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Merg Ross
1-Jul-2015, 22:29
With the recent passing of Hal Gould, I am reminded of similar trailblazers who shared his belief in the 1950's and 1960's --- those dedicated few who steadfastly believed in photography as an art form. As Hal Gould did, they too made the sacrifices that accompany dedication and purpose in the promotion of photography as a "fine art".

Two who I knew were on opposite coasts --- Carl Siembab in Boston and Helen Johnston in San Francisco. I was introduced to Carl at his gallery on Newbury Street in 1959. I was eighteen years old and sold my first photograph there that year for $15. Later, in the mid 1960's, Helen Johnston opened her small Focus Gallery in an upstairs flat on Union Street in San Francisco. She and Carl are perhaps not known to those born in an era when photography has attained its special place in the art world. A search for Helen Johnston/Focus Gallery or Carl Siembab Gallery should produce some background of these pioneer promoters of photography.

I think of them, their struggles, and our friendship. They made a difference, and some of us today, unknowingly, are beneficiaries of their efforts.

bob carnie
2-Jul-2015, 06:22
I feel some kinship here, I have started a 800 sq ft gallery here in Toronto above my printing facility.. I have mixed emotions about it right now but I think the pros, outweigh the cons.
we have had about 8 shows with many planned for the future, but it really is not for the feint of heart to do this.

Eric Biggerstaff
2-Jul-2015, 06:43
Thanks for posting this Merg. While I knew Hal I was not familiar with the others you mention so I will search and try to learn a little.

Drew Wiley
8-Jul-2015, 16:19
I'm trying to remember the last name of some Helen who sponsored me upstairs somewhere on Union Street. That was a long time ago. But she was a Berenice
Abbot fanatic and already pretty old when I came along via a recommendation from a painter. Maybe just a coincidence. In terms of pioneering relative unknowns,
esp in color photography. I remember Grapestake Gallery in SF. He was growing broke all along and knew it, but believed in what he was doing, and was willing to take the risk. Nobody paid attention. Today some of those photographers are pretty much canonized. But he'd show everything, including their many many
bellyflops. Not everything caught on that Meyerowitz, Misrach, etc did. But I gotta give them respect for persistently rolling the dice until something hit.

David Lindquist
11-Jul-2015, 19:08
Thank you so much for this Merg, it brings back warm memories. I got out of the U.S. Army in 1969 and moved to the east bay (where I lived and worked until 2006). I used to take the "F" bus, and later BART to San Francisco and take a cable car, or even sometimes walk from the bus terminal or BART, to Union Street to go to Focus Gallery. At openings of their respective shows, Focus Gallery was the first place I was in the same room as Ansel Adams and Brett Weston. And one time Helen Johnston had prints from one of Edward Weston's 50th Anniversary Portfolios for sale and I bought one. Things like this remind me that I have been very fortunate.
David

Randy Moe
11-Jul-2015, 19:24
Maybe I need to do something.

Small quick shows are a good idea, I have been mulling over logistics.

My thoughts are 8 hour pop-up shows in my building. Hang in the afternoon. Show. Sell. The artists take what's left with them before midnight.

I have 1500 sq ft to fill and empty. The best part is it's our community room and free. My location has became a destination, not kidding.

Thanks for the tip Merg!

Merg Ross
11-Jul-2015, 22:51
Thank you so much for this Merg, it brings back warm memories. I got out of the U.S. Army in 1969 and moved to the east bay (where I lived and worked until 2006). I used to take the "F" bus, and later BART to San Francisco and take a cable car, or even sometimes walk from the bus terminal or BART, to Union Street to go to Focus Gallery. At openings of their respective shows, Focus Gallery was the first place I was in the same room as Ansel Adams and Brett Weston. And one time Helen Johnston had prints from one of Edward Weston's 50th Anniversary Portfolios for sale and I bought one. Things like this remind me that I have been very fortunate.
David

David, glad you had a chance to visit the Focus Gallery. I was discharged from the Army a few years before you, 1965 in Oakland. However, I was back home again!

