Helen Gee

Limelight was a unique place when it opened in 1954. It was arguably the first coffee shop + serious photography gallery under one roof. It was the singleminded idea of Helen Gee. The time was 1954 in NY City and no one had thought of combining these two. As it was photography was trying to move from a newspaper/magazine venue to what we might call fine art photography and photojournalism.

There was barely a movement in America to devote time and space to photography in museums. Selling photography was also an afterthought. So Helen Gee , who not herself a photographer,decided that this is what the art world needed. Helen was a woman of immense will as she was also raising her daughter alone.

She had fallen in love and married Mr. Gee a very promising painter who unfortunately was committed to an institution because of uncontrolled schizophrenia. Fortunately she had a skill much in demand at that time – namely retouching photographs and negatives for magazines. This was her seed money for Limelight

The Before
The After

Her networking skills were amazing as she was able to cajole some of what we think of the luminaries of Mid-Century Photography. Here is a list of exhibitions


1954 Joseph Breitenbach, Korea, May 13–June 27 Rudolph Burckhardt, June 29–August 15 Louis Stettner, August 17–September 27 Minor White, September 28–November 3 Grant La Farge, New England in the 1890s, November 6–30 Great Photographs: Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Édouard Boubat, Bill Brandt, Brassaï, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Harry Callahan, Imogen Cunningham, Robert Doisneau, Robert Frank, Izis, Lisette Model, Gotthard Schuh, W. Eugene Smith, Paul Strand, Jakob Tuggener, Sabine Weiss, Edward Weston, and Minor White, December 1–30 

1955 David Vestal, January 3–February 14 Arnold Newman, February 15–March 19 Eliot Porter, March 21–April 17 Alfred Stieglitz/ Dorothy Norman, Portraits of Each Other, April 19–May 7 Dan Weiner, Italy, May 10–June 7 Suzy Harris, June 10–July 25 Group show: Fourteen Photographers, July 28–September 2 Wynn Bullock, September 5–October 8 László Moholy-Nagy, October 11–November 19 Édouard Boubat, November 22–December 31 

1956 Leon Levinstein, New York, January 3–February 11 Ansel Adams, February 14–March 31 Esther Bubley, April 3–May 5 Imogen Cunningham, May 8–June 25 Sabine Weiss, June 28–July 29 Footlights and Spotlights: Theatrical Photographs of the American Stage, 1860–1900, loan exhibition from George Eastman House, August 1–September 19 Ken Heyman, September 21–October 28 Dan Weiner, South Africa, October 30–December 2 Eugène Atget, December 4–January 6 

1957 Izis, January 8–February 17 Frank Paulin, February 19–April 2 Eliot Porter/ Ellen Auerbach, Madonnas and Marketplaces, April 4–May 19 Elliott Erwitt, May 24–July 7 Morris H. Jaffe, July 9–August 18 Lyrical and Accurate, loan exhibition from George Eastman House, designed by Minor White, August 20–September 28 W. Eugene Smith, October 1–November 10 John Cohen, Peru, November 12–December 15 Berenice Abbott, Portraits of the Twenties, December 17–January 26 

1958 David [“ Chim”] Seymour, Chim’s Children, January 28–February 25 Rudolph Burckhardt/ George Montgomery, February 27–April 10 Ken Heyman, Bali, Japan, Hong Kong, April 12–May 25 Bert Stern, May 27–July 20 James Karales, Rendville, USA, July 24–August 31 Group show, September 3–30 Harold Feinstein, October 2–November 15 Gerda Peterich, Dance Portraits, November 18–December 31 

1959 Robert Doisneau, January 5–February 28 Harry Lapow, March 3–April 12 Dan Weiner, Russia and Eastern Europe, April 14–May 12 The History of Photography, loan exhibition from George Eastman House, May 15–June 30 Group show: Seven Europeans, July 2–August 13 Group show: Images of Love, August 15–September 30 Brassaï, The Eye of Paris, October 5–31 Group show, November 2–December 13 Louis Faurer, December 15–January 18 

1960 Photographs by Professors: Lou Block, Van Deren Coke, Allen Downs, Walter Rosenblum, Aaron Siskind, Henry Holmes Smith, and Minor White, January 19–February 29 Ralph Hattersley, March 1–27 Jerry Liebling, April 1–May 15 Edward Weston, May 17–June 26 Gordon Parks, June 28–August 7 Jack Smith, August 9–September 11 Group show, September 13–October 16 Claudia Andujar, October 18–November 8 Paul Caponigro/ Minor White, November 10–December 14 Julia Margaret Cameron, December 16–January 31, 

Exterior of Limelight

After a 6 year run, Limelight closed. A combination of difficulty finding and keeping staff combined with efforts to unionize her establishement forced her close to avoid bankruptcy.

Information for this article was gleaned from this book:

8/26/19. – new internet article