting. Networking just takes time.
Another resource that I would recommend for students to consider is Pôle emploi. After signing up and meeting with someone about your CV, the agency assigns you a consultant in your field to advise you. The representative is there to answer questions about anything you need to know to make progress in your career. This includes questions such as where to find a job, how you can meet your goals, work permits, etc. This is more for students planning to live in Paris for at least a few years after graduating.

What was the most valuable thing you gained from your internship?

I have been getting much more organized because I am doing more administrative work. When you’re working with documents that are not your own, it provides a new sense of responsibility. That has been very helpful and is a life-long skill to keep. In addition to that, the networking as been invaluable. I’ve been able to converse with individuals that I don’t think I would have met otherwise.