Money isn’t everything. At least making more of it wasn’t at the forefront of Paul Amador’s mind when he quit a successful career as a financial analyst after 24 years. It was 2001, and Amador, who was born in San Francisco but has lived in New York for 20 years, retired to his home in East Hampton, spending that summer, and then the better part of two years “thinking long and hard about what I wanted to do rather than what I was just paid to do. It was a great job (banking) but it wasn’t where my heart was.” Now Amador is director and co-partner (with Stephen Cohen of Los Angeles) of Cohen Amador Gallery, a 57th Street space that shows modern and contemporary photography. Open for only a year and a half, the gallery has smartly signed on numerous lesser-known but impressive mid-career artists and given them (almost to a person) their New York debuts. Business, by the way, is in the black.

Amador, a fit, congenial man of 51, came to his sense of photographic appreciation as a collector. After graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in anthropology, Amador found himself falling, perhaps a bit too quickly, into a career. Allstate, the insurance company, recruited him fresh out of school. A year later he went back to San Francisco and took a job with a real-estate investment firm. Seven years after that, during the go-go eighties, Amador hooked up with the hot Wall Street investment firm Drexel Burnham Lambert in New York, where, quite unexpectedly, he began collecting photographs. A colleague at Drexel put him on to a sale of the company’s photography holdings, and he purchased a handful of prints by Berenice Abbott and Andre Kertész, as well as a number of images of New York from the 1930s and ’40s. He quickly immersed himself in the medium—and in modernist photography in particular. “The trigger was looking at this work, this old New York,” he says. “That was how I educated myself about the history of the practitioners of the medium. I parked myself at every auction that I could go to between 1988 and 2001.” His collection grew, along with an appreciation for contemporary work, and a conviction that the photography business was his new calling. After Amador spent 2003–04 as a partner at the Lyons Weir Gallery in New York (developing their photography program), he and Cohen began discussing the idea of forming a partnership, and the Cohen Amador Gallery was born.

The gallery currently represents fifteen artists—one-third from the U.S., one-third from Europe, and one-third from Japan. Though Cohen has an equal say in what gets shown in New York, this group largely reflects Amador’s vision, what he calls “my interest in objectivity and large-format cameras”—along with a certain amount of street grit thrown in. Taiji Matsue, for example, shoots elevated cityscapes from Osaka to Toronto that are striking for their clarity—and complete lack of horizon. Last fall, Amy Arbus (daughter of Diane) showed the black-and-white work she’d done for the Village Voice; Osamu Kanemura, who photographs the tangle of telephone and electrical wires over his native Tokyo, debuts this year. And next year, Amador anticipates he’ll do a second show with the German photographer Olaf Otto Becker—color images of Greenland that are the result of a four-year project during which he shot thousands of miles of coastline from a rubber boat. “He got knocked into the water. He broke a rib,” says Amador, adding. “But here’s a guy who’s clearly going out of his way for his work. You’ve got to respect that.”