Janet Sirmon

When she founded Janet Sirmon Fine Art more than 20 years ago, Janet Sirmon immediately

demonstrated how her unique combination of entrepreneurial acumen and fine art expertise would

guarantee her a place of prominence among the most respected professionals in the field. Sirmon’s

specialty as a fine art photography dealer is well known among museum curators and serious

collectors, as the owner of Janet Sirmon Fine Art is deeply intrigued by and possesses an

encyclopedic knowledge of the photography of Czech artists active during a period that includes the

1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.

      Despite her uniquely specialized knowledge pertaining to this particular area of fine art

photography, Sirmon’s expertise is remarkably expansive and covers material that spans the entire

history of the photography medium. Due to her diverse and broad knowledge of fine art

photography, Sirmon has put together an impressive inventory that ensures Janet Sirmon Fine Art

is recognized for its comprehensive expertise in 19th and 20th century fine art photography,

featuring artists of all eras while showcasing American Social Documentary work from some of

history’s greatest contributors to the field, including Dorothea Lange, Robert Frank, Lewis Hine, and

Walker Evans.

      Sirmon’s uncommon skill set can be partially attributed to her diverse academic interests, as

the fine art photography dealer and owner of Janet Sirmon Fine Art studied economics as an

undergraduate before going on to adopt a postgraduate academic focus on photography and

sculpture. After attending James Madison University and earning a degree in economics, Sirmon

gained acceptance to the prestigious Pratt Institute, where she completed her MFA in photography

and sculpture. Since embarking on her professional career, Sirmon has maintained an interest in a

wide range of subjects, including quite a few that — at least on a superficial level — have little or

nothing to do with fine art and photography.


  1. What was your best/favorite subject in school?

My interests were a bit idiosyncratic compared to most, and I was able to find something

fascinating about every subject I encountered during my academic career. Obviously, I found the

arts to be especially fascinating.


  1. What was your first job?

I tried to avoid traditional jobs as best I could until I founded Janet Sirmon Fine Art, mostly because I found these kinds of work environments to be a bit stifling.


  1. Where and how did you first get into the industry you currently work in?

While I was in graduate school I started interning with a gallery in New York City.  I worked my way

up from intern to gallery manager, then gallery director before finally going off on my own.


  1. How have those jobs prepared you for what you do now?

I couldn’t do what I do now without that experience.  More than just the ins and outs of business, I

learned what makes for value in photography – why one photograph is worth more than another.

In our industry it is referred to as “connoisseurship” and it is knowledge gained from looking and

experience  You can’t learn it from a book.


  1. Describe the best day of work you’ve ever had.

About eight months after I went out on my own – which was pretty scary and uncertain –

I made a six figure sale of an early and very special Paul Strand photograph.  That was a

pretty good day.


  1. How do you keep yourself motivated?

This is my passion, and it is with a great deal of gratitude that I am able to be involved in a

pursuit that requires no external motivation.


  1. What kind of business ideas excite you most?

When I hear an aspiring entrepreneur discuss a business idea, I carefully listen in order to

determine whether it is profit that has them excited about pursuing the particular project. It is

when I listen to an idea that is not driven by a profit motive that I am most excited, because it

usually means that the entrepreneur is excited about the idea of doing something they enjoy doing

while getting to call it work.


  1. Have you ever tried any unorthodox techniques to attract attention to your business?

I’d consider an unorthodox approach, but most of the attention the business garners is the

product of networking and fairly straightforward marketing strategies.


  1. What personal achievement are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the longevity of my business; the fine art world is not the easiest place to

establish a foothold.


  1. What wisdom you would have liked to share with yourself when you first started out?

Trust your instincts, take calculated risks, and have fun.