Helen and her gallery gave me the opportunity to reconnect with the state of photography and events in my absence. She included me in a couple of exhibits and hours of chat. You probably remember those photo racks with photographs for sale; she was ahead of her time, and unfortunately never sold the $45 print of Brett's Garrapata Beach! I once owned an EW 50th Anniversary Portfolio, which print did you purchase?

Before the "F" bus and BART, there was an "F" train that ran from Berkeley to San Francisco on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge. As a teenager I made the ride across the bay on the last day of its service.

Back to photography, you are no doubt familiar with Peter Stackpole's photographs of the bridge construction in the 1930's. If not, look for "The Bridge Builders/Stackpole". All 35mm, but good enough to be included and exhibit with Group F.64. He lived a few blocks from me in Oakland and went on to become one of the four original photographers for Life magazine.

Thanks for sharing your memories of the "little gallery" on Union Street.

DennisD
12-Jul-2015, 07:36
Thanks, Merg, for the interesting post.

Photography was fortunate to have the trailblazers who pioneered dedicated galleries. (They were lucky to have photography ! )

It's unfortunate many of the original galleries did not survive.

Here in NY we had the Witkin Gallery, opened around 1969 by Lee Witkin with inspiration from Witkin's friend, photographer George Tice. Before that, Witkin, an art aficionado, wrote for construction publications as a profession. Witkin and Tice, both from New Jersey, met in the 1960's and thru their friendship, Tice encouraged Witkin's interest in photography.

In 1969, Lee Witkin opened New York’s first art gallery devoted to photography.

Unfortunately, Lee became ill in the early 1980's and died around 1984. The gallery was taken over by Witkin's assistant, but eventually closed in 1999.

Merg Ross
12-Jul-2015, 08:20
Thanks, Merg, for the interesting post.

Photography was fortunate to have the trailblazers who pioneered dedicated galleries. (They were lucky to have photography ! )

It's unfortunate many of the original galleries did not survive.

Here in NY we had the Witkin Gallery, opened around 1969 by Lee Witkin with inspiration from Witkin's friend, photographer George Tice. Before that, Witkin, an art aficionado, wrote for construction publications as a profession. Witkin and Tice, both from New Jersey, met in the 1960's and thru their friendship, Tice encouraged Witkin's interest in photography.

In 1969, Lee Witkin opened New York’s first art gallery devoted to photography.

Unfortunately, Lee became ill in the early 1980's and died around 1984. The gallery was taken over by Witkin's assistant, but eventually closed in 1999.

Dennis, thanks for mentioning Lee Witkin. I was unaware of the George Tice connection. The Witkin Gallery was very influential and no doubt a model for many that opened in the 1970's across the country.

Prior to the Witkin gallery in New York was the Limelight Gallery in the Village, opened by Helen Gee in the 1950's. She also has a prominent place on the list of pioneers. For several years she exhibited some of the finest work in photography, lots of big names.The gallery was at the rear of a coffeehouse. When I was there in late 1959 she was exhibiting the work of Wynn Bullock. I should have mentioned Helen Gee in my original post.

tgtaylor
12-Jul-2015, 10:37
None of those mentioned in the above posts can even remotely be considered “trailblazers” or “pioneers” for they were preceded by countless others such as Theodore Lilienthal in New Orleans http://www.knowla.org/entry/806/ and Carleton Watkins in San Francisco https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carleton_Watkins who both operated photographic studios and galleries and promoted photography as a fine art a century before those named.

Thomas

David Lindquist
12-Jul-2015, 13:01
David, glad you had a chance to visit the Focus Gallery. I was discharged from the Army a few years before you, 1965 in Oakland. However, I was back home again!

Helen and her gallery gave me the opportunity to reconnect with the state of photography and events in my absence. She included me in a couple of exhibits and hours of chat. You probably remember those photo racks with photographs for sale; she was ahead of her time, and unfortunately never sold the $45 print of Brett's Garrapata Beach! I once owned an EW 50th Anniversary Portfolio, which print did you purchase?

Before the "F" bus and BART, there was an "F" train that ran from Berkeley to San Francisco on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge. As a teenager I made the ride across the bay on the last day of its service.

