As a National member of A.I.R. Gallery in New York, I heard of the legendary group of women who boldly and courageously formed the gallery in 1972. At that time, the established galleries largely ignored the work of women artists. So twenty young, determined women artists got together, rented a small storefront space in Soho, renovated it themselves and opened a gallery.
I had the good fortune to meet and photograph one of these pioneering women, Louise Kramer, in 2007. During the course of our photo shoot, Louise informed me that most of the other founders of A.I.R. were still working artists and still lived in the NYC area. The wheels in my head began turning. “What interesting women they must be. I would love to photograph them all, to pay them tribute,” I thought. With the help of then gallery director, Kat Griefen, I was able to contact them and they generously agreed to allow my camera into their lives.
I tried to photograph them in their studios to show that they are still successful working artists. It took my five years to complete the project. It was an exciting experience from start to finish. The founders are indeed fascinating women, intelligent, dynamic and open. I found them in their studios all over Manhattan and beyond.
I photographed all but one of the original founders. Rachel bas Cohain had died before I began my portrait series. I have also included in the series six other women artists who came on board soon after the beginning of the gallery. They like to call themselves the A.I.R. Pioneers. Pioneers is in fact a good term to describe all of these women who have had such a profound and lasting influence on the status of women in the world or art. They boldly led the way for us to follow.
In 2012, I was able to exhibit fourteen of the portraits at A.I.R. in time for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the gallery. A concurrent exhibition of another ten of the portraits was held at Gallery 128 on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side. Fittingly, the owner of Gallery 128 is herself one of the pioneers. In conjunction with the exhibition, I published a small catalogue of the portraits titled A.I.R. Pioneers. To compliment the portraits, I asked each of the artists to contribute a brief auto biography which is included in the book.