In Profile

Howard Greenberg

BY Sarah Schmerler, September 1, 2013

What does jazz great Duke Ellington have in common with vintage 20th-century and contemporary photography dealer Howard Greenberg? Many legendary soloists came up through the ranks of Ellington’s band, and likewise, a raft of important players in the photography field were employed, at one time or another, by Howard Greenberg Gallery: dealers Steven Kasher, L. Parker Stephenson, Tom Gitterman, Sarah Hasted, and Michael Foley; appraiser Sarah Morthland; and curators Joshua Chuang (Yale University Art Gallery) and Lisa Hostetler (Smithsonian American Art Museum). “A lot of people work for me who open their own galleries, and the best part of that is that most have remained friends,” says Greenberg (who recently won the George Eastman House’s Lifetime Achievement Award). “I depend on staff to keep me organized, and I give them a lot of responsibility and a chance to express their own voice. It’s important that the work place be family-like.”

Greenberg got almost no photographic exposure as a kid living in the projects in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. His dad was a salesman supplying local luncheonettes door to door, and his mother, who came to America from Poland on the Mauretania, took Greenberg and his sister on trips to local museums. Sheepshead Bay High School was followed by the University of Buffalo, where Greenberg got his BA in clinical psychology. In an effort to make himself a less-than-desirable candidate for the Vietnam War draft, Greenberg enlisted and served in the Reserves. Later, he made himself scarce on a trip to Europe. A serious car accident on a trip from Amsterdam to Pamplona, Spain, sent Greenberg home to the states. A girlfriend introduced him to the camera, and 1970 became, in effect, Year One for his career. “I didn’t have to think any more about what I was going to do,” he says. “If I was awake, I would be taking pictures; I would eat and sleep photography.” He took a class with Jerry Uelsmann; he moved to Woodstock, New York, more or less on a whim. He collected Photo Secessionists and the like from local yard sales—which even a photo correspondent for The Woodstock Times (Greenberg’s then job) could afford. The big catch came in 1977—a full set of Camera Notes, and the first 32 Issues of Camera Work. With that, he launched the non-profit Center for Photography at Woodstock, now in its 36th year. By 1981, Greenberg went commercial, opening up his own gallery (Photofind) around the corner from CPW in Woodstock, and later moving to Manhattan. There was Howard Greenberg/Photofind on Spring Street (1982-1986); Howard Greenberg Gallery on Wooster Street (1986-1991), along with a separate gallery called 292; and in 2003, a move to the Fuller Building where he remains today. Though his sensibility is encyclopedic, Greenberg’s calling card is a sense of connoisseurship for quality prints of great vintage work. “I see myself as a dinosaur, a traditionalist within my own field,” opines Greenberg from a back room with floor-to-ceiling shelves holding some 30,000 items of inventory. “This is who I am, this is what I’m about and I’m not making any bones about it. I think that’s why people like working here,” he says. “We call this place the candy store.”