Helen Gee 1919–2004


When Helen Gee, who died October 10 after a long illness, opened the Limelight on Seventh Avenue South and Barrow Street in 1954, she didn’t just establish New York’s first important post-war photography gallery, she helped shape a scene. Though the gallery was short-lived (it closed in 1961), Gee continued to champion and chide the photographers, collectors, curators, and critics who’d gathered there, many of whom had never experienced such tough love. Limelight, Gee’s entertaining 1997 memoir of her life at the gallery, put the contemporary market boom in shrewd perspective. At a time when she was lucky to get $25 for a Robert Frank, a Bill Brandt, a Lisette Model, or an Edward Weston, Gee showed (and, when she was lucky, sold) these and virtually every other great photographer of her time, as well as choice vintage work. Since she’d established the gallery within a coffee shop, her espresso customers not only kept the business afloat, they turned the Limelight into what Gee called “the downtown Sardi’s,” a hangout for actors and artists. Gee was only too happy to play host to the burgeoning Off-Broadway scene (the Voice‘s first Obie Awards ceremony was held at her café), but her heart was with the photographers, and it remained there until the end.