Photo by Shawn Inglima

French-speaking, New York-based contemporary photography dealer Corinne Tapia has an intuitive sense for what works and what doesn’t. A quick glance at the artists she represents at her SoHo gallery Sous Les Etoiles (“under the stars”) reveals a peripatetic group of mid-career and emerging artists: Barry Underwood travels around the national parks of North America, injecting glowing light forms into the near-sublime landscape; Ronan Guillou walks the streets of big cities from Asia to South America, recording the meaningful, yet mundane urban life he passes; and David Zimmerman, who divides his time between Northern India and Taos, New Mexico, makes work that can range from black-and-white desert vistas to detailed portraits of Tibetan refugees. Aside from a preoccupation with formal beauty, the main thing they have in common is Tapia herself, and her deep-seated belief that the best experience to be had with great photographs is an unmediated one. “I ask myself ‘what is the through line? What is coming across the camera to be shared between the photographic subject and the photographer?’ Every Monday, after an opening, I ask the photographer to do a talk. I say little, because the photographer and the audience should have a direct encounter. I want to get out of the way.”

Tapia radiates an emotional intensity that belies her diminutive frame. Raised in Paris by immigrant parents from North Africa, she was schooled in law, though she never practiced, spending four years at the Faculté de Droit de Sceaux; she later took her MBA in information management at the University of Marne-la-Vallée. A voracious reader and something of a polymath in cultural history and sociology, Tapia earned her living as a freelance writer in the financial industry for about two decades, writing for magazines and newspapers and pursuing fine art as a passion, but not a profession. In her 20s, she collected art from flea markets and artists’ studios, a practice she continued after she was married and had three children. When her husband, a commercial photographer, received a visa to come to America, she packed up their family and moved to New York in the summer of 2001, setting up a business at 560 Broadway called Sous Les Etoiles, specializing in photo retouching. The space included a hallway that was lying empty. Pat Kurs, who had been a fashion stylist for Helmut Newton and Bert Stern, was looking for a place to show her SX70 Polaroids of dolls, and a friend suggested she contact Tapia. “That was in 2007,” says Tapia, “and the response was incredible. After a while, the ball got rolling, and we decided to have a consistent program.” Tapia soon found herself doing fairs and portfolio reviews at the likes of FotoFest and Photolucida. By 2008 the emphasis was completely on the gallery, which she moved in 2013 to a space on the sixth floor, with 2,000 square feet and a storage area about the size of that original corridor. On the day I visited, intimate family photographs that had been hand-sewn by Carolle Bénitah graced the walls. “Some people have asked me if there is something violent behind these pieces,” Tapia says. “Far from it. I am interested in non-linear harmonies, in the courage behind a work. There are threads of emotional logic that go beyond the literal.”