Katonah, New York, a small hamlet in northern Westchester, may not sound like the ideal place to open a photography business, but in 1996 Candace Dwan, who has lived there for 21 years, felt otherwise. She opened a gallery (then called Candace Perich Gallery) in a small storefront outside the train station, and with vision, dedication, and more than a little patience, made it work. “Another gallery owner said, ‘it’s going to take ten years to educate your public,’ and I went ‘No way,’ but yes, that’s what it was. That’s when I noticed a difference.”
A year and a half ago, Dwan opened a second gallery, on 57th Street in Manhattan, seemingly a world away from Katonah. Still, in important ways, this new venture is similar in spirit. For one thing, the intimate, one-room space (which she shares, in alternating shows, with photography dealer Nailya Alexander) isn’t much larger than the one she has in Katonah. For another, her mother, legendary dealer Virginia Dwan, had a gallery for many years across the street, at 29 West 57th Street, when Dwan was a teenager. Dwan Senior represented artists like Sol LeWitt, Robert Smithson, Carl Andre, and numerous other Minimalist and earth art luminaries early in their careers. Dwan fils takes a different road, aesthetically speaking, favoring elegantly printed black-and-white works by classically trained lensmen. Hers is an international group (among them, Pentti Sammallahti and Kristoffer Albrecht from Finland, and Edouard Boubat from France), most of whom have established careers. But Dwan has an eye for debuts, too. Sammallahti as well as Wisconsin photographer Gregory Conniff both had their first shows in New York at her gallery.
Dwan, a handsome woman of 50-something, exudes a sense of calm and self-possession. Don’t look for a linear progression in her career as a contemporary photography dealer; it’s more a mix of loves (nature, travel, working with artists) and instincts—all of them converging in the nature-infused, contemplative, and often romantic photographic imagery she shows. She was born and raised in California, in a house in Malibu, “combing the beach, bringing home every animal and shell I could find,” she recalls. When her family moved east, she dreamt of becoming a National Geographic-type photographer, coalescing her interest in animals and exotic places into a career behind the lens. Instead, she got a degree in biology from Columbia University, spent a year studying fashion design in Paris, got a gig at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute working for both Diana Vreeland and Jackie O, and traveled extensively (she still does), taking photographs along the way. When the time came to raise a family (she has two sons), Dwan’s need for wide-open spaces beckoned, and she moved to Katonah—and oddly enough, closer to the perfect career. “There came a point in my life, where I had a bag with 35 rolls of film from a trip to Indonesia to be developed at a local place,” says Dwan, “and I spotted a storefront that would make a great gallery. A light went on in my head. I had literally never thought of it until that moment. It was kind of a thunderbolt. Everything fell into place.” Time doesn’t stand still, however, and ten years later, Dwan was on the verge of a new frontier. “It became clear that there were artists I showed that deserved a broader audience,” says Dwan on her expansion to midtown. “In Katonah, my audience is very friendly, very intimate. But everyone in the photography world comes to New York. Now I have the best of both worlds.”