It’s a publishing house! It’s a talent agency! It’s a hip-hop cultural showcase-cum bookstore! Put more simply, it’s powerHouse Cultural Entertainment, an already ambitious company whose founder, Daniel Power, has bigger ambitions still. Power went into business on April 5, 1995, as a fine art book publisher in his East Village apartment. This fall, he is expanding to a 10,200-square-foot space in DUMBO, Brooklyn, just paces from the East River. Longtime Brooklynites know the site: it’s the former home of legendary avant-garde theater company, GAle GAtes et al. Power, 44, admittedly, didn’t—but he evidently intuited its theatrical vibe. Not only does he refer to the site as his company’s new “arena,” he’s building stadium seating for 80 inside it to boot.
Power is someone to watch in the photography world, precisely for the ways that he doesn’t fit into its preconceived roles. Born in Washington, D.C., Power was raised in Iowa and graduated from the University of Iowa in 1985. With a degree in history, “and no particular ambitions,” he followed a girlfriend to Chicago in 1986, taking a job at the legendary Stuart Brent Books, now closed. He quickly worked his way up to a job as general manager, and in 1988 moved to New York City, accepting a post as sales director at the independent booksellers George Braziller. That job lasted only four months, but soon thereafter came a series of jobs that—enriched by good timing and even better contacts—showed Power the path to building a money-making career around image-driven books. These jobs included sales manager at Aperture, sales and marketing for Parkett, sales for Archer Fields Press, and circulation director at Artforum—all in the course of two years. Power was getting a sense of how to keep a high-end book alive in a market in which unsold books gathered dust in warehouses. “Sharon [Gallagher, of Archer Fields] and I would go to galleries like Robert Miller and Kent,” says Power, “and take their excess copies of exhibition catalogues—money was flush in the ’80s. Then we took over distributing those copies to bookstores. Barnes & Noble was in the beginning stages of rolling out the new Super Store concept. They needed product, and we had something that no one else was doing—contemporary art.” Business was good, and both Archer Fields and Parkett agreed to form a consortium with Power. In the fall of 1990, D.A.P. (Distributed Art Publishers) was born.
Power stayed with D.A.P. for four years before incorporating his own business, which at the time primarily focused (as it mainly does today) on publishing. “It was a steep learning curve,” says Power. “I was familiar with sales and marketing after a book is made. Now I had to teach myself to think visually, to edit, proofread, design.” That said, by 2000 Power had a staff of three. And by 2003 he had a staff of eleven, including a publicist, designer, and sales director.
powerHouse’s books have embraced street culture, popular culture, fashion, and fine arts (Sole Provider: 30 Years of Nike Basketball, for example, and In Prison Air: The Cells of Holmesburg Prison by Thomas Roma). He’s designed events—featuring everyone from hip-hop photographers to John Szarkowski—to help generate buzz. But ultimately there is Power himself, and his belief that lush, genre-crossing photography-based books have undying market appeal. Just ask him about Veronique Vial’s 1998 Women Before 10 A.M.“If you want to see Angelina Jolie when she smoked in bed or swore like a sailor,” says Power, “this is the book for you.”