Featured Artist Interview

Jennifer Gunderson

Earlier this year I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing photographer & October’s Featured Artist Contest winner Jennifer Gunderson. (Shortly after, we got to meet each other when she attended one of my DIY/FYI classes in the Showroom.) I will tell you that Jennifer is an absolutely lovely woman whose life and work is informed by her faith in God and commitment to her family, which informs her art and approach to her craft.

Jennifer received her first camera as a gift from her parents as a young high school student and became immediately engrossed in photography. Primarily a self-taught artist she was fortunate to have strong mentors early on who helped her learn, focusing on the actual making of the photograph with the camera as opposed to relying on post-processing.

Today, as a working professional, “I mostly do weddings, families & senior portraits but my release from that world is going into nature…that clears my mind”. This is evident in the work you will find in her gallery. Read on and enjoy!

Laura Jajko (LJ): I’ve heard your name for a long time. Are you a long time customer?
Jennifer Gunderson (JG): Actually I just began with American Frame in the beginning of October. However I am local. I’m from Michigan.

LJ: Oh, okay! And your bio says you’re a Toledo photographer now?
JG: That is correct.

LJ: So what brought you to Toledo?
JG: Well, my Dad had passed away over 4 years ago and we promised him that Mom would not be alone so my husband and I decided to come down here and move in with her.

LJ: Oh, how wonderful. So is your Mom doing okay?
JG: She’s doing wonderful. Grace of God, you know how that goes.

LJ: I know, I know.
JG: Never fails us.

LJ: Absolutely. I’m really excited to interview you. I must know your name from the art world. I know I’ve heard of you and your work and when I looked at your online art gallery with us and then looked at your own website, it looks like you’re pretty prolific.
JG: Thank you

My family is very supportive. My parents bought my first camera and my grandfather was also a photographer as well as my uncle, so it’s kind of in the bloodline.
Jennifer Gunderson
As an artist, my tool of choice is the camera for expressing myself visually, creating beautiful photographic art of what already exists and to cause an interaction between the viewer and the image. Exposed to the world of photography through both my grandfather and my uncle, I searched for a way to capture images that evoke a deep meaning beyond the obvious color and texture of the subject. Capturing a moment is not just point and shoot; it is about using the spirit of excellence to show the best in each photograph. If, through my lens, I can create something that invites intimate conversation, suspends time and emotionally connects the beholder, then I have done my job.
Jennifer Gunderson

LJ: So it’s my honor and pleasure. I understand you received a list of the questions.
JG: I did. I have them in front of me.

LJ: I stick to them pretty much, but I tend to go off on tangents.
JG: It’s okay! We’ll just roll with the punches.

LJ: Exactly! So let me ask you, when did you start photographing? Were you always a photographer? Did you start as another type of artist? Can you give me a little bit of information about your personal history?
JG:I first enjoyed photography in high school. My Mom and Dad bought my first camera. From there, after I graduated from high school, I started a career as a wedding photographer in 1982. I worked for a professional processing lab in Livonia, MI called North American Photo. There I was introduced to Monte Zucker, some other people and a couple of wedding photographers took me under their wings and here I am.

LJ: Awesome. So was it an immediate passion. You just loved the camera from the beginning?
JG: Yes!

LJ: What was your first camera?
JG: My first camera was actually a Pentax K 1000.

LJ: Oh really!? That’s funny! The camera I use today, and by no means do I put myself in the category of “photographer,” but I’ve got a Pentax K20D.
JG: Oh my goodness!

LJ: It’s a nice piece. It allows me to do some decent things with no skill. Since you received a camera as a gift, your family must’ve been supportive. Or did you have to rebel at all to be an artist?
JG: My family is very supportive. My parents bought my first camera and my grandfather was also a photographer as well as my uncle, so it’s kind of in the bloodline. I then went from the Pentax line to Minolta equipment, chose Mamiya in medium format while I photographed weddings and portraits, and now I’m into the digital world so I use the Sony A57 and A200’s with a variety of lenses. It just took a while to transfer to digital.

LJ: What’s your feeling about it now? Do you feel compelled to return to film at all?
JG: The only time I would ever return to film is if there was ever any legal application for it. Like if someone didn’t want any Photoshopping. Everything would have to be the original file itself. If there’s a need for it I still have my Minolta x700; if not I still have digital.

