A look behind the glass
How Rochester’s newest art space is making a difference; photos by Sarah Killip
Noted street photographers Richard B. Colón and Quajay Donnell are on a new adventure together. Best known for highlighting the obscure parts of Rochester in their unique ways, the two are now curating a new art attraction in the city’s downtown: Behind the Glass Gallery.
The space first opened in February. The project, which began as Colón’s idea for a thirty-day installation, aims to show off the work of artists that Colón and Donnell think people should see. The only requirement is participants have to show Rochester through their own lens.
“Basically, it’s showcasing people that are working on their craft every day, putting stuff out there that more people need to see, need to know about, need to actually have more eyes on,” says Colón.
“You don’t have to be the best photographer,” continues Donnell, cocurator of the gallery. “You don’t have to have the best equipment; you don’t have to have this vast schooling. You just have to love sharing the community or sharing your perspective; you have this opportunity to do that.”
The pair say they curate the artists not the art, but a through line shows with every new opening. The artists and the curators love Rochester and find ways to capture the city the way they see it.
“It’s crazy to watch it come to life because once they’re on the wall they have a line that matches every month. The artists themselves kind of vibe with the space,” says Donnell.
The gallery itself is not expansive. Housed in the Mercantile on East Main Street it inhabits a small corner of the main floor. The glass that gave it its name offers a clear view of the images hanging on the walls from all angles. It’s intimate but inviting, you can’t help but admire the works, even if you’re just walking by. Before its transformation, the space was seemingly overlooked—something it has in common with many of the photographers who are selected to showcase their work there. Now, the gallery is set to run for a full year.
Colón and Donnell are able to pull this all off because of how well they work together. The pair first met online, sharing images of the city they both love. Colón highlights Rochester’s cultural corner stores and forgotten buildings, and Donnell looks deeper into how public art is made and who creates it.
“I saw something in Richard’s photos, and he saw something in mine, and our paths crossed,” says Donnell. “It was like that at the moment that we met for the first time. It was like we had already known each other, and it’s kind of been the same ever since.”
What began as admiration, quickly turned into collaboration.
“It’s been a great compliment because I feel like there’s a lot of times where you need the extra push, and I feel like he does give that to me, and I’d like to think I give the same to him,” says Colón. “But I legit feel like this project, this journey, not even just the gallery, being able to help amplify other people and the encouragement we both give each other is something we’ve been really adamant about.”
Both say they often find themselves gravitating toward the same artist for the next show.
“It’s just a feeling, a vibe. There will be a time I will message Richard and say what about this person, and he messages me back saying he was just thinking about them and already added them to the list.” says Donnell. Colón agrees.
“Yeah, it’s a vibe for sure,” says Colón.
Neither take a commission on the work sold but both go above and beyond to support the artists they select, guiding them through the process and even creating websites on the fly so they can sell their prints during the show. If that wasn’t enough there is a podcast.
The Behind the Glass podcast episodes include Colón, Donnell, and the artist selected. They only ask one thing. “Tell us who you are,” says Donnell. The rest is a conversation and leads people into the story of the artist, what they do, and why they do it. It’s also another great opportunity for exposure.
Colón says he’s working on making space for artists who use other media. For now, he’s focused on finding talent for each month and using the space to help better the community.
The Behind the Glass gallery is open to the public at the Mercantile on Main from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. To learn more about the gallery and to find out when new artists are selected, follow @BehindGlassRoc on Twitter and Instagram.