In the mid-1980s I was a member of the co-operative photography gallery, Soho Photo in New York City. During that time I met and befriended Marcia C. Sheer, a great pinhole photographer who introduced me to photographer Anita Chernewski. When Marcia passed away in 1989, Anita and I became even closer friends and today co-teach photography courses at New York University. A few years ago, Anita began working with Jack Domeischel, who was a collector and took a NYU course she taught. At first they worked together on an exhibition of an unknown photographer Jack had discovered, and later decided to start a new photography gallery in Manhattan—the Domeischel Gallery, Ltd. In March they opened an exhibition of the famous Magnum photographer Leonard Freed, and I took the opportunity to talk with them about the new gallery and their plans for it.
Robert Schaefer: What sort of direction does the Domeischel Gallery have? How do you select your artists?
Jack Domeischel: At present, the artists that we represent are primarily focused on what is loosely defined as "photojournalism" or "street photography." I believe the reason for this is actually the genesis of what has now become the Domeischel Gallery. When I began collecting, my interests always seemed to be directed towards images that evoked in me a strong emotion. The images I began to purchase and enjoyed displaying in my home seemed to be primarily candid images, almost always involving people in the act of doing something in the course of their everyday life that, when looked at through the lens, takes on a completely new meaning. And, of course, I was also drawn to the edgy work of great photographers like Leonard Freed, Weegee, Larry Clark and others whose work “burned the film” with images that are quite unforgettable.
Around the time my collection reached 100 images or more, I took a course on great photographers at NYU taught by Anita Chernewski. Through this course, I gained valuable exposure to many past and present photographers and began to better define my interests and collection. During the course, I came across a photographer named Walfred Moisio, an FSA-era photographer whose work had largely gone unnoticed during his lifetime, and whose work had been stored in a basement in Ashby, Massachusetts for more than 50 years. I had recently purchased several of his images at auction from Skinner in Boston and brought them to class to show Anita. Anita agreed that that there was a great degree of talent in this work and agreed to go with me to Ashby to further examine the collection. That effort, including a number of weekends looking at more than 10,000 negatives and vintage prints (once with a large bat flying overhead), resulted in our first collaboration and successful exhibition called “Out of The Shadows” in December 2005 at the MV gallery in Manhattan and a second, equally successful show in Amsterdam in 2006.
Naples, Italy, 1958
Anita had also been introducing me to photographers whose work she thought I would also enjoy. These artists include Orville Robertson, Patrick Pagnano, Robert A. Schaefer, Jr. and many others. Attending and participating in auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, reading publications like the Photograph Collector and other books on photography and collecting and attending openings furthered my education as well as helped define my taste and refine my collection.
In the latter half of 2007, I made a major purchase of Leonard Freed images directly from the estate, forming a strong friendship with Brigitte Freed along the way. My collection at this point had grown to a sizable and highly focused set of images, primarily of street photographers and photojournalists. Like any passionate collector, the thought of opening a gallery to share my collection with other collectors and artists became a larger focus of my life. I believe I am a person of commitment and passion. If I put my mind to do something, it usually gets done. As such, along with Anita Chernewski, we began to search for a place to display the collection and offer prints for sale. We also spoke with other contemporary artists who agreed to be represented by us.
Moving forward, we want to continue to seek out photographers whose work has not been well recognized and deserve another look. We also want to look for contemporary photographers whose work is cutting-edge and unique.
Robert Schaefer: Anita, you have been a photographer for over forty years. What made you want to promote the work of other photographers by having a gallery?
Anita Chernewski: As a fine art photographer, curator and teacher of photography, I enjoy close working friendships with many artists, collectors and other individuals associated with photography. So, it was quite natural for me to take such associations to the next level by helping my friends and other artists to gain increased exposure in the world of photography. This initiative takes on new dimensions with the opening of a gallery. Rather than supporting them solely through my interaction with them on an artist-to-artist basis, I can now help them grow by exposing their work to collectors and other artists.
And my interest and passion for photography has not left me. If anything, involvement in a gallery has broadened my knowledge and artistic base. I still practice the art of fine art photography, and I still enjoy teaching about the world of photography through my work at New York University. The opportunity to create a gallery with Jack Domeischel is a natural expansion of my interests and an opportunity to maximize my strengths. The gallery has made it possible to reach out to even more established and emerging fine art photographers by giving them the opportunity by show their work at our gallery and to expand their universe of friends and associates. And that is the underlying mission of the gallery—to give something back by providing opportunities that help the artist, not solely profit from the art itself.
New York City, 1963
RS: You have selected the Upper East Side in Manhattan for the location of the Domeischel Gallery. What made you select a location not in the one of the main centers of the NYC art scene such as Chelsea or DUMBO?