LJ: Are you a degreed artist?
JG: I am not. But right now I’m independently studying art because one of my daughters is taking courses through the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. So I’m learning a lot about the art world that I was totally clueless on.

LJ: That’s so interesting because I have a daughter who is studying ceramics; she’s a senior at Western Michigan and she’s working on her Bachelor of Fine Arts and it’s the same thing. I’ve learned so much about ceramics that I had no idea what was involved in the craft and it’s so fascinating.
JG: It is! And my cousin is also a wonderful artist. She was commissioned by an eyewear corporation and she is gifted in so many mediums that she works with and she helped me get into my first art show last November and I’ll tell you a little bit about that.

LJ: Wonderful! Do you exhibit a lot of fine art or do you mostly do commercial photography?
JG: I mostly do weddings, nature and families and senior portraits. But my release from that world is going out into nature.

LJ: Oh I see.
JG: That clears my mind.

LJ: Yes! So what kind of studio space do you occupy? Do you have a professional studio space outside the home or do you work in your home?
JG: Because a majority of my work is on location, for me to occupy a studio separately is just not cost effective at this time. But I do have an office area that I can conduct business in so it allows me to step into an area separate from the home life.

LJ: That’s nice! Is your office in Toledo?
JG: Yes. It is in the Northwood/Toledo area. It’s presently out of my home right now.

LJ: Awesome! So, I will scratch a big line through the next question because it asks if you’re a professional and obviously you are. –laughs-
JG: Thank you!

LJ: So this is interesting and this might be a real broad question because you seem to have a lot of different subject matter that you are included with but in general how do you approach your subjects?
JG: Um, I guess giving my artist statement would be the best way to describe it. And I’ll quote, “As an artist, my tool of choice is the camera for expressing myself visually, creating beautiful photographic art of what already exists and to cause an interaction between the viewer and the image. Exposed to the world of photography through both my grandfather and my uncle, I searched for a way to capture images that evoke a deep meaning beyond the obvious color and texture of the subject. Capturing a moment is not just point and shoot; it is about using the spirit of excellence to show the best in each photograph. If, through my lens, I can create something that invites intimate conversation, suspends time and emotionally connects the beholder, then I have done my job.”

LJ: Absolutely! So that says it all. It’s kind of a conversation.
JG: Yes, because there’s so much technology nowadays, there’s not as much face-to-face anymore. We need to get back to that.

LJ: I agree with that, I’ll tell you. It can be so overwhelming and everyday there is something new in the world of business that you have to do or have to learn. It started with Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and now we’ve got Snapchat and Periscope.
JG: How much time do we have in the course of a day!?

LJ: I know! It’s like ‘forget it. I’m not doing any of it’ –laughs- Although we do, we do. But personally it gets very overwhelming. I’m very lucky to have a team of experts who work for us at American Frame that keep up, especially Aubrey, who helped coordinate this interview.
JG: That’s wonderful.

LJ: Thank God for smart young minds, right!?
JG: Isn’t that the truth!

LJ: Among your diverse subject matter, would you say there are any common themes in your work?
JG: Yes! I try to have my style be either naturalistic or realistic or a combination of both. I’m not an abstract person; that’s just not me or the type of clientele that I want to attract; I want them to have the same vision as me.

LJ: Now, you said naturalistic or realistic. Are you using those words as synonyms or as two different types of descriptions?
JG: I guess it can be both or it can be two different. It really depends on the individual piece.

LJ: Okay. So what would you call naturalistic and what would you call realistic?
JG: Naturalistic is when I try to look more into nature itself. Realistic is when I try to look at your everyday life, not just a fantasy of what we want life to be, but what life really shows us and what is happening.

LJ: Okay. That’s really interesting. It makes me think about Sally Mann. I know she’s very controversial, but in terms of just taking pictures of what is and putting it out there.
JG: Mmhm.

LJ: And letting the viewer interpret what it means to them and their life.
JG: Well, the way I look at it is life is about a pot of stew. You’ve got people who are vegetables, you’ve got people who are beef, and you’ve got the sauce and the spices. We’re all one pot.

