November meeting - Arlette and Gus Kayafas

The November 29th monthly general meeting was a bit of a departure from our format. Rather than the usual digital projection, we were fortunate to have Arlette and Gus Kayafas from Gallery Kayafas bring out framed original prints from their personal collection and discuss them with us. As collectors, Arlette and Gus are second to none and have donated thousands of prints to several major museums. They also are current overseers of the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.

Gallery Kayafas opened in 2002 and is one of the premier art galleries in the Boston area. It was named Best of Boston by Boston Magazine in 2013 and 2015 and by Improper Bostonian in 2016. What makes Gallery Kayafas special is both that its prime focus is photography and that the work shown must be creations that Arlette and Gus feel strongly about and would own for themselves. The gallery is the result of their desire to share their large collection, which they have been accumulating for almost 50 years.

The main feature of the evening was a 'show and tell' of eleven of their favorite works from that collection. These pictures normally hang on the walls of their own home and it was a special event for them to make the trip to Bedford. Gus and Arlette were kind (and brave) enough to bring originals so we could immerse ourselves in the full experience of the works. They were all displayed on easels and at the end of the discussion we were able to examine the pieces up close.

Ten of the  photographs were black and whites by such luminaries as August Sander, Minor White, Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, Diane Arbus and Peter Kayafas, their son, whose work is in major collections and museums. The sole color image was Harold ‘Doc’ Edgerton’s iconic shot of a bullet cutting a playing card in half. You can see the complete list of what they brought at the bottom of this post. Each is worthy of your exploration online. Almost all these pieces were personally given by the artist to Arlette and Gus, usually in some form of trade. We got to hear the stories of how these works entered their collection.

All of the work was impactful, but for many the highlight was August Sander’s piece, My Wife in Joy and Sorrow. The image was taken in 1911 of his wife holding their twin children just after birth. The overwhelming aspect of the piece is that one of the babies was stillborn. The picture itself is emotionally wrenching but as challenging is the simple idea that Sander could conceive and execute the picture in such a moment.

While the clear highlight of the evening was the detailed discussion of each of the pieces, Arlette also covered several broader topics of interest to the group including how to start as collectors and how to approach galleries as artists.

Though they have one of the largest private collections of significant photographs, Arlette emphasized that each picture is a collection unto itself and that every one of us can and should be a collector. The goal should not be to have a “collection” but to have images that you enjoy looking at, that move you.

She gave some specific advice about how we can begin our collections:

  • Share amongst ourselves. As she pointed out, we are good photographers so if we like each others’ work, we should find a way to do some “horse trading”. 
  • Go to galleries. Every type of gallery we can think of. You never know what you’re going to find.
  • Go to auctions. While a lot of auctions have high priced items, many others feature up-and-coming new artists. In particular, charity auctions are a great place to start, with MassArt’s annual April auction being one example.
  • Go to Open Studios.

Of course, a lot of us are also very interested in having our own work shown in galleries and other venues. Arlette pointed out that probably the most important thing is to get known. The art world is hard to break into and you need to work at it to succeed. Perhaps not surprisingly, her advice on this topic wasn’t much different from that about collecting: go to galleries to see what’s out there and meet people, submit work to shows and auctions, etc. 

She did, though, have some specific suggestions:

  • Don’t walk in cold to a gallery and try to show work to the owner. Develop relationships.
  • Subscribe to Photograph Magazine ( as a resource for finding galleries and what’s going on.
  • Get to know people at local venues that welcome new artists, such as the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester and the Photographic Resource Center (PRC) at BU.
  • When you do have a chance to show your work to gallery owners or critiquers, be prepared. The person will want to know who you are and what you’re trying to say. You should do this in 10-15 images that can stand alone but that also work together to tell your story.

We are truly grateful to both Arlette and Gus for coming out to the “burbs”. It was a full evening of experience and information and was very well received. We had over 50 attendees, one of our larger meetings ever. If you enjoyed this type of presentation, please let us know and we’ll plan for more like this in the future.

Works Displayed

Diane Arbus - Albino Sword Swallower (1970)
Harry Callahan - Three Trees Rome (1963), Eleanor in the Water (1949)
Harold E. Edgerton - Cutting the Card Quickly (1964)
Peter Kayafas - North Dakota (2010), Totems Series
Nicholas Nixon - Watermelon Girl (1992), Perkins School for the Blind Series
August Sander - My Wife in Joy and Sorrow (1911), Pastry Cook (1928)
Aaron Siskind - Jerome, Arizona (1949), Durango, Mexico (ca 1953)
Minor White - Hands and Bowl (1969)

Blog photographs by Joe Gallagher and Charles Mazel