Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood is synonymous with a hip, cinematic vibe. Robert De Niro lives and works there and co-founded the Tribeca Film Festival. The streets are atmospheric, lined with cast-iron buildings. “And the lighting,” as Sasha Wolf will tell you, “is a filmmaker’s dream. I can’t tell you how often I walk down a street and stop, and start gazing, going off into imagination land.” Wolf, herself a former filmmaker, has, among other things, worked as an assistant to director Barbet Schroeder. In 1997 she even had her own short film screened in competition at Cannes. These days, however, the 44-year-old native New Yorker deals contemporary photography by emerging and newly established artists (Guido Castagnoli, Alan Chin) out of an airy, glass-walled storefront at 10 Leonard Street. Five years ago, she decided to become a photography dealer, and she never looked back. “People ask me if I miss making films,” she says. “Well, for one thing, I am way too busy to miss making films. Also, when I’m putting bodies of work together and making shows, it feels very similar. Since I was a little kid, once something really makes sense to me, I’m ready to embrace the next chapter and change.”
Wolf’s makeup is a mixture of can-do philosophy and intellectual curiosity—peppered with a lifelong fascination with images, both moving and still. Her childhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, if not idyllic, was never aesthetically dull. Her education-professor mother and TV-commercial-producer father enrolled her in schools where progressive attitudes were the norm, like the Little Red School House and the Bank Street School for Children. Wolf describes herself as a popular, if disaffected kid, who struggled with learning disabilities. Yet she always loved working with her hands. When she was 15, her dad taught her to use a camera, and by 16 she was never without one. Working hour after hour in the darkroom got her through the dark days of high school. And later, in college at SUNY Purchase, filmmaking became her passion.
A constant flurry of jobs in her 20s, post-graduation, kept her creative life afloat—some in the industry (like production assistant work on National Enquirer commercials), some not (bartending at the Beacon Theater, renovating apartments, sanding floors). Getting Joe, that 10-minute narrative film, to Cannes, was no small feat. Heartened, she worked hard to shoot a feature. However, the film industry, dependent as it is on the vicissitudes of raising cash, often has its own timetable. “Could I have stuck it out? Possibly,” says Wolf, “but I just decided that my life wasn’t meant to be spent waiting to do something. I do things. I don’t wait to do things. One day it just became clear.”
The year was 2003, and Wolf decided to return to her childhood love of photography. She made a study of galleries, of how they do business, learning everything from how to prepare an invoice to how to pack a photograph—and she wasn’t above returning to sanding an odd floor or two to keep things afloat. She called on friends like photographer Peter Kayafas (now in her gallery’s “post-documentary” stable) for advice, and on former film industry contacts in L.A. as clients. Last year, she opened the space on Leonard Street and built it into a successful gallery. “I’m a firm believer in ‘if you build it they will come.’ In the power of saying ‘this is what I’m doing now,’ and then backing it up with really hard work. You have to love it. You have to follow your passions and not be afraid to fail. These are clichés for a reason, after all.”