LJ: That’s a really cool analogy. I’m going to use that!
JG: Absolutely! I got that from our Bishop at church.

LJ: That’s the best source of wisdom.
JG: Isn’t that the truth!

LJ: So are there any photographers or artists, or whom have you looked to for inspiration? I know you kind of mentioned that this is in your bloodline so I expect you to be inspired by that. But whom in particular do you look to for inspiration?
JG: Family, as we discussed, is a huge inspiration in my life. However, the top is my faith. I try to look at everything in life that He’s created and I just want to, I guess, I just want to show it off. I had a mentor who actually is my boss at church, her name is Marcia Culp and she introduced me to you guys. And I do like Ansel Adams and Monte Zucker. He was my favorite in portraiture; he has since passed, however his styling was simple yet poetic.

LJ: I’ve never heard of him.
JG: He was from the Silver Springs, MD area for the longest time. Very high-end clientele, very well known. I liked his style. I liked his attitude. He was very down to earth. He was very professional, very creative. He had such a gifting.

LJ: I learned something very interesting from another photographer who took a seminar from Ansel Adams years ago. This was very late in Ansel Adams’ life and he was just doing workshops, and this photographer, his name is Larry Oliverson, and we have one of his pieces; I found him at the Ann Arbor Art Fair a few years ago, and he said that Ansel Adams, many people don’t know that he was an extremely accomplished pianist. And he had a concert room in his home and he had this beautiful grand piano and he would sit and perform for his students.
JG: Hmm.

LJ: Isn’t that interesting?
JG: It is very interesting. It makes sense though.

LJ: You know, it was just like, I guess if you’re an artist you’re an artist, right!?
JG: Isn’t that true. I played a lot of instruments in high school, so yes I totally agree there.

LJ: What did you play?
JG: I played clarinet, trumpet, and baritone. Remembering to switch from treble cleft to bass cleft was a challenge because I would forget sometimes and you know when you’re off.

LJ: Yeah, my oldest daughter played the b flat clarinet and I was a piano player, and I still dabble a little bit, and looking at her music and looking at the music that I would try to play, it’s completely different. It’s so interesting with the wind instruments.
JG: Wow!

LJ: So when you are working on a series or working on a photograph, how do you decide when it’s finished? How do you decide that enough is enough?
JG: I basically try to envision what the art is going to look like when it’s completed. Then go back and start working towards that vision. There is really no set formula. It’s just all of a sudden you know.

LJ: And then you move on?
JG: And then you move on.

LJ: As a professional, what is a typical day in your life look like?
JG: I start out my day with God first. That to me is so important and then from there it’s my family. I try to keep my eye open to the world close by because most of my images either have a personal meaning or a memory behind them and to me that’s what art is all about. There’s something there that just triggers something in your mind and that’s where the connection is.

LJ: So you say you start your day with God, do you go to a service or do you pray privately or do you take a walk?
JG: Just privately. I spend some one-on-one time with Him, praying and reviewing the word. To me that’s what starts my day out on the right foot.

LJ: Yeah! Starting it off centered and with a right frame of mind.
JG: Yes

LJ: So are you putting in major hours? Are you like working 12-hour days?
JG: It depends on the circumstances around me. Right now I am still working on mastering Photoshop and I haven’t touched Lightroom or Adobe Illustrator yet so those are kind of my nighttime rituals when everyone else is asleep. I know I don’t have to be concerned about the phone ringing and I can concentrate on that craft. To me, in the digital age you have to know how to work with something. I can’t take a picture and present it to a client without making them look their best without being too phony or too fake.

LJ: Oh, absolutely. See, I would think that’s the hardest part because in Photoshop you can really overwork an image with all the different tools and effects. You can take it too far.
JG: Yes, definitely.

LJ: So what would you say is your biggest accomplishment so far?
JG: Well the doctor’s office, my physician, actually commissioned me for 12 of my canvas wall art gallery wraps.

LJ: Really?
JG: Yeah. Anywhere from 20” x 30” and 16” x 20.” So there are 6 in their waiting room, 3 down one hallway and 3 down the other.

LJ: Now did you have us do those canvases for you or did you do them yourself…?
JG: I did not because I did not know you at that time.

LJ: Oh, okay! Gotcha!
JG: Otherwise you would have been doing them!