JD: The idea was to open a private gallery, not a storefront or a location where people can come in at any time during opening hours to view the work. As such, being in DUMBO or Chelsea where the rents are astronomical but the foot traffic more voluminous, was not the driving factor in our location. The Upper East Side is close to the museums, several major auction houses and many fine art galleries. The people we want to visit our gallery have a passion for photography and collecting fine images. Therefore, they have no problem making a visit to our gallery to see our show, particularly when they can also visit the other local galleries and museums, have a nice meal at one of the great restaurants nearby, or just take a walk in Central Park.
The reaction to the space has been exceptionally positive. Often we hear them referring to the space as a “jewel box,” which we feel it is quite appropriate—we are selling the artistic version of jewels.
Looking ahead, I seriously doubt that the gallery will evolve to a storefront or public gallery. I want to focus on the art and the artist, not strictly profit. That is difficult to do when you have the high cost of rent, staff and other expenses that one incurs for a public space. But the key to success will still be the sale of images. We are working hard to attract the collector to our gallery. It is not easy, but we are working hard at it every day. Opportunities to be interviewed by publications such as Double Exposure are welcomed and very helpful and we thank Photoworkshop.com and Double Exposure for that.
RS: Jack, what got you interested in photography? How long have you wanted to have a gallery?
JD: I began collecting images in earnest about 10 years ago. However, my interest in looking at images as more than just "pictures" always existed within me. I recall being very young and looking for hours at a time at now extinct publications such as LIFE and LOOK, which featured the work of great photographers like Gordon Parks and photojournalists such as Larry Burroughs. In college, I took courses on photography and even dabbled with a camera for a short time. The idea of having a gallery is a relatively recent one. It was spurned by the size of my collection and the desire to share my passion for great images with other collectors. As you can tell, our gallery is designed with the collector in mind, not necessarily those who just want a nice photograph for their wall. Our images tend to be more emotional and edgy and lean more towards the sophisticated eye.
Souvenir Shop, New Orleans, 1965
RS: What are the most difficult aspects of opening a new gallery?
JD: Any new venture is a “graying of the hair” experience. Finding the right location and making the financial commitment to do it right is difficult enough. However, attracting and choosing the right artists to show is never easy. You have to trust your instinct and follow the taste and trends of the market. Do we have it right? I honestly do not know. I do know that the artists we represent have a great deal of talent and passion for their work. The shows we have had so far have garnered significant interest. The road to success is paved with those having good intentions, so check back with me in one year and ask me that question again.
RS: How did you come to represent Leonard Freed?
JD: I must say first that although we have Leonard Freed’s work in our gallery, no one gallery represents Leonard Freed. We are blessed with this opportunity, particularly as such a young gallery. To have an artist like Leonard Freed represented in our gallery speaks directly to our philosophy of the gallery—exhibit great work and offer it to collectors at prices that are fair and reasonable.
AC: We met Leonard Freed’s widow Brigitte while attending the AIPAD show in 2007, where she was also in attendance. I had known Brigitte from year’s prior and introduced her to Jack. We began to talk about Leonard’s work and
Greenwich Village, NYC, 1978
the idea of opening of a gallery. From that conversation, Brigitte invited us to Garrison, New York where she lives to have lunch and look at the archive. Leonard had just passed away the November before, and Brigitte was giving serious thought to how he would be remembered by the world of photography. Over the next several visits we spent many hours looking at the archive, learning about Leonard as a man and an artist, and becoming close friends.
JD: It is because of our relationship with Brigitte and the fact that she feels comfortable with us that we have been given this incredible opportunity to feature a great Magnum photographer like Leonard in the Domeischel gallery. The relationship and the bond of trust we formed with Brigitte and other artists we represent is a hallmark of the gallery and will be critical to our growth and sustainability.
RS: How did you select "All I Have to Offer" as the title for the Freed exhibition?
JD: I was sitting at my desk thinking about our upcoming show while looking at the photograph, “White Female,” which we had chosen to be the signature image of the show. I was thinking about Leonard and his body of work and all of the things that Brigitte had told us about Leonard. He had given us enough pictures to last us a lifetime. In effect, he had given us “all he had to offer.” Thinking of Leonard, the generosity of Brigitte, and the image itself, the title just popped into my head.
Now the interesting thing is that not more than two weeks prior to the opening of the show, we were visiting with Brigitte in Garrison to finalize the show. We started to look for images of Leonard that we could have at the show and Brigitte pulled out an old box of photographs that contained among other things, a card with a picture of Leonard portrayed as a catcher for a baseball team. She explained that at one time in 1975 a friend was undertaking a project to make a collection of “baseball trading cards” of great Magnum photographers. I doubt the project was ever finished, but flipping this card over I began to read the Leonard Freed statistics just like those normally contained on a baseball card. There was Leonard’s height, weight, batting average, etc., and there a quote from the “player, Leonard” himself, “I give you all that I have to offer….” That was an incredible feeling, as if Leonard had whispered the title for the show to me a month earlier and was letting me know I had gotten it right. The card is part of the exhibition.
