Dashwood Books: A Curated Bookstore

Dashwood Books: A Curated Bookstore Story and interview by Greg Pond (A version of this originally appeared in Room 100 magazine)

Dashwood Books is the city's only "curated" visual bookstore. Within this teensy, crammed shop, located on Bond Street, owner David Strettell is unassumingly promoting the work of some of the most radical photographers and visual artists of our time. Carine Roitfeld, the avant-garde former editrix of French Vogue, is a regular, combing the shelves for her next projects, as are many of the city's A-list gallerists and fashion designers, all seeking to snatch up the next big names in art photography.

Strettell knows his imagery, not to mention his fashion (his wife is Anne Christensen, Glamour magazine's executive fashion director). He spent a dozen years working for Magnum Photos, where as cultural director he produced books and exhibits and worked with photographers from around the world. Strettell is building something here: an oeuvre, a post-modern Warhol Factory for visual artists, with the feeling of a hands-on art gallery. Flipping through the thousands of books...oh, the sights you will see. We caught up with Strettell recently and chatted with him about books, photography, and more.

(Photograph of David Strettel by Jesper Haynes)

  • Covers from Dashwood Book Series Limited Edition 2, which is a collection of seven books published as a boxed set. Amateurs & Lovers, by Nicolay Bakharev
    Covers from Dashwood Book Series Limited Edition 2, which is a collection of seven books published as a boxed set.

Amateurs & Lovers, by Nicolay Bakharev
  • Family, by Motoyuki Daifu
    Family, by Motoyuki Daifu
  • Byways and Through Lines, by Pierre Le Hors
    Byways and Through Lines, by Pierre Le Hors
  • Object, by Robert Mapplethorpe
    Object, by Robert Mapplethorpe
  • Pul Ke Niche, by Nick Sethi
    Pul Ke Niche, by Nick Sethi
  • Teenage Precinct Shoppers, by Nigel Shafran
    Teenage Precinct Shoppers, by Nigel Shafran
  • Damaged Negatives, by Glen Luchford
    Damaged Negatives, by Glen Luchford

Why have photography books become so cool?
It reflects the sustained interest in photography itself, and that a broader range of photographers are using books to experiment with the medium, rather than just produce catalogs of exhibitions. Paul Graham's A Shimmer of Possibility was released in 2007 to great acclaim from the art world as a series of 12 brightly colored case-bound books. Photographers like Lee Friedlander and Robert Adams organized major retrospectives in terms of their many book projects.

How did you come up with the idea for Dashwood?
After 12 years at Magnum I felt it was time to move on. I took some time off in 2004, and while traveling in Japan, came across a small bookstore in the basement of the Watari Museum, in Aoyama. It had an extraordinary collection of beautifully designed contemporary Japanese books, and it occurred to me that a carefully curated selection of books from publishers from Japan, as well as Europe and America, would find its niche in New York. I've spent pretty much my entire working life in photography, working in fashion, photojournalism, documentary and fine art. Books were a common denominator.

People describe you as more of a curator than a bookseller.
I'm primarily an enthusiast and thoroughly enjoy turning people on to the beauty that can be found in these books. I run the bookstore in a very old-fashioned way. My staff and I have personal relationships with most of the people who walk through the door. Hopefully, I can inspire them by introducing them to classic titles and little-known gems, as well as the best in contemporary titles. There are more and more books produced on photography each year, and my main job is in weeding out the strongest ones--it can be like panning for gold, but it means the collection I have built has integrity. My aim with the store was to build a community for artists, designers, people in fashion, film and advertising to develop a lasting relationship with photography and books--it's not easy to get that from the internet!

One of the things I love about Dashwood is that there's no cafe, no cash register baubles, no tchotchkes, no frills. Just books with integrity--and you don't really sell mainstream photo books.
I wouldn't use the word "mainstream." After all, I'm a big fan of Bruce Weber, who is responsible for some of the most influential fashion ad campaigns of the past three decades. Dashwood is one of the few stores in the city to carry complete sets of his amazing self-published series, All American. But I also stock 'zines by lesser-known artists like the Dutch artist Erik Van der Weijde, who makes low-fi masterpieces in cheap print shops in Brazil; the grotesquely  beautiful work of Ukrainian photographer Boris Mikhailov, and the erotic work of the Japanese master Nobuyoshi Araki. You have to mix it up!

You recently started publishing your own books. How did that begin?
It seems like a natural progression. I knew something about the process from producing book projects while I worked for Magnum, and I knew a lot of designers and artists. My first published work, Ari Macopoulos' The Chance Is Higher, is still one of the titles I'm most proud of. As the store became better-known and my early publishing enterprises went well, I discovered that I was in a unique position to work with many of my favorite artists.

People today post their amateur pictures on Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook. Is this good for photography?
Personally, I love the obsessive nature of a purely visual tool like Instagram. Photography is so pervasive, so powerful in our culture. We spend our lives, not only surrounded by images, but now taking pictures and posting them. It's fascinating, really. It's the one art form that everybody is capable of performing flawlessly.

Dashwood Books is located at 33 Bond Street (between Lafayette and Bowery) in NYC.
Hours: Monday-Saturday: noon-8pm, Sunday: noon-7pm
(212) 387-8520

Additional Reading:
Bookstores for Gazers: A New York Times article on Dashwood and other art bookstores.

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  • Lainer

    Photography isn't hard to do. It's basic learning of light. Even Elliott Erwitt says this. It's a matter of tenacity that people are in business. Making money isn't art So the question about posting to Instagram, Tumblr or Facebook being good for photography is arrogant. Just because someone doesn't make money at photography, doesn't mean they aren't a good photographer. Christ, all you need to do is look at wedding albums from pro photographers to see that. Boring work, but they make money at it, so they can call themselves pros.Big deal. But their work is monotonous. Most professional photographers do boring jobs for clients. It isn't art. I'd rather see instagram photos from a kid flooding the market. At least it's a new perspective. And, just so you know, photography has always flooded every market even before the computer.

  • Inky

    "It's the one art form that everybody is capable of performing flawlessly." What the hell that does mean??

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