If there’s a job in the field of photography, chances are Darius Himes has held it. Image maker, book publisher, author, lecturer, dealer, auction house expert – you name it, Himes has done it, crisscrossing the country from Iowa to Santa Fe to San Francisco and now New York City, where he is the international head of the photographs department at Christie’s. “I truly feel that the arts have a major role to play in society,” he said over coffee near Christie’s Rockefeller Center headquarters. “Photography is the particular art that I love, and the thread that I have followed is to contribute to the goal of advancing the medium.”
Himes joined Christie’s at the end of 2014, and shortly thereafter negotiated a consignment of photographs from an unusual client – the United States government. The owner of a biodiesel fuel company was convicted of fraud, and his assets, which included an extensive photography collection, had been seized. Not your run-of-the-mill consignment, and it kept Himes and his staff busy preparing for the sale of the work in February, after which they turned their attention to the regularly scheduled April sale.
Himes grew up in small-town Iowa, and although he had little exposure to photography (aside from a subscription to National Geographic magazine), he knew early on that he wanted to be involved in the medium. He was drawn to the Southwest, with its strong history of photography education, and went to Arizona State University “sight unseen,” he says, to get his BFA, studying under William Jenkins and Bill Jay. After graduation, he set off for Haifa, Israel, where he managed a darkroom connected to a collection of historical photographs dating to the 1870s. A longtime book lover, he was drawn back to the States by the “Great Books” curriculum at St. John’s College in Santa Fe.
While at St. John’s, he began working for Rixon Reed at photo-eye Books, eventually transforming the mail-order catalogue into a quarterly journal about photography books, the photo-eye Booklist. When he decided he wanted to publish photobooks himself, he and three colleagues founded Radius Books, the nonprofit boutique art book publisher, in 2007. There he stayed, until he was lured to San Francisco by the Fraenkel Gallery. “I gravitated to Jeffrey and Frish [Brandt’s] high standards,” Himes says. “I have always been impressed with their exhibition and publishing program and their scholarly and professional approach. They do everything with a sense of beauty at the gallery.”
Himes brought that same approach to Christie’s, along with a desire to educate and welcome younger audiences and new collectors. One way to do that, he says, is to “open up the online platform.” To that end, Christie’s has launched two mid-season, online sales: The Classics, as the name suggests, includes work with a steady market; and First Exposure offers “fresh contemporary work” at an attainable price point. Himes sees his job as cultivating the next generation of artists and collectors: “The arts have always required patrons,” he says, “and it’s exciting to discover new work, so I invite collectors to see themselves as part of a long tradition of committed patrons.”