RS: The exhibition opened on Friday, March 7th. What has been the response so far?
Neo-Nazi at Home, Wisconsin, USA, 1988
AC: We have had tremendous reaction to the show. The exhibition includes photographs from most of Leonard’s seminal work including Police Work and Black in White America, as well as many of his iconic images from numerous assignments over the course of his lifetime. Many of these images are unique and have never been displayed in a show or published before. We also have about one dozen books of contact sheets from Leonard’s work, including those from the seminal works I just mentioned. This is an incredible opportunity for photographers, historians, and collectors alike to see exactly how Leonard worked and developed the image. Of course, Leonard took over one million images and as such we cannot cover every assignment he ever worked on. But I think we got it right, and judging from the response of those who have seen the exhibit, Leonard would be proud.
RS: What are you planning for your next show? Can you give us a “preview?”
JD: We are currently in discussions with the estate of a photographer whose work is both powerful and emotional. We feel it fits perfectly with the gallery and follows well with the Freed show. Because we are still in discussions with the estate, I can only say that if we are successful in bringing in the show, the work of this artist will evoke in the viewer strong emotional feelings and memories of the late ‘60’s New York City. The story behind the photographer is equally interesting; an unrequited love and passion for his art that culminated in a disastrous end to his life. I hope to share more with you in the next several months. Stay tuned.
RS: Where does your work fit into the pricing structure of art photography? How do you appeal to the collector?
JD: As anyone who follows the photography market knows, the prices being realized by the major auction houses and galleries continue to rise. There are probably a variety of reasons for this including the greater acceptance of photography as art, and the mere fact that many art lovers have been priced out of the more traditional art market. Still, collectors in particular find that they can still acquire exceptional prints by master photographers for a reasonable sum if they shop around.
Venice, Italy, 2004
The galleries' intent is to focus on the work by great photographers who still have significant upside potential in pricing. Leonard Freed is one such example. In our present show we have only vintage work, all of it printed by Brigitte Freed, a master printer. Most of these prints are unique, and all of them are from very limited printings. The Freed’s only printed what was needed for the editor of a magazine or book they were working on.
Additionally, we have most of the vintage contact sheets of Leonard’s work. I say “most” because one day Brigitte caught Leonard tossing his contact sheets down the incinerator chute in their building. So we have what is left of these incredible contact sheets. Many of them demonstrate the creation of a great iconic image of Leonard’s like “Wall Street” or images from his “Police Work” and “Black in White America” books. For the collector, this is a very rare opportunity to purchase material that we are quite certain will increase in value. The prices we have set for this work is very reasonable and gives the collector, regardless of their individual purchasing power, the opportunity to make a nice investment in their collection and own a piece of photography history.
RS: Are you worried about opening a gallery in the present economy?
JD: Anyone opening a business, let alone one in the current economic environment, would be less than honest if they told you they were not concerned about the success of the business. But to me that greatest risk in life is passing on without ever having followed one’s passion and taken the risk in the first place. So, yes I am concerned, but I am comfortable with my decision. There has been an uncanny amount of synchronicity of late as this project developed. Taking the great photographers class at NYU and meeting Anita, finding Moisio, meeting Brigitte, etc. The list goes on and on. I am comforted in knowing we have the right artists to work with and the right people around us as friends and supporters. Once again, check back with me in one year and ask me that question.
RS: Where do you see the Domeischel Gallery going in the future?
JD: Well, as I noted earlier, I do not see the gallery evolving into a public space and prefer to focus on the art of photography and not the day-to-dayfocus of running a business. I should think that the gallery would evolve into a location where new artists have a greater opportunity to gain recognition and support from the art community and can take a risk with their work. As such, we are always looking for new artists that are doing something a little differently. We hope to be amongst those galleries that introduce new artists to the art world, not simply the sellers of well-known artists.
These are nice thoughts, of course, but I am also putting some skin in the game with the creation of an educational grant for an existing or emerging artist who cannot further his or her work due to financial constraints. I have committed 10% of all net sales to the creation of this grant and expect to award it on an annual basis. The specifics of the program will be announced in the near future.
RS: What a wonderful idea. I’m certain that when I ask about its outcome a year from now as well as other aspects concerting your gallery as you suggested earlier on in the interview, that the response will certainly be positive.
Domeischel Gallery Ltd.
1361 Madison Ave. 4D @ 95th St.
New York, NY 10128
Call for an appointment at 516-480-8813 or 917- 693-6911
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