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First Ladies

Gallerists Etheleen Staley and Taki Wise open up on their thirty one year partnership as the world’s first fashion photography gallery.

Friends “Eth” and “Tak” met at work, styling for commercial photoshoots. 

The two stylists loved fashion photography and believed it should be celebrated. 

“We started out on Wooster Street, our friend had a loft where they were running a stock photo company. They offered us a corner space to start the gallery. I think they thought we were going to show their pictures. We didn’t,” explains Etheleen. Their first show was Horst. It was the first time fashion photography had been recognized as art and landed them the front page in The Sunday Times Arts & Leisure section.

They quickly outgrew their small “corner” and were asked by the loft owners to move on. “They grew to hate us,” says Etheleen. “Well people just kept coming in to see the show and they were trying to work. So then we got a place on Prince Street and we were there for a couple of years, and then we were in this other building on the sixth floor and then we came down here to Soho. And David LaChapelle was our first show in the space. And that was, I don’t know what year, 1996 maybe. So. We’ve been here a long time,” explains Taki.

When asked how they forged a relationship with David LaChapelle, Taki says, “It was so loose back then, you could call somebody up and it wasn’t a big deal. We were doing a show that we were gonna send to a gallery in Japan. That was new, it was called Crossings and it was supposed to be new photographers. So I called up different people who I didn’t know to send us pictures. David sent the best pictures, the best quality, the most interesting of all the other photographers. They were so good we asked him if he wanted to have the show with us, and he’s been very loyal ever since. Here we are. Many years later.”

They quickly outgrew their small “corner” and were asked by the loft owners to move on. “They grew to hate us,” says Etheleen. “Well people just kept coming in to see the show and they were trying to work. So then we got a place on Prince Street and we were there for a couple of years, and then we were in this other building on the sixth floor and then we came down here to Soho. And David LaChapelle was our first show in the space. And that was, I don’t know what year, 1996 maybe. So. We’ve been here a long time,” explains Taki.

When asked how they forged a relationship with David LaChapelle, Taki says, “It was so loose back then, you could call somebody up and it wasn’t a big deal. We were doing a show that we were gonna send to a gallery in Japan. That was new, it was called Crossings and it was supposed to be new photographers. So I called up different people who I didn’t know to send us pictures. David sent the best pictures, the best quality, the most interesting of all the other photographers. They were so good we asked him if he wanted to have the show with us, and he’s been very loyal ever since. Here we are. Many years later.”

When asked about Ron Galella, now showing inside The Conservatory courtesy of the Staley-Wise gallery, Ron was a controversial figure with fans (Warhol) and enemies (Jackie). But no one chronicled New York life the way he did. Was he more interested in capturing a look, or a feeling? Taki says, “I asked Ron, I emailed. He said he was more interested in capturing a look, which I was surprised he said. He said pictures are visual. He also mentioned that Jackie was not an enemy. She loved his photos and being photographed. She never held up her hands in the no picture position, except once she placed a bouquet of flowers given to her by John Junior for Mother’s Day in front of her face. The court battle was a safeguard to protect her children not her… so I think that was interesting.”

“Hold your tongue. That’s the secret.”

Etheleen adds, “He was good. Yeah. You know he wasn’t just taking pictures. He was a really good photographer.” “Well he went to art school, he studied art, art history and photography. He told me after he graduated he wanted to have a studio like Ken and Avadon. But he couldn’t afford it. So the street was his studio. If you look at his compositions or the way he’s captured those people they’re not snapshots. They’re very intentional, thoughtful… and the angles!” says Taki.

Thirty eight years later, Etheleen and Taki are still friends, still business partners. We asked them what makes for such a successful run.

“We still talk,” answers Etheleen. “Yeah when you call me,” Taki responds [laughing.] Etheleen adds, “Hold your tongue that’s the secret. But I think we were lucky that we came up with something original when we started our business. Nobody did fashion photography. And it caught on and we maintain that lead. And that’s why we have a successful business after all these years. It’s what we’re good at, what we’re known for. And that’s why we’re still here. No we were lucky. I think we were lucky that we came up with what we just knew. And the timing was right, it was also timing. Don’t you think?” she asks Taki, to which she replies “I’d say personally I love editing, photography and doing conceptual work. Every person says to me – why are you still going to work? You know you don’t have to work you should do something else. I feel like I don’t want to stay home. If I think about stopping, I know I would really miss this. So you know I think, if you’re lucky enough to find something that you like to do and you do it, it’s not always perfect but it’s sort of like having a life perk.”

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