Back to photography, you are no doubt familiar with Peter Stackpole's photographs of the bridge construction in the 1930's. If not, look for "The Bridge Builders/Stackpole". All 35mm, but good enough to be included and exhibit with Group F.64. He lived a few blocks from me in Oakland and went on to become one of the four original photographers for Life magazine.

Thanks for sharing your memories of the "little gallery" on Union Street.

First I expect that was Oakland Army Base, that's where I was separated from active duty in June 1969.

I bought "Eroded Rock, Point Lobos, 1930", seen here with the rest of the portfolio's prints: http://notesonphotographs.org/index.php?title=Edward_Weston/50th_Anniversary_Portfolio
She also had the photograph of David McAlpin and "Nude 1936" (the famous one of Charis). Unfortunately the latter was badly stained on two sides, at least an inch wide; looked like what Scotch tape used to do to prints.

I remember the trains on the lower deck from earlier family trips to San Francisco. AC Transit of course used the same letters on their trans-bay buses that later followed similar routes.

Yes, I'm familiar with Peter Stackpole's work. Don't have that book though; I'll look for it.
David

Merg Ross
12-Jul-2015, 21:07
First I expect that was Oakland Army Base, that's where I was separated from active duty in June 1969.

I bought "Eroded Rock, Point Lobos, 1930", seen here with the rest of the portfolio's prints: http://notesonphotographs.org/index.php?title=Edward_Weston/50th_Anniversary_Portfolio
She also had the photograph of David McAlpin and "Nude 1936" (the famous one of Charis). Unfortunately the latter was badly stained on two sides, at least an inch wide; looked like what Scotch tape used to do to prints.

I remember the trains on the lower deck from earlier family trips to San Francisco. AC Transit of course used the same letters on their trans-bay buses that later followed similar routes.

Yes, I'm familiar with Peter Stackpole's work. Don't have that book though; I'll look for it.
David

Yes, the Oakland Army Base. I was separated from active duty in September, 1965 after returning from a year as battalion photographer with the 809th Engineers in Thailand.

Thanks for posting the contents of the 50th Anniversary Portfolio. It was not uncommon for some of the Portfolios to have multiple buyers and later offered as individual prints. Perhaps that was the history of your print purchased from Helen's gallery. As I recall, the original Portfolio was offered at $100, with few takers.

Drew Wiley
23-Jul-2015, 13:09
Tom - lots of earlier galleries were dedicated to supplying popular theme images. I realize tourist galleries to that today too. Watkins made most of his profit on
basic carte de vista or stereoscope scenes. He refused to lower his actual print prices to compete with the many lesser lights who had become competition for
scenes of the West and went bankrupt. We all know his tragic ending. But I think what is in question here are people who stuck their neck out experimenting with what were then new concepts in contemporary photography with little commercial appeal at the time. I think the Helen I knew was someone different than Merg is mentioning. The last name sounds wrong, and she mainly experimented with painters, most of whom became very big names with time. It was a very expensive downtown gallery and I was one of the very few photographers ever in there. I remember being hung where authentic Winston Churchill oils had been the week before (he wasn't a shabby Impressionist at all - had quite a talent - but certainly wasn't Manet). But she was old at the time and has long since passed.

John Kasaian
24-Jul-2015, 07:56
What a wonderful History! I'm really enjoying this thread. Thanks!

Drew Wiley
24-Jul-2015, 08:44
John - you'd probably get a kick out of the little California art & furniture dealer up here. Lots of antique Yosemite photos offering a wider range of commercial
photographers than just the really big names in the Oakland Museum (namely, Watkins and Muybridge). But I suspect he's just about to throw in the towel due to
age. Our family collection has some very early shots (tintypes, ambrotypes) of the area, Indians stark naked in front of bark huts, etc. My sister has most of that.
I kept the ones of the East Sides, including the cyanotypes of Big Pine under construction, ladies in hoop skirts up on Palisade glacier etc. A bit off topic here. But
I am old enough to remember when classic EW prints worth a fortune nowadays just got thumbtacked to a bulletin board for the sake of curious viewers like me.