Want to get a job done? Ask a busy person. Contemporary photographers whose work is represented in Los Angeles by Pamela Schoenberg know this old adage to be true. A multi-tasker by nature, Schoenberg has run a contemporary photography gallery since 2007 in West Hollywood, raised three young children, pursued her own career as a black-and-white documentary photographer (in sites ranging from Israel to South Central L.A.), and made it all look easy. Relatively. “I answer e-mails and do work for the gallery at 9 o’clock at night, after the kids go to bed,” Schoenberg says. Her day typically begins at the gallery at 10 am. “I have a subscription to most every photo art magazine there is, and I look through them an hour before bed; I flag things; I research them on the Internet later. I find artists I like.” While most dealers (male or female) cave in to the pressure to keep family out of the foreground, Schoenberg hangs it on a banner on the front door. Her gallery’s name, dnj, actually represents the initials of the names of her three children: Dora, Nathan, and Joey, ages 11, 9, and 5.
Schoenberg grew up in the Orthodox Jewish section of Cincinnati called Amberley Village, and her religion continues to play an important role in her life. After getting two undergraduate degrees (one in history, the other in photography) from Washington University in St. Louis and her M.F.A. from Mills College, in Oakland, California, Schoenberg went on to pursue an in-depth photography project in Israel documenting the acculturation of Ethiopian Jews. She divided her time between temporary caravan sites south of Jerusalem and Bezalel Academy to the north, but by 1995, the project completed, she returned to the U.S. and settled in Los Angeles. That same year, she met her husband, E. Randol Schoenberg, a litigation attorney soon to be embroiled in a court case of years-long duration involving the (now famous) re-patriation of five Gustav Klimt paintings to their rightful, pre-Holocaust heirs. From 1995 to 1998, Pamela Schoenberg worked in museum education programs; developed and implemented photography curricula in schools both Jewish and secular; became pregnant with her first child—and, while pregnant, made a documentary series on the ethnically and culturally diverse communities along L.A.’s Vermont Avenue (thanks to a grant from L.A. Cultural Affairs).
Schoenberg’s husband’s case raged on from 1998 to 2004, a period during which two more children were born and Schoenberg pursued her own photography—when time allowed. But by 2006, with her children a bit older and her husband’s court battle won, Schoenberg decided she was ready to break new ground in terms of her career. “I wanted to get back into the art world, but I decided I didn’t just want to be an artist,” says Schoenberg. “I wanted to see the ideas that were out there in the world.” dnj was started in 2007; the gallery focuses completely on contemporary photography, including work that Schoenberg likes, but that is often quite different from her own. She shows new documentary photographers, like Dylan Vitone and Chris Verene, but also artfully over-exposed images by Maria Luisa Morando, and detail- and color-saturated plant studies by L.A.-based photographer Jane O’Neil (who works with a portable scanner rather than a camera). Broadening her own view, in fact, has proved one of Schoenberg’s greatest rewards as a dealer. “I’m being exposed to different processes and images. I purposefully try to choose different genres,” says Schoenberg. “I feel that it can only make my own work improve.”