CGN Interview Series: Dan Tamarkin, The Rangefinder Gallery at Tamarkin Camera
Each week CGN interviews a local art dealer to discuss the ins and outs of running a gallery in the city of Chicago. This week we caught up with Dan Tamarkin, owner of The Rangefinder Gallery at Tamarkin Camera.
Current Position: Owner and Lead Curator, The Rangefinder Gallery at Tamarkin Camera
Hometown: New Haven, Connecticut
Previous Occupations: Writer, Teacher, Theatrical Lighting Designer & Fabricator, Raconteur
5 favorites from the past week:
Restaurant: Club Lago!
Shop: Dovetail on Chicago Avenue – I love midcentury Modern and Deco, and owner Julie Ghatan curates a fabulous offering.
Read: “Slightly Out of Focus” by Robert Capa, the renown war photographer and photojournalist
Neighborhood: Avondale – I’m just starting to explore my new neighborhood.
Music: I’ve been listening to a lot of Leon Russell lately, Lowell George, and Bonnie Raitt. One co-worker calls these “The Grandpa Sessions” whenever I’m DJ du Jour, which I find hilarious.
CGN: Tell us about your background and the beginning of Tamarkin Camera and Rangefinder Gallery?
DT: My father founded Tamarkin Camera in 1971 in the house I grew up in, and when he retired in 2010 I took over the family business and brought it here to Chicago is 2012. That same year we opened the Rangefinder Gallery, as a showcase for images from the iconic Leica camera. In the 1980s, Tamarkin Camera created the trend of the “Leica Gallery,” which is emulated by Leica Stores around the world today, so it seemed only natural that our new Chicago home would be here in River North.
I was trained as a theatrical lighting designer and writer (the latter here in Chicago at UIC “Circle” Campus). I tended bar, waited tables, built theater sets and designed lighting in Chicago theater for years, and eventually worked as a teaching artist and a technical writer before taking over the family business in 2010. A photographer since 1981, I have been interested in light and shadow my whole life, and theater and photography fit perfectly. I’m a very fortunate person to be doing what I love and to love what I do – the convergence of my love of the historic Leica brand, of photography and the arts in general, of Chicago architecture, and of collecting things can all be experienced in our little showroom and gallery.
CGN: Give us a day in the life!
DT: A day in the life of Danny T is not all that fun or exciting! Like many of us, it’s a lot of time spent emailing, phone calls with clients and steering the ship. The fun and interesting part is meeting and talking to the people who visit the gallery and showroom, and sharing my knowledge of Leica and photography with collectors, shooters, and anyone else who wanders in. And, of course, the cameras! I spend a lot of time looking at images for the gallery, appraising cameras, and trying to find the collectibles squirreled away in closets and old camera bags. And if the day is a First Friday when we have our monthly reception in the gallery, I can show off these things we love – the images and the cameras that make them. That’s one of my favorite parts of what I do.
CGN: How do you sum up the gallery's program in one sentence?
DT: The Rangefinder Gallery is Chicago’s gallery and hub for both emerging and established photographers to discover new work, display and share their own work, and to spark conversations and connections around photography and the arts.
CGN: Most exciting sale you ever had?
DT: The most exciting sale I ever made was actually not a sale itself, but acquiring a group of images from pre- and post-Revolution Cuba made by Roberto Salas, a friend and fellow Leica photographer as well as a marvelous storyteller. Hearing his stories was a real thrill for me, and for gallery goers at the opening and the Artist Talk. Bringing an artist – and his work – from Cuba is no easy task in this political climate, but the outcome was both exciting and full of hope. Roberto’s memories of adventures with Fidel Castro and “Che” Guevara are enlightening, dramatically poignant and also at times funny and deeply moving, and are rarely heard here in the Unites States. Showcasing and offering images – both the stories and the storytellers – that have both historic and artistic importance is a thrill beyond the ordinary for us.
CGN: Share some successes as well as challenges this year.
DT: In the past year, we’ve seen an increase in visitors to the showroom and gallery, which is a huge success regardless of any sales. We’ve also seen increasingly exciting photography, very high-caliber work. Another success is in connections within the community – we’re finding there’s a genuine, strong and growing interest in photography within our community. More connections are being made more often here in the gallery and at our events. It feels really good to watch this happen.
One challenge I think all galleries share is bringing visitors in the door, whether or not they are actually shopping. We have galleries and encyclopedias in our pockets now and we are constantly plugged in, which for many people becomes a substitute for the experience of physically visiting a gallery or a library. Another challenge is like many other small business owners face: how to reach interested and potential customers, and how to retain them.
CGN: What do you want to tell a young person considering this business?
DT: What I’d tell anyone who is trying to do anything: in the words of Lenny Bruce, “Remember: anybody who ever did it, never did it before.” You just gotta jump. That and carpe diem, I suppose.
CGN: Thumbs up or down on art fairs?
DT: Tough question. Thumbs Up for anything that gives exposure to more artists, and that gives more consumers access to art. It’s kind of hard to find fault with the idea. However, as a gallery owner, it is likewise difficult for me to relish the idea of an art fair; I believe that in practice, art fairs mean that fewer of the artists and their consumers come to value the gallery and its experience. However, like in any field, we must at least acknowledge the trends and desires in our marketplace and we exclude them at our peril; like technology, it is not intrinsically good or bad – it is how we use it that matters.
Favorite cultural pursuit outside of the art world?
DT: People and travel. I really enjoy meeting and talking to people wherever I go. These have been some of my most rewarding and interesting experiences, and mesh quite well to photography, which is my main artistic outlet.
CGN: What should we expect to see from Rangefinder Gallery at Tamarkin Camera in 2018?
DT: More great images and First Friday receptions! We’re excited to have more color photographs this year than we usually exhibit, from artists both local and international. We are also excited about all of our events this spring and summer; we’re engaging in a wider variety of speakers and photographers for our free Artist Talks and for Spring and Summer Photo Walks, which have become increasingly popular. We want to bring more people out of hibernation, and to get together to experience photography from all points of view along the artistic process.
Dan Tamarkin is the owner of Rangefinder Gallery and Tamarkin Camera in River North, Chicago. For more information about the gallery please visit: Rangefinder Gallery