- Location: online only
- Specialty: photography
- Price range: $$-$$$
- Website: thearchivast.com
- Founded: 2014
- Founded by: John Chaisson and Stephen Bridges
- Headquarters: New York
According to my friend Pomme, the litmus test on whether a guy is boyfriend material or just a one night stand kind of guy depends on his choice of art. "Basically, if he's got the James Dean poster or the Marlon Brando shot, his expiration date is the morning." While I try not to judge quite so harshly, she does have a point: if your walls are still sporting those particular iconic black and whites (Audrey Hepburn from IKEA also fits in here), it's time for an upgrade. While the Library of Congress archives are one source for awe-inspiring photographs, you can make it easy on yourself and head straight for Archivast.
More than just beautiful images, the point here, according to co-founders John Chassion and Stephen Bridges, is to spark a conversation. Curated by some notable names in fashion, art and design — John Derian kicks it off — their prints are available in a variety of sizes, both framed and unframed.
Inspiration for opening?
John: We are inspired by our perspective that the world needs more art. Part gallerists, part Indiana Jones, we dig through photos, negatives and digital files to find and rescue the very few photos that are truly art — which we exhibit online and in pop-ups so you have the opportunity to access and purchase great art. The world's archives have rich historical and contemporary photo collections, yet there are stunning images in these collections that never see the light of day, and a great many are being discarded. Over the years many newspapers threw away their glass negatives from the 1800s, perhaps some of the most beautiful and artistic in their archives. Stemming this loss motivates us — as our society becomes more and more digitized, Archivast will become a platform for discovering, saving and exhibiting the best of this photography and giving it the exposure it deserves.
Stephen: John and I have both always been big fans of photography — that’s one of the things we had in common when we first met (his wife and I are good friends from college). I remember years ago we went to the Getty Center in LA and stumbled upon an exhibit of the 1930-40s newspaper photographer Weegee, and we were just absolutely blown away. Here was photography that was real and visceral and dramatic, unlike anything you could produce in a studio.
More recently, as we both were furnishing our houses we commiserated about the lack of accessible art photography available to purchase easily and (relatively) affordably: it was either expensive gallery editions or cheap poster prints. We founded Archivast to fill that gap in the market, offering limited edition art photography that is authentic and genuine. We like to say that our images “go beyond the beautiful” – they have a backstory and a history, quite literally. It’s not just something pretty to hang on your wall, it’s a conversation starter.
What sets Archivast apart from other outlets that sell historic photo archives is our “guest curators.” We choose designers and tastemakers with distinct (and celebrated) points of view, which makes it easy for customers to shop for images whether they are looking for a specific city, aesthetic, subject or style.
We are also streamlining the logistics and details that can make ordering art online intimidating at best, and disappointing at worst. When you order from Archivast you know you’ll receive only the industry best printing, framing, packaging and delivery. We seek to be the new gold standard.
John: Archives around the world.
Stephen: Anywhere and everywhere we can find lost photo archives. Right now we are focusing on newspapers, but we look forward to discovering more hidden gems in historical societies, municipal records and even personal collections. The trick is to approach these vintage images with a modern eye. What might have been appealing to a photo editor or archivist decades ago, isn’t necessarily the same for today… and in many cases it’s just the opposite. Some of the most striking images were too bold for newsprint.
Best selling items?
John: So far it's "Dinosaurs on the Hudson" from the NY Times.
Stephen: And “Fashion Show for the Uptown Ladies”. Obviously these are two very different photographs, but I think they both have one very important thing in common: they illustrate the mystery and absurdity that is apart of everyday life in New York City, even still today. You never quite know what you are going to see when you walk out of your apartment in the morning. The city is endlessly surprising.
Your favorite item?
John: This photo of the QE2 coming into New York in 1982 presents the World Trade Center for what it was – a welcome to NYC that represented what the city stands for. I love the photo as it's about the beauty of the Towers without the sentimental feeling connected to so many images post-9/11. It’s pure beauty.
Stephen: From the John Derian Collection, I’m in love with “Rainy Day Taxi, Times Square” (1955) because I think it so perfectly captures those unexpected moments of beauty that happen all the time in New York City. You can be having the worst day, rain pouring down, unable to find a taxi and suddenly you see the lights of Broadway shining in the wet streets or a ray of sun reflecting off a building just right. It’s magical… and it’s everywhere, if you just open your eyes. Fortunately for us, this brief magic moment happened to be captured by a photographer in the 50s.
From the Archivast Eye Collection, my favorite is “Clown Dive, Queens Watershow” (1951). I love the shapes of twisting bodies caught in mid-air but also the circus-like architecture of the diving platform and backdrop. We have one of the oversized prints famed and hanging in the guestroom of our Palm Springs house, right next to the sliding glass doors that lead out to the swimming pool. The photograph never fails to get people to smile and always encourages them to “dive right in!”
Favorite store (other than your own)?
John: Do I have to pick one? John Derian & Co. and Aether Apparel on Crosby St in NYC.
Stephen: Since I spend a lot of time in Palm Springs, I love shopping for mid-century and vintage pieces at places like Hedge, A La Mod and Retrospect (just to name a few). In New York I like H.W. Carter & Sons in Williamsburg and checking out the Brooklyn Flea. I could also poke around endlessly at Bigelow Pharmacy in the West Village – totally my kind of place, locked-in-time but still modern. When I’m back in Houston (where I’m from) I always go by Sloan/Hall, one of the best-curated stores in the country. Those guys consistently strike the right balance of elegance and cool…and they make it look effortless too.