Yulia Piskuliyska, Printing & Sale Coordinator at Gulf Photo Plus tells us what it takes to deliver superlative service in the art space.

What do your first 30 mins of the day look like, your morning routine?

Mornings at GPP are always unpredictable and that’s what I enjoy most about working at the gallery. I often walk into our space and am immediately needed by a client who is deciding on an open edition print to buy from us, a gift or a piece for their new apartment. On quieter days, I get the chance to sit with the print team and discuss the orders of the day and make sure all customers are getting the information they need. Running a print shop is fast paced on the customer side, meaning people are excited about their artworks and want to receive the finished product as soon as possible. This role also requires a lot of precision and care – even half a centimeter can sometimes make or break a printing project.

In terms of art, are there any golden rules for framing to optimize the impact of the pieces you own?

There are two aspects to consider when deciding how to display a print: aesthetics and safety. People often think of print displays in terms of frames, but there are other options, too.

One can mount their print on just a card and lean it against a wall or shelf. However, the safest way to display art is undoubtedly by getting it framed in a place that offers archival materials – acid-free mounts and archival sealing tape, for example. A lot of people assume sunlight to be the biggest danger for a print’s longevity, but in the UAE, the main enemy is definitely humidity – so if you want to make sure your prints don’t get ‘wavy’ with time is to make sure you get them framed with archival materials.

What are the pillars of DNA for Gulf Photo Plus and has it always been a key focus on precision?

Gulf Photo Plus is, first and foremost, a community space. We have customers coming to us for many different services – workshops, printing, analog film – but what makes us different from a regular shop is our interactions with people. We want them to come in and feel like they’re meeting up with friends, and I think we are successful at that – we have many people who come in not just to get prints, or film, but to ask for advice and guidance with their photography practice, or with the design of their new wall of prints at their homes. I personally know so many print clients who have become regulars and are happy to keep coming back for all of their printing needs and projects because they know they can not only trust the quality of our work, but also stay behind and have a chat with us once the job is finished. It’s the little things – like remembering someone’s favorite film to shoot with or going the extra mile to find the perfect frame, that make us stand out.

 What has been the biggest challenge to date and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge our print shop faced was also our most successful campaign. After the explosions in Beirut last year, GPP organised a charity print sale along with the Ruwa collective and opened it up to the world. The response from the public was overwhelmingly positive. We managed to raise over $100,000 for the Lebanese Red Cross and produced about 800 prints sent to 40 different countries. It was an extremely rewarding experience which took place over the span of just two weeks, and the print team, along with many volunteers from the GPP community, worked day and night – no exaggeration. While all of this was going on, we continued to provide our regular print services to customers who would come into our gallery. While it was definitely a challenge, it was an incredibly meaningful experience and the whole team was happy to be a part of it and help the people of Beirut with what we know how to do best – our prints.

You offer a complete service from printing to framing – how important is it to have one location do both?

Offering both printing and framing services allows us to really bring our customer’s vision to life. We work closely with the print master and the framing team to ensure that the clients get exactly what they envisioned; those visions can sometimes change in the process too. That’s why it’s useful for the customers to come in and see their print ‘in the flesh’ and then test our different framing samples to see what really works best with their image. We are so used to seeing photographs on the screens of our laptops and phones, but printing is a very hands-on process, so it’s important to us at GPP that the clients can see all their paper and frame options before deciding what kind of print they want to go with.

Tell us about how you can take treasured pieces and enlarge them to create feature pieces- what is the process?

We often receive inquiries from people about digitizing old photographs or film negatives and reprinting them at a larger size, which is an extremely rewarding experience. Sometimes, people would uncover a shoe box with old negatives, and find old photos of their parents and grandparents – family treasures. They bring those images to us and we are able to scan or photograph the images, an retouch them. Seeing those negatives and then seeing the final result when the photos are enlarged, printed, and framed, feels almost like magic. It’s more than a print – it’s gaining back a memory of your loved ones and being able to display it proudly for others to see.

You have an incredible location – how often do you change exhibitions?

We have about 4 exhibitions per year. Our summer is always dedicated to a group exhibition for which we hold an open call and invite people from the GPP community around the world to submit photos based on a specific prompt. This summer, the topic was The Chemistry of Feeling, and we were asking our community to submit their favorite analog images.

What in the art space is luxury?

Luxury can mean many things in our line of work. It can be as simple as getting your print framed by us and having a custom-made, high-end frame for the first time. I remember the first time I got a print custom framed, as opposed to just buying an IKEA frame for it – the feeling was honestly amazing, and I was immediately sold on the superior quality.

Luxury can also connect to the size of the art you acquire. We’ve had customers who have recently moved into a bigger place, and decide to produce a large print, sometimes as wide as 2 meters! The looks on their faces when they see the final piece speak for themselves, and they always send us photos of the prints once they have been installed in their new homes.

Of course, there is always a question of level of investment. GPP represents works by a number of reputable artists such as Alia Ali, Hussain AlMoosawi, and Richard Allenby-Pratt. However, we also recognise that many people might be interested in ‘collecting’ artworks but are not ready to invest sizable sums or fear the hassle of transporting precious artworks to their home countries once they leave the UAE. This is why we also offer smaller-sized, Open Edition prints, produced by many talented members of the GPP community. We are really passionate about showing to people that they don’t have to be millionaires to become art collectors, and that there are options for those who want to own something as special as an authentic, signed piece of art, without worrying about the price and size.

Do you see any patterns in terms of requests from clients?

We interact with hundreds of people daily, so by now we have definitely developed a sense of our frequently asked questions. The main one has to be along the lines of ‘Oh, I have this photo I took on my phone, will it look well printed?’ The answer is almost always yes. People still hold a belief that you can only take professional photos with a camera, but the little cameras on our phones actually have amazing potential! In fact, we have featured a number of photos taken on phone cameras in our past exhibitions.

What effect has social media played in the industry and your growth as a brand?

Social media has been a great tool for us to connect with audiences from around the world, and especially within the region. Many friends of GPP are not based in Dubai but have been able to follow our educational programming and print sales from afar thanks to our online presence. Our print sale after the Beirut explosions has been a testament to that, because friends of GPP from over 40 countries bought prints in order to support the people of Beirut.

Social media has also helped strengthen our bonds with the local community as well – a lot of our posts feature our team members, and I think that helps people feel less intimidated by the process of ordering prints or taking a workshop with us for example. We did a short video last year in which I explained more about how our printing service works, and when people came into the shop afterwards, they were happy to see I was the same person as the one they had seen online. Social media has definitely helped us become more approachable but has also greatly expanded our reach.

What is next this year for GPP?

We are opening our community exhibition, The Chemistry of Feeling, on July 12th, and we are very excited about that. We received more than 700 entries from around the world, so choosing the winning images proved incredibly challenging – people really took the time to think about our prompt and create amazing works of art. After the official opening of the exhibition, we will also host multiple workshops events, both in-person and online, as part of our programming for The Chemistry of Feeling.

Other than our exhibitions, we continue to run our photography workshops and photo walks year-round, and our print shop is of course always open to new and exciting printing projects!

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Images: Supplied