by Sarah Schmerler
“Risk” isn’t a word that Crista Dix uses much – though many would say she’s taken a few. The West Coast dealer (who maintains two galleries, one in Santa Barbara, the other in Seattle) has bet her career on representing contemporary photographic artists – particularly those whose imagery is both psychologically confrontational and under known. These include Indian-born Priya Kambli, who layers intricate patterns of rice grains over personal photographs of her Hindi family; and Charles Grogg, who once stitched the photographic image of a broken egg shell together by hand, as if to fix in image what can’t ever be mended in real life. “If people believe in their craft, is it risky?” opines Dix. “I never think of it as risk. I believe in these artists and what they do. I love when an image makes you uneasy; when it makes you think, every day, every time you walk by it. And if it makes us learn something about it, or ourselves, or others – that’s great.”
Dix, 51, a self-described “introvert who loves to talk to people” was born in Torrance, California, and raised in Newport Beach. Her dad was a rocket scientist who regularly worked the Apollo launches, and her mom was a mystery writer obsessed with disasters, natural and otherwise. “To this day, if I can find a problem I will run towards it,” says Dix. Childhood was spent with a love of the great outdoors, current events, and not least of all, regional theater, which Dix starred in from the age of nine – an interest that would follow through much of her adult life. She started at UCLA intending to major in theater, but soon transferred schools and disciplines: she moved to San Francisco State and became a geology major. After graduation, she worked as a ranger for the Parks Service, a job that provided her with her first encounter with a Minolta X-700. Dix became an avid, and accomplished, fine-art documentary photographer.
Budget cuts in the Parks Department in 1996, forced her to decamp for Seattle, where she eventually landed at the city’s photo mega-store Glazer’s, and quickly had a photographic epiphany. “The first day that I worked at the camera store, I was meeting people I had only seen in books,” she says. “That’s when I realized that I was no Carleton Watkins, that everything I had done to that point was directing me to open a gallery.” Over the next six years Dix traveled to photography galleries and museums across the country on her salesperson salary, formulating a business model. In 2005, she opened wall space gallery in Seattle. She built up a stable of living artists from around the country, as well as two thriving online presences – one called simply “Online” featuring thematically cohesive virtual solo shows by artists not currently hanging in the gallery; the other called “Collectible” offering works at or below $500. “In 2009 I knew, with the Internet, that we didn’t have to be tethered to any one location, so I opened up in Santa Barbara. Once I could navigate two spaces, I figured I’d take a breath, but of course I never take a breath. My friends call me the ‘moving target.’ Once I achieve a goal, I just move the goalpost.”