A Trained Eye: In Conversation with Anna Walker Skillman

By June 06, 2023
George Lange, Francesca Woodman – 101 N. Main St. #3, 1976; archival pigment print, 11 by 14 inches. Edition of 10. Courtesy of Jackson Fine Art.

In its thirty-three year history, Jackson Fine Art has grown to become a hallmark of the Atlanta art community. The gallery was founded under the leadership of Jane Jackson, who later became the director of the Sir Elton John Photography Collection and is currently the owner of Object Space Gallery located in Atlanta’s Westside. She sold the gallery to Anna Walker Skillman, who had been serving as director for six years by the time of Jackson’s departure in 2003. Since then, Jackson Fine Art has continued to support a growing clientele base in its trajectory as a world-renowned gallery.


Recently, Jackson Fine Art expanded into a custom-built, 4000 square-foot gallery at 3122 East Shadowlawn Avenue. The new gallery, which opened in March 2023, retains the charming atmosphere of the beloved former space but now includes expanded exhibition, office, inventory, library and meeting spaces to support art services and the exhibition of large-scale works.

In April, I sat down with co-owner Anna Walker Skillman after an extensive tour of the new space. Nestled in the library, we discussed Jackson Fine Art’s spring roster of exhibitions and Skillman’s vision for the future. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Bryn Evans: Thank you so much for meeting with me today, Anna. I’m speaking with you just a few weeks after Jackson Fine Art reopened in the gallery’s beautiful new space. I’m interested in hearing more about your vision for the gallery in this next chapter.

Anna Walker Skillman: This is the gallery’s thirty-third year anniversary, and it is actually my twentieth year anniversary as owner. Throughout that time, I’ve witnessed many changes and developments in the photographic medium—its collection, preservation, and technology. I believe it’s a crucial time for new artists that are photographers, as well as photographers that are artists. In drawing that distinction, I am referring to a growing number of contemporary artists who, in their practice, whether it be painting, installation, or sculpture, use the medium of photography in their work. On the other hand, there are early and contemporary photographers who also identify as artists. And of course those lines can be blurred.

I’m very grateful for the way that the gallery expresses our vision and what we want to convey to the public, which includes collectors and art enthusiasts at-large. Photography is a very strong medium, and today, even more than ever, the image is substantial in daily life. In opening a new space, I had to think about the ways in which I wanted Jackson Fine Art to grow as a local vanguard in the medium of photography, but also in the visual arts more broadly. It’s important for us to nod to Atlanta and express our commitment to this city and the artists who call it home. Our roster of artists has been extensive simply because we are here in Atlanta, and the idea of representing six artists is not always an option in a city such as Atlanta.

Sheila Pree Bright, Breath, from the series Invisible Empire, 2021. Courtesy of Jackson Fine Art.

BE: On that note, can you tell me more about the artists featured in the gallery’s opening shows?


AWS: It was such a natural idea to work with Sheila Pree Bright for the opening exhibition because she’s someone I have known for many years, and we have shown her work at Jackson Fine Art before. With this new series centering Southern landscapes, there was no question that these photographs needed to be seen in a gallery.

Secondly, it was very important to show that Jackson Fine Art is not only local and national, but also international. We take risks. Sarah Cooper and Nina Gorfer, two artists who comprise the Sweden-based duo Cooper & Gorfer, met in graduate school and have been collaborating for almost two decades. Recently, collage has been resurfacing as a trend across mediums, but particularly in photography. Included in the gallery are works that speak to patterns of migration and the pursuit of asylum in Sweden for refugees who seek protection and freedom. There are also several works from the series When We Are Giant, which confronts preconceived notions of femininity and a society in which women are not viewed as equals when it comes to occupying space. As a result, the artists collage colossal bodies in different stages of transformation that are too monumental for the frames that attempt to contain them. I love the fact that, with these large-scale works, the new space lends itself somewhat to painting and photographic collage.

Cooper & Gorfer, The Wrestle, 2022; signed on label verso, unique collage, 53 by 83 inches. Courtesy of the artists and Jackson Fine Art.

