In Tribeca, the city’s oldest photo gallery celebrates 50 years


A recent opening at the Soho Photo Gallery, where up to seven artists each month exhibit their work. The gallery offers nearly 400 linear feet of wall space for hanging photos. Photo: Carl Glassman / Tribeca Trib

As Tribeca’s importance as a gallery district grows, the art space that has been in the neighborhood the longest may be among the most neglected.

This month the Soho Photo Gallery celebrates its 50th anniversary, the last 42 of them in its current home at 15 White Street, where it opened in December 1979 and is the oldest photo gallery in the city.

Over the years, the Cooperative Gallery’s exhibits by members, guest artists, and winners of national and international competitions have included a wide range of photographic practices and techniques. Such variety can be seen in just one visit, with traditional street and landscape photography sharing gallery walls with conceptual and abstract works, or images made in a way that pushes the boundaries of the medium itself.

Photos are for sale, but sales are hardly the goal.

“It’s always been a place where you can come up with something and have it measured by your peers,” said Martin Rich, a longtime member. “And that made me keep working and doing it better.”

Joel Morgovsky called the gallery “essential” to his life as a photographer. “If I weren’t logged into Soho Photo, I wouldn’t be as passionate about photography as I am now,” he said.

Morgovsky noted that an increasing number of people are “involved” in photography, “but they don’t know how to create portfolios, put together shows, edit work and think about photography in general. This is what Soho Photo has always been.

Members are annoyed that The New York Times ignored them in a recent major roundup of Tribeca galleries. “Where were we?Said Norman Borden, member in charge of the gallerycommemoration of the semi-centenary. “We were there first. Weare pioneers!

A gallery-wide anniversary exhibition will be on display from January 7 to 30. “Looking Back: Soho Photo’s First 50 Years” will showcase a sample of 100 works shown at the gallery over the past five decades.

The gallery’s name reflects its origins, at 143 Prince Street, where it opened in a second-floor loft in December 1971. There was no bathroom or office, but plenty of space. for hanging photos. New York Times photographer Librado (Lee) Romero, among its eight founding members, is credited with the idea of ​​creating the gallery.

“There were a couple of photo galleries in town at the time and they weren’t accessible to us,” said David Chalk, one of the gallery’s members.‘s founders and its director for more than 20 years. “So we had our own house and it thrived. “

The gallery would move to two spaces on 13th Street (one of them above the Quad Cinema) before moving to White Street. Works by Andre Kertesz, Minor White, Ansel Adams and other prominent photographers were exhibited during these early years. But in 1979 the gallery had to move and spaces were hard to find. When a spot on Wooster Street collapsed, Ben Fernandez, director of the photography department at The New School, offered the school auditorium as a meeting place, which saved time for the research. continues.

Finally, Chalk stumbled upon 15 White Street, a former live poultry market on the ground floor of one of Tribeca’s first co-ops. “It was a mess,” Chalk recalled in a telephone interview. “There were feathers and bird droppings and it was horrible. There was great potential but it was awful.

So bad, in fact, that Chalk withheld the address from other members even though he asked them for donations to convert the space. But he had a vision for what it could be, and an architectural rendering helped sell the idea.

“They saw this beautiful drawing,” he said. “It was like a magical thing.”

The members share every aspect of how the gallery operates, and it is their work over five months of construction that has transformed a worse-than-raw space into the refined place it is today. Exhibitions of up to seven artists can be hosted in the ground floor and mezzanine galleries.

“Everyone put their time into it and that’s what made the gallery so close with people,” Chalk said. “It’s kind of what invested them in space. Not the money, but the mind.

There are now 90 members, up from 110 at the top of the gallery. Many have aged with the gallery, but there is an effort to bring in new blood, including an internship program with photography students from the Fashion Institute of Technology and online exhibition opportunities for young photographers who are not. not ready or able to join.

The challenges of keeping the gallery in operation have been “ongoing,” said Borden. “Pay the rent, keep the members and try to get our name out there. Still, he noted, he survived the pandemic, which temporarily closed the gallery, with online exhibits. And members have stayed involved by sharing their work each week through Zoom.

“It was not a competition. It was just to show what we were doing, ”Borden said. “People really appreciated the fact that we were a community. “


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