Good friends are often brought together by a shared past, but what’s cemented a lasting friendship between Michi Jigarjian and Libby Pratt is their shared vision for photography’s future. The duo runs Baxter Street at the Camera Club of New York, Pratt as director, and Jigarjian as president of the board, and the two work inseparably. The mission of the esteemed nonprofit, founded in 1884, has always been to serve the needs of photographers, and Jigarjian and Pratt have made it their goal to honor that mission, even as they shepherd it into the 21st century. “Lens-based artists may be working with photography,” says Pratt, “but they don’t want to be restricted to just hanging pictures on the wall. We see ourselves as the kind of non-commercial space that can bridge important gaps in their careers. We can get funds from the Jerome Foundation to help produce the work, for instance, or give them access to our advisory committee.” Explains Jigarjian, “We met when we were in grad school at ICP-Bard, and we really took the advice of our professor, Nayland Blake, to heart. He stressed the importance of conversation and community. He always told us that we needed to go out and find the right kind of community for our work, and if that community didn’t already exist, we would need to create it ourselves.”
Pratt grew up on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State in a small farming town of 4,000. She spent a lot of time outdoors, hiking and camping. “Lots of my personal artwork has to do with memory and family,” she says, “but back then, I had no idea I’d become a photographer.” Pratt went to Vassar College, where she was formally exposed to the medium, and got her BA in 2000. After a year of post-graduate study in France, she kicked around in a number of jobs (including helping her father, a carpenter, build homes). She eventually moved to New York City and enrolled at ICP Bard, which, she says, “finally felt like home.”
Jigarjian grew up in Delran, NJ, a suburb near Philadelphia, where her grandfather, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, took her regularly to the opera, the symphony, faculty gatherings, and museums. She went to Lehigh University on a Division 1 soccer scholarship, majored in studio art, and like Pratt, came to New York City after graduation. After working as a photo re-toucher and a cocktail waitress, she did a ten-year stint in Disney’s marketing division before realizing that grad school was the next step. “One of the things that I really admire about Michi is that she has an ability to see things globally and is very driven,” says Pratt. “She makes us reach higher.”
While still in grad school they formed a collective of two, The New Draft Collective, to promote their artistic projects, and a publishing imprint called Secretary Press. In 2012 Jigarjian was asked by photographer Allen Frame to join the CCNY board, and in 2013, she became president. Pratt was hired as director in 2014. Together, they’ve found innovative ways of meeting the needs of their artist residents, like partnering with their alma mater, ICP, to provide state-of-the-art printing facilities and expanding to an additional space two doors down where they partnered with East One Coffee Roasters. There, visitors can enjoy a full-service coffee bar while they take in the shows.