Founded in 1884, the Camera Club of New York (CCNY) is one of the oldest arts institutions in the city, and in the past couple of years it is enjoying a kind of revival under a new name, Baxter Street at the CCNY. The organization’s new leadership has transformed this once staid group it into a 21st-century arts organization.
From quite early on, CCNY was known as an important learning venue that attracted members who would go on to be leaders in the field, including Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand, and it was also a place to hear important lectures about photography, including talks by Edward Steichen, Berenice Abbott, Richard Avedon, and Beaumont Newhall. I spoke with Michi Jigarjian, the president of CCNY’s board since 2013 about how and why the club has changed and what these changes now offer its new audience and members.
Jigarjian got involved with Baxter Street at CCNY through a friend and former teacher Allen Frame who invited her to join the artist-run board while she was still an MFA student in the program collaboratively run by ICP and Bard College. In 2013, after graduating, she took on the role of co-president with Frame who had been in the role by himself for several years. “In 2013, the Board of CCNY was tasked with helping the organization rethink its mission in the context of supporting today’s emerging artist/photographer,” Jigarjian explained. She then took on the role of sole board president in 2014, and her friend and colleague Libby Pratt joined as director in the same year.
I reached out to a long-standing member of the club, Lorraine Gracey, who had been with CCNY since the early 1990s, and I asked her how the organization is different now. She told me that “it’s night and day. They [Jigarjian, Frame and Pratt] brought the club into a new century and a whole new era.”
Gracey, who originally joined so she could use the darkrooms to develop and print her photographic work, thinks that the club “would not have survived” because of the twin pressures of stagnant membership and a mercenary real estate market. Now, Gracey says, Baxter Street at CCNY has become a “real” arts organization that receives grants and has programs that continue the legacy of the original club.
In August 2014, the organization moved from their previous home on West 37th Street in Midtown Manhattan, into a ground-floor space with an outdoor area for events, on Baxter Street near Chinatown. This new space is quite visible in a neighborhood that is becoming synonymous with contemporary art and it is also easily accessible, particularly to the community of artists living and working on the Lower East Side. Under Jigarjian and Pratt, Baxter Street has deepened their relationship with The International Center of Photography so that their members and residents are able to use ICP’s darkroom and printing facilities. They have also strengthened their residency program through the financial support of the Jerome Foundation, and they host four residents per year — the residencies start in early January.
Baxter Street at CCNY now consists of a gallery, a learning forum, and workspace for emerging artists whose primary medium is photography. They will open the exhibition series with a guest curated show by Joey Lico, entitled Polaris, and their 2016 Annual Juried Exhibition, which was juried by Mickalene Thomas, opens on Wednesday, August 17.
With the infusion of new energy, Baxter Street at CCNY is hoping to continue the organization’s unique mission to provide a place to connect artists while supporting those passionate about the craft of photography.
The Baxter Street at the Camera Club of New York (126 Baxter Street, Chinatown, Manhattan) is open Tuesday through Saturday.