LJ: What’s interesting is that we put in a brand new Showroom gallery.
JG: I finally got to go there!

LJ: Did you?
JG: Yes!

LJ: What did you think?
JG: Love it!

LJ: If you ever want to exhibit your artwork you come talk to us.
JG: I would love to do that!

LJ: Yeah, you let us know. Lindsey Harrison is our Showroom manager and she schedules the shows and what we like to do is have the exhibiting artist, especially if it’s a one person show, that maybe we do in the conference area or maybe in the main gallery too, is have you do a series of one or two artist’s talks to bring the community into the space.
JG: Oh, that would be wonderful! I would be honored!

LJ: Well so would we! So that sounds like a plan. So can I say the name of the doctor’s office?
JG: Absolutely! Maumee Bay Family Practice.

LJ: Okay. We will give them a little press
JG: Absolutely. The other thing that was wonderful, was that my cousin introduced me to a community art show in my hometown back in November and that was the first time that I was able to showcase anything. The one piece, the one that helped me win the Featured Artist Contest with you, “A Magnificent Morning”, received two judge’s awards

LJ: Really?!
JG: Yes!

LJ: So have you sold many of those images? Or do you do them as limited editions?
JG: I am doing them as limited editions. 8” x 10”, 5” x 7” and larger sizes as well. I include a certificate of authenticity for them and label them on the back.

LJ: So what kind of editions are you printing? Like an edition of 100?
JG: On the larger piece I’m probably going to go with 100. On the smaller pieces I’m looking at between 250 and then 11 x 14 and lower, no more than 500.

LJ: That’s great. That’s perfect. So, do you prefer canvas or is there a regular photographic paper you use? What kind of substrates do you like to put your artwork on?
JG: It really depends on where it’s going. In the doctor’s office itself I did the canvas gallery wrap. For Christmas gifts this year I chose the framing and matting with the paper and, wow, it just elevated me to a level that I never thought I could achieve.

LJ: Isn’t that fun?
JG: It really is! When you see it behind a mat it’s one thing but when you see it with the frame and behind the glass and your signature on the mat, you just go “Wow!”

LJ: Yeah, that professional presentation is so important.
JG: mmhm.

LJ: And I think that’s where we struggle sometimes to get that message out. It can be as simple as simple can be, but a clean-cut mat and an appropriate color for the image and the appropriate frame for the venue, and the image and the budget. I mean all of that is so critical for sale.
JG: Oh I agree. Presentation is everything. My Dad always said, “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” and it’s so correct.

LJ: Absolutely! How do you see your art evolving?
JG: I try to extend what is already inside of me to others and continue to see a need and try to find an opportunity to fill that need. One of the things that I like to do is, once I sell a piece I want to physically go into that environment and hang the piece for them.

LJ: Oh! So you stay connected to it?
JG: Yes!

LJ: That’s a fabulous idea because then your physical energy is staying with the piece.
JG: Yes! And then they get a chance to get to know me, to find out who is behind it, and why did they make it? That’s how people buy art. They don’t really connect so much to the piece but they do connect to the artist.

LJ: Amen! That is another message that we struggle with so much because I know many artists are very shy and with some people it’s just very difficult to open up and connect with the audience and it’s so important because there are millions of images out there, especially with the onset of digital printing and digital photography. We have an explosion of images, which I believe is both good and bad for the working artist and photographer because it gives you a lot more opportunity but there’s so much more competition. It’s harder to stand out.
JG: And copyright infringement; you really have to be careful. Make sure you get yourself and your grouping or individual images protected. There’s a certain form for a certain number of images that you can have copyright protected. It’s just important.

LJ: When you dig up that information would you mind sharing it with me?
JG: Not a problem!

LJ: Because I think that’s important to share with our artist community.
JG: Absolutely!

LJ: I’m not well versed on that. My understanding is that the image is the artist’s image for 50 years past their death and then it becomes part of the public domain. But I don’t know anything about copyrighting like how an artist would go about actually protecting certain images along the way.
JG: Yes. I have both the applications. I’m just studying right now to find out. It is a little time consuming but it’s not too costly and it’s worth it in the long run.

