Jeff Kida, Photo Editor

JK: Were you interested in art from a young age?
Not really. I didn’t grow up in a family that paid a lot of attention to art. After I graduated from high school in 1969, I was drafted into the U.S. Army, and when I was stationed out in Kansas, there was a darkroom there. I bought a Yashica-Mat camera at the PX and became familiar with photography that way. After I left the Army, I went to Southern Illinois University and double-majored in photography and cinematography.

JK: From there, you headed to San Francisco. What drew you to the Bay Area?
I spent part of my Army years in the Monterey area, and we’d hitchhike up to San Francisco if we had spare time. I told myself I was going to live there someday. Once I moved there, I worked as a cinematographer for several years, shooting training and industrial films and some documentaries. It was a hard lifestyle: At times, I’d work every day for six months, then do nothing at all for three months. Eventually, I decided on a whim to move to Tucson, a place I’d visited between film projects.

JK: Where did you get the idea to open your own gallery?
When I was getting my degrees, I figured I was going to be an artist. Then I found out I wasn’t that good. But I always wanted to figure out how to make a living doing something I really liked. When I came to Tucson, the Center for Creative Photography had opened recently, and I realized something big was happening there. I also realized that there was no one in Arizona selling photographs, and  I decided to just give it a shot and see what happened. People always ask me what my business plan was, and I still don’t know what that means. I just did it by the seat of my pants. One day, I was downtown and saw a “For Rent” sign across the street. I called the owner, and the rent was $235 a month. I opened my first gallery there in 1981.

JK: Did you have any idea what went into running a gallery?
I knew enough from living in the Bay Area that I was familiar with some well-known photographers, and I also had spent a lot of time around galleries. I knew enough about hanging a show, framing and writing press releases. Initially, it was just me, and the rent wasn’t much, so the stakes were very low. I knew a little about a lot of things, but I didn’t know anything about running a business. As time went on, I had to figure it all out.

JK: What was the first show?
: The first was a Harold Jones show. He was the first director of the CCP, so it was a good show to have. Harold knew everybody, so I met everybody quickly when they came to see his show. But the second show was a 20-year Danny Lyon retrospective, and that changed everything. I had happened to meet him in 1975, and to do a show with a major artist like him gave me instant credibility. I attribute a lot of my success to just making myself available and keeping my eyes and ears open, so that when something happens, I can take advantage of it.

JK: You stayed in that space until 1988, then moved to your next location, where you stayed for 33 years. What led you to leave that location?
It was on the second floor, which wasn’t a big issue for me when I was in my mid-30s. We got by for 33 years without an elevator, but in the past five years, the stairs became an issue for our older clients. I knew that eventually, the stairs would force me to retire or find another location. When the new space became available, it was like a dream. Bill Small, who owned the Tucson Citizen, was a serious painting collector who built a private museum here to show off his collection. I always felt privileged to be invited and thought it was an incredible space. The Rollings family owns the building now, and I have a great relationship with them, so when this opened up, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It’s wheelchair accessible, and it has a loading dock and other things we didn’t have before. Every room has a different feel, and I find that a lot more interesting.

JK: Has your approach to running Etherton Gallery changed over the years?
For the first two years or so, it was strictly a photography gallery. Then, I started getting opportunities to show other work by local artists, and today, non-photographic art makes up 40 to 50 percent of the gallery. But I’ve always tried to show work that pushes me and invites dialogue — and maybe even upsets some people. We can’t only show stuff that matches your sofa. I’ve also always tried to behave like a major gallery does, but be unpretentious and approachable at the same time. We want to create a welcoming atmosphere and not have people feel pressured when they come in.

JK: It doesn’t sound like you plan to slow down anytime soon.
I almost feel like I did when I was 30. When you’ve been in the same place for 33 years, it becomes a routine. Coming to this new space has forced me to think about things in a different way, so there are new challenges. I have so much excitement about the future. I’m 70 years old, and I signed a five-year lease here. This is exactly where I want to be.

Etherton Gallery is now located at 340 S. Convent Avenue in Tucson. For more information, call 520-624-7370 or visit