One of the world's most oft-photographed cities, New York City—like Tokyo, Amsterdam, and Mexico City—is also a paradise for fans of fine art photography by both the most beloved, established names and young contemporary innovators.
Besides the iconic works and shutterbug legends you'll find in the collections of MoMA, The Whitney, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (think Edward Weston, Richard Avedon, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman, and Robert Mapplethorpe), there are photography-centric museums, galleries, and bookstores throughout the boroughs where more obscure and up-and-coming talents can be discovered—and, in the case of publications, brought home!
Fotografiska New York
Opened in December 2019, this multi-level contemporary photography museum in the Flatiron District has equally cool older sibling venues in Stockholm, Sweden, and Tallinn, Estonia. Occupying the historic 19th-century Church Missions Building on Park Avenue South and 22nd Street, Fotografiska hosts a handful of solo and group exhibitions on its gallery levels. The ground floor, meanwhile, serves as a fantastic and roomy retail store with books and merchandise related to past and present exhibitions and then some. There is a cafe serving food and beverages, while Philadelphia celebrity restaurateur Stephen Starr's Veronika restaurant occupies an upper level and serves spectacular French and Eastern European fare like borscht, beef tartare, and veal goulash beneath its grand 20-foot ceilings (note: the cafe and restaurant, however, are closed through 2020 with a specific reopening date TBA).
The International Center of Photography
Founded in 1974 by photographer Cornell Capa, and relocated from Midtown Manhattan to the Lower East Side, the outstanding ICP is a blessing for visiting and local photography enthusiasts. Besides its themed and artist-specific exhibition, the ICP hosts robust educational classes and workshops, public programs, and the annual Infinity Awards in addition to a library, store, and collection of over 200,000 images and items (some of which are viewable online). Past exhibitions have included "Elliott Erwin: Pittsburgh 1950," "Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop," and James Coup's provocative "Warriors," which used deepfake technology to incorporate visitors' faces into the cult 1979 film about NYC gangs, "The Warriors."
Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2020, James Danziger's namesake gallery first opened in Soho, but currently exists in the Upper East Side's gallery and museum district along with The Met, Gagosian, and Guggenheim. With a background in journalism and photo editing for Vanity Fair and London's Sunday Times, respectively, before he became a gallerist and collector, Danziger has represented major names including Annie Lebowitz and Henri Carter-Besson. Exhibitions range from brand-new work by the likes of Nebraska-raised Jim Krantz and Tokyo's Risaku Suzuki, and Will Adler to themed collections by icons George Lange, Andy Warhol, and Evelyn Hofer.
Just a flight down the stairs from street level in NYC's NoHo neighborhood, the 15-year-old Dashwood Books is both a publisher and carrier of contemporary photography tomes, including incredibly rare and self-published treasures and the best in new international titles. You'll more than likely run into some photographers and dynamic creative types also browsing and chatting with staff, or during a signing. Recent Dashwood releases have included Aziz Ansari's travelogue photo zines and Jamie Hawkesworth's Preston Bus Station, and you can easily spend hours here leafing through the shelves.
Noho's Staley-Wise, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2021, kicked off its history in literally prestigious fashion with an exhibition by German-American Vogue photographer Horst P. Horst (who counted Marlene Dietrich, Paloma Picasso, Bette Davis, and Gertrude Stein among his hundreds of trailblazing subjects). The gallery has been spotlighting fashion photographers like Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Stephanie Pfriender Stylander, actor-turned-shutterbug Joel Grey's Georgia O’Keeffe and Robert Mapplethorpe-inspired flower imagery, and colorful, cinematic work by Spain's Txema Yeste as of late. Situated in a 19th-century landmark building designed by Thomas Stent, the gallery expanded its exhibition space in 2017. Check the Staley-Wise website for online, themed exhibitions that draw from their permanent collection.
Robert Mann Gallery
The first photography-centric gallery to open in the West Chelsea Art District circa 1999, Robert Mann Gallery recently relocated to a penthouse space in the Upper East Side (fun fact: it was actually founded in this neighborhood in 1985). Mann's roster of artists and exhibitions represent a balance of mid-career visionary contemporary shutterbugs—like Mary Mattingly, Julie Blackmon (whose theatrical, impeccably staged images of her family were exhibited at Fotografiska in 2020), Elijah Gowin, Cig Harvey, and Holly Andres—and 20th-century greats like Germany's Ellen Auerbach, Mike Mandel, Austria's Artur Nikodem, and Canadian-turned-New-Yorker Margaret Watkins, who balanced her art and advertising career with still lifes and, controversially, nudes.
A staple on the contemporary art fair circuit (e.g. Art Basel, The Armory Show, Paris Photo), this female-owned West Chelsea Art District gallery represents a diverse, edgy roster of photographers from around the world including non-binary South African Zanele Muholi, whose lens is trained on Black LGBTQ residents of the country's townships; Boston-based David Hilliard, whose large-scale multi-panel photos touch on sexuality, spirituality, and coming of age; and the late Chinese-Canadian Tseng Kwong Chi, whose stiffly posed, tourist-style self-portraits were tinged with satire (he passed away from AIDS complications in 1990). Be sure to check out Richardson's online "viewing room" shows as well, which currently include virtual exhibitions by Muholi and others.
Printed Matter, Inc.
Opening its first location in 1976, this hub (and distributor) for self-published and small press books, zines, and more by artists and political activists in all disciplines now occupies a two-floor storefront in the West Chelsea Art District on 11th Avenue. Boasting a who's who of prolific artist/activist advisors and program directors over the years (including Ingrid Sischy and AA Bronson of Canada's General Idea), Printed Matter, Inc. boasts thousands of titles (including many under its own imprint), curated shelves, a gallery, art items, and an upstairs workspace. Printed Matter also organizes the annual NY and LA Art Book Fairs, which are heavy on photography-related tomes and merchandise. In 2018, they opened a smaller sister location in Greenwich Village (while there, head into the East Village and check out the small, intensely curated Mast Books for new and hotly desired photo book rarities).
Located in Brooklyn's buzzy DUMBO district, the 13-year-old Klompching—from gallerists Debra Klomp Ching and Darren Ching—not only hosts (and deals) work by contemporary photographers, but also organizes a dynamic, competitive annual summer exhibition, FRESH. Klompching's roster of more than 30 artists includes Jennifer B. Thoreson, whose theatrical, stylized scenarios are both bizarre and haunting (à la the Czech Republic's Jan Saudek); Anthony Crossfield, whose disturbing melded-bodies series "Foreign Body" is like David Lynch meets David Cronenberg; and Kimberly Witham, whose still life images evoke classic paintings with a dry subversive twist.
Gallerist Brian Clamp moved his cozy yet dynamic 20-year-old namesake gallery from West Chelsea in 2016 to a larger space in Chelsea's Flower District. While his roster of artists and inventory touches on many disciplines, contemporary photography is Clamp's focus, including provocative LGBTQ discoveries like Marc Yankus and Brooklyn's Lissa Rivera (who has produced exhibitions at NYC's Museum of Sex as a curator). Recent exhibitions have included John Arsenault's self-descriptive “American Queen, American Dream: 30 Years of Self Portraits by John Arsenault," Yankus' "New York Unseen" (which offers rare serene, people-free shots of NYC landmarks), and the extremely homoerotic group show “Sex Crimes,” spotlighting mid-20th-century artwork and literature by the likes of Bob Mizer, James Bidgood, Jean Genet, and Mel Roberts with "homosexual content that was often created in a shadow world of criminality, organized crime payoffs, and under the threat of arrest."