LJ: Yeah if you could just share that information that would be really wonderful. That’s a really good point. So how do you decide to price?
JG: Well I realize it’s not all about having that one size fits all formula for that paper or canvas or whatever holds that treasured memory. The time, the talent, the care, and wanting to produce that moment for a client, it was really difficult to find a formula. I started looking at what others charged, their quality, how they relate to it and just tried to go from there and find something that works. Depending on how you price determines what type of clientele you attract.

LJ: That’s true!
JG: You know you don’t want to say anything to somebody who has a certain level of income here or a certain level of income there; it’s just the problems that may or may not arise. You have to say to yourself, “what are you willing to do about it? How much time, how much energy, and is it worth it?”

LJ: I would think especially when dealing with senior portraiture. I remember those days –laughs-
JG: -laughs-

LJ: And those seniors can be very temperamental!
JG: Yes. It is a very emotional time in a senior’s life.

LJ: It is. So the last question, any particular framing tips you’d like to share with your audience?
JG: Let the professionals do it!

LJ: Okay! –laughs-
JG: Honestly it’s not my expertise. If my car has an issue, I take it to a mechanic. If my photo has an issue, I want to take it to someone who knows what to do with it.

LJ: So you’re not into do it yourself framing?
JG: No. –laughs-

LJ: Okay! –laughs-
JG: Although my Mom and I are going to your framing workshop that’s coming up.

LJ: Oh good, because I’m teaching it.
JG: Oh, fantastic!

LJ: Oh good! You’ll get hooked really easily.
JG: Oh, okay!

LJ: I go over all the decisions that you have to make and then how to approach those decisions and then we will do a demo at the end. And I always brag that I can frame a picture, with a very simple frame, in less than 10 minutes with nails.
JG: Oh my!

LJ: Yes, it’s that easy! Well wonderful! I really look forward to meeting you and then we can talk about the space and carry on our conversation a little further at that time.
JG: That sounds great! It’s amazing – it’s all about the community. I just entered a photo contest for the Ohio State Parks Lodges and Conference Centers, for their resort type stuff. I want to showcase as much in our state as possible. To me, Michigan is my hometown so I do things there and Ohio is my home state now, so I want to try to promote as much local as possible, because the media tries to portray some of our cities as less than desirable.

LJ: That’s right.
JG: There’s so much good.

LJ: There really is. I have lived a lot of different places around the country and you know, I came back to the Midwest about 15 years ago. I moved back to Toledo with my family, without getting into all the reasons behind it, the big reason was that my family was there and the second reason was that I was working for the family business out of my home for a lot of years, away from the business, and decided that I either needed to move back and actually delve into it or hire someone else to do what I was doing. So my husband and I decided to come back to Toledo and really, in your day to day life, it’s really important to have your family and have a good community and good schools and community resources. Being in the arts, I really appreciate our museum and all the different things that we have going on in the community and were trying to expand that with our showroom. We’re having an opening for the Ohio Watercolor Society show, plan on taking some time to look at the artwork. There are a beautiful variety of fine artists across the state. It’s really cool to see.
JG: Oh how exciting! If I didn’t go to church on Thursday evening, I would definitely continue to come back.

LJ: So, where do you go?
JG: Cornerstone Church.

LJ: Where is that?
JG: It’s on the corner of Dussel and Reynolds road.

LJ: Oh, well that’s close!
JG: Yes, right up the road, yes.

LJ: Well that’s wonderful! I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to get this opportunity to get to know you and start a friendship. This is really great.
JG: Oh the pleasure is all mine. Thank you very much!

LJ: Well thank you! We appreciate you being involved in our online art gallery and taking the time to share your thoughts with us. Do you have any questions for me before I go?
JG: I don’t. It’s just exciting to know we have so much in common and as soon as you said Ann Arbor, I said, “Hey I know where that’s at!”

LJ: It’s a great place to live.
JG: I agree. The Midwest is the best.

LJ: I don’t love my commute but I love it when I get there and I love it when I get home. It’s that middle stretch between exit 1 and exit 31 on highway 23. Spare me.
JG: I’ve never understood why traffic is so bad there!

LJ: Exactly! Someone was daydreaming or something, who knows! Well thank you again Jennifer!
JG: Thank you!

LJ: Have a great evening!
JG: You too, bye!

LJ: Bye!