Finally, Francesca Woodman’s work grounds the rest of the space, and it is accompanied by images of and by the artist from George Lange’s collection. I studied art history at the University of Georgia and later moved to California, ultimately finding work in an artist studio in the early 90s that was very reminiscent of the spaces depicted in Woodman’s photographs, filled with paper and cameras and props. I imagine our routines were similar as well—she woke up in the morning, she worked until evening, and everything around her was a part of her process to learn more. These silver gelatin prints are not perfect. They may have been stepped on, for instance, but this was all process. And this artist, so early on, really broke through the barriers of street photography, as her self-portraits were so advanced in terms of installation, image-making, music, and motion. All of those things are evident in her incorporation of abstraction and the use of her body, herself.

George Lange, Francesca Woodman – 101 N. Main St. #8, 1976; archival pigment print, 11 by 14 inches. Edition of 10. Courtesy of Jackson Fine Art.

BE: So many artists trust you with their creations, their images, and I find it to be emblematic of your role as a steward for the work. In viewing the works currently on display in the gallery, I am witnessing a sort of troubling of what the category of photography even means. As you were saying earlier, what does it mean for someone to be a photographic artist versus a photographer? Particularly when it comes to the incorporation of other materials and techniques such as paint and college. It makes me wonder about the next frontiers of photography. Where is the medium going?

AWS: Artists for decades have used photography in art making and photographers have documented the world around us using the ever-changing technology of photography. There will always be a place in the art world for photography. Trends in art depend highly on what is influencing art makers at the time, whether it is social, political, environmental, or cultural. AI has been in the headlines over the past several months and there is a question on how it will change fine art and the medium of photography. Technology evolves as we do, and AI is another tool to create and could be compared to the emergence of digital cameras, printing and editing, which represent another tool or “brush” for artists. We will see how it goes, but if I can predict the future, I would say that historically there has always been a human need to represent the world around us through art. My interest and the gallery’s commitment is to artists who engage both critically and through their practice with photographic traditions. I think that as the speed and impact of technological advancement progresses, at the rate that we are currently seeing, artists will continue to return to the earliest processes—camera obscura, negative-less work like photograms and direct positive prints, etc.—combining these mediums with new possibilities to create unique works of art that I can’t even predict, but that I look forward to. 

Cooper & Gorfer, Issra and Salam in Pattern, 2020; signed on label verso, archival pigment print, 43 by 32 inches. Edition of Courtesy of the artists and Jackson Fine Art.

BE: There seems to be this burgeoning question since Atlanta Art Week of whether the art scene in this city is finally achieving critical recognition and growing into a critical mass. Outside the city, there’s possibly some perception that there’s not much going on here in Atlanta, when compared to cities like Chicago, New York, or even Miami. I wonder how much of that perception is imposed on the city from elsewhere versus from the artists, critics, enthusiasts, and professionals who have actually been working in Atlanta for multiple decades.

AWS: Atlanta is not New York. It’s not Los Angeles. It’s not Chicago. Neither are San Francisco or Dallas. They are all big cities that have vibrant, creative people living in them. I remember working for a gallery in San Francisco, and there was always this idea that you had to be in New York or have a second space in New York. That’s been the narrative. To actually live here, though, you are surrounded by a number of exciting spaces. First there was Nexus, which is now the Atlanta Contemporary. There’s the Spelman Museum of Fine Art, Whitespace, Johnson Lowe, UTA, Marcia Wood Gallery, The Object Space, Wolfgang Gallery, SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion and Film, and the High Museum of Art, to name a few. Atlanta has always had an awesome reputation with folks from other cities. People would remark that it’s the coolest city. And it is such a great city—there’s the big hip-hop and music scene, a really great food scene, and then there’s the people. Let’s really talk about why people live here in Atlanta—it’s the people and the relationships and the connectivity that you find here. There is a spirit in the city that is undeniable. Atlanta’s the people. There’s just a lot of creative, good energy here.

Jackson Fine Art’s spring exhibitions closed on May 26, 2023. The gallery’s roster of summer exhibitions open on June 9, 2023 and will remain on view through August 5, 2023.

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