Reaching Out, Asking For What You Want

I was traveling through Illinois recently and stopped for the night in Champaign/Urbana. While there, I googled “photography exhibits” and one of the results was the Urbana Museum of Photography.

What? There’s a museum of photography right in the small mid-western town where I’m staying? And it’s dedicated to analog photography? I’m so in. This is made for me. I hit the link, checked to see what time they open, and saw they open the next day at 1 p.m., after I would be long gone.

I was thinking, “That’s not going to work.” That’s just bad timing. Horrible luck. Why couldn’t they be open on a Tuesday? But alas, opening hours were Wednesday at 1pm.

So, what to do? I know. I’ve an idea. Ask!

I sent an email to their Facebook Messenger link, saying:

“Hi, I’m a photographer passing through Urbana today, Tuesday. If there’s any way anyone will be over there, I’d love to stop by. Headed to D.C. tomorrow. Thanks.”

That wasn’t too tough considering Lyosha Svinarski, the Founder and Owner of the gallery responded almost instantly.

“Let me know when you gonna stop by and I will meet you up there”

Now we’re talking. Ask for what you want, you might just get it.

So, I did.

I met Lyosha Svinarski at 11:30 a.m. He showed me the gallery which is in the old Courier newspaper office building in Urbana. Inside the gallery he had hung photographs from the Courier archives, including Rolleiflex portraits of the press room crew at work and coverage of John F. Kennedy’s visit to the area during a campaign stop in the 1960s.

Beautiful photographs, great documentary work by the Courier staff photographers and masterfully printed and then framed and hung by Lyosha.

Also working at the gallery was Anna Longworth, the curator. It was a pleasure to chat with both of them. Lyosha showed me the tintype process he uses, which I had many questions about since it’s one type of photography I haven’t done. We chatted about the state of photography, how prints matter and what are our favorite ways of working–his with a Hasselblad Wide with a 38mm lens (I was drooling, I’m sure!), and me with a Rolleiflex 3.5F.

Before I left, I asked to make his portrait with the Rolleiflex, which I don’t have processed yet, so that will be seen in a future post–one of the benefits of film photography, you get to revisit a story more than once and link back to the earlier iteration of the moment.

As I was getting ready to leave, Lyosha asked if I wanted a project camera and offered me one of two 5×7 cameras, a tailboard from the early 1900s or a folding 5×7, which is the one I took. He said he wanted to get it into good hands. I promised to send him work I made with it.

The beer is a Two-Hearted Ale by Bell’s Brewery sitting next to the 5×7 camera gift. On the wall is the exterior of the Esquire Lounge, which is the pub where I wrote this article.

The 5×7 camera doesn’t have a brand plate, though from an online search I see it’s a Thornton Pickard Imperial Triple Extension camera made between 1904-1926. I explained to him that 5×7 is my favorite large format size. And that I only have a tailboard camera so to have a folding one, one with tilt, that’s a great step-up.

He said it’s a project camera–it might leak light. I said I can always drape my darkcloth over the bellows as I make the exposure. The truth is, I see no holes in the bellows. It has a good ground glass and a lens board. I just need to add a lens and I’m good to go.

What a wonderful day. What a tremendous experience meeting other kindred souls–film photographers who are using their passion in their work.

Asking to meet and getting to meet this fellow photographer.

Just because a situation looks hopeless, reach out, ask. Sometimes the initial ‘no’ is just the beginning of the conversation. It was for us that day. We got to share our passion for film photography and our experiences.

I think I made Lyosha’s day as well as he made mine! Life is good when you’re connecting with other film photographers.

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