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In Profile

by Sarah Schmerler

Is there a big conceptual gap between 19th- and 21st-century photographic material? Not when you hold degrees in archaeology, Near Eastern, and museum studies and have a second sense for contextualizing the seemingly esoteric. Esa Epstein fits that bill. Before opening sepiaEYE in Chelsea last year, her gallery specializing in contemporary photography from the South- and Near East, she had spent some 14 years running SEPIA International, the modern- and contemporary-photography concern of noted collector Ebrahim Alkazi. She also managed his significant holdings in 19th-century Indian photography, which she helped shepherd from a collection of 30,000 to 90,000.

Cataloguing, archiving, acquiring, and preserving the past all come naturally to the scholarship-minded Epstein, but so does a love of the contemporary. “I’ve worked in museums and with historical material, but we have to think about how this work can come alive and be relevant for a present audience. It’s living stuff, photographs,” she says. “They teach us about the world we are looking at, no matter the artist’s date of birth, or what country they are from.”

Dark haired, with fair skin and a ready smile, Epstein radiates a mixture of enthusiasm and patience. Her father, a judge, and her mother, a dietician, brought her up in Seattle’s Mercer Island, and she majored in history and archeological studies at the University of Washington. Upon graduation, she went to work at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle’s Chinatown.

In 1993 Epstein came to New York to get her masters in Near Eastern studies and museology from NYU. Alkazi was setting up a nonprofit on Fifth Avenue called the Center for International Contemporary Art. Epstein met him while in grad school and began what would become a 20-year working relationship, first as research assistant at the center, and later, its director. When CICA closed its doors in 1995, Epstein briefly worked as director of development for Aperture before Alkazi presented her with a dream project: his new 19th-century photographic collection, which would have locations in New York, London, and New Delhi. He opened a research center, the Alkazi Collection, in Chelsea in 1998, along with a commercial concern called SEPIA International. Five years ago, Alkazi closed the New York and London branches, but Epstein carried over the stable of artists she had built into a new commercial gallery, sepiaEYE. 

 She has broadened her already strong base of Asian artists (like Sookang Kim, who uses a 12-layer gum bichromate process to give her personal objects – a garter belt, a handkerchief – a timeless quality) to include non-Asian artists like Italian-born Beatrice Pediconi, who makes abstract imagery by dropping one colored liquid or material into water and seeing what sorts of convergences occur. Epstein keeps a palm-sized catalogue from Pediconi’s solo show at Rome’s Collezione Maramotti wrapped in tissue paper, tied with a piece of jute. Fanning out the reproductions, one can see the progression of the liquid imagery from individual droplets to cosmos-like constellations. “You can spend a lot of time with these small things,” Epstein says, smiling.



March - April 2015
Esa Epstein

January - February 2015
Joseph Bellows


November - December 2014
Miyako Yoshinaga

September - October 2014
Terry Etherton

July - August 2014
Corinne Tapia

May - June 2014
Laurence Miller

March - April 2014
Rachel Smith

January - February 2014
Peter Fetterman


November - December 2013
Margy Dudley

September - October 2013
Howard Greenberg

July - August 2013
Keith de Lellis

May - June 2013
Paul Kopeikin

March - April 2013
L. Parker Stephenson

January - February 2013
Scott Nichols


November - December 2012
Martin Weinstein

September - October 2012
Steven Kasher

July - August 2012
Joseph Carroll

May - June 2012
Robert Anderson

March - April 2012
Andrea Meislin

January - February 2012
Etheleen Staley and Takouhy (“Taki”) Wise


November - December 2011
Bryce Wolkowitz

September - October 2011
Julie Saul

July - August 2011
Mary Virginia Swanson

May - June 2011
Gus Kayafas

March - April 2011
Peter MacGill

January - February 2011
David Moore


November - December 2010
Bonni Benrubi

September - October 2010
Rick Wester

July - August 2010
Jay and Rose Deutsch

May - June 2010
Robert Mann

March - April 2010
Catherine Edelman

January - February 2010
Pamela Schoenberg


January - February 2009
Karen Jenkins-Johnson

March - April 2009
Deborah Bell

May - June 2009
Jeffrey Fraenkel

July - August 2009
Mark Pinsukanjana, Bryan Yedinak

September - October 2009
Yancey Richardson

November - December 2009
Hans P. Kraus, Jr.


March - April 2008
Nailya Alexander

May - June 2008
Stephen Bulger

July - August 2008
Sidney Monroe

September - October 2008
Amy Miller

November - December 2008
Sasha Wolf


November - December 2007
Bruce Silverstein

September - October 2007
Candace Dwan

July - August 2007
Ariel Shanberg

March - April 2007
Ellen Harris

January - February 2007
Paul Amador


January - February 2006
Martin McNamara

March - April 2006
Michael Foley

May - June 2006
Dan Cooney

July - August 2006
Wilson Scanlan

September - October 2006
Daniel Power

November - December 2006
Sharon Tanenbaum


January - February 2005
Tom Gitterman

March - April 2005
Yossi Milo

May - June 2005
Arlette Kayafas

September - October 2005
Brian Clamp

November - December 2005
Sarah Hasted


September - October 2004
Ariel Meyerowitz

November - December 2004
Anna Walker Skillman