After deciding to take my business idea seriously the next step is to bathe in the opinions of the public, potential clients all. I had time on a mostly cloudy Monday and set out on the historic streets of the Trinity Royal area of Saint John, a cultural hub. I was armed with my camera, hoping to take portraits of people kind enough to give me their honest opinions.
My thought is to create a space for photographers to gather, to practise fine craft in a community that will foster improvement and quality. A place to try new things, to dip toes into new formats and techniques. A place to grow.
Saint John is not a large city. It’s a blue-collar industrial town in New Brunswick that straddles the mouth of the river bearing the same name. Home to the Irving family of industrial tycoons, the city is full of people who make their living while wearing work boots. I attended college in Fredericton, the capital city upriver. Saint John and Fredericton are dissimilar in most ways.
There is a vibrant and thriving community of visual artists in Fredericton, very little hard industry and a large student community. Saint John lags behind in some cultural ways, but things are changing. In recent years there has surprisingly been a revival of the uptown core with festivals, music and the appearance of new galleries and chic independent clothing and furniture stores. Could the town be ripe for a new creative space, a place for film-nerds like myself to have a home?
I hit the streets armed (predictably) with the TLR, fitted with a light green filter to combat the overcast Atlantic sky, and the Rolleinar 1. Due to the humble size of my fair city, I ran into a few friends. I was also able to connect with people involved directly with the blossoming art community from both the creating and the selling ends.
It was encouraging to me to learn that from both of these viewpoints there is an apparent vacancy when it comes to quality fine-art photography here. One gallery was guardedly apologetic about their selection of two small fine-art pieces, the other was displaying a massive pigment landscape from a local-celebrity producer. Not great for the minor-league collector. That person who might want to get into collecting smaller pieces has no options. Some people I spoke to had no idea collecting photographs or following the work of a certain photographer they liked was even a thing.
I spoke with people who haven’t shot film in years, simply due to the lack of available materials. When the last store in town that sold film closed, most people put their cameras in a closet and assumed that’s the end. How many of these people could I lure out of hiding with a wine-and-cheese studio night or an evening workshop on developing film?
While not everybody I came into contact with has a desire to use the facilities I’m proposing, there is a growing segment of the population that are participating in the cultural events offered in the city. Being part of a gallery-hop or open-studio day could go a long way to getting interest from these fringe groups. One thing I as blown away by was the desire and hunger for instant photography, and not just the shiny, cute Fujis that are on the market. Two younger people showed specific interest in classic Polaroid and land cameras. One chap shot Instax, Holga 120 and the ubiquitous AE1.
I had my eyes opened, especially when speaking to a gallery owner of over 30 years. He spoke to me of quality, of true craft and of being able to confidently say no as a business owner. We agreed on many points, and I left his establishment wiser, closer to the ground and with a renewed sense that this isn’t a pie-in-the-sky ambition on the back of a napkin.
I’ve signed on for a lean-startup workshop put on by the local business development org to try and put a little polish on what my next step will be. Thanks for all the support online and, as it turns out, right outside my front door. Look for more street-portraits and conversations in the near future as I dig a little deeper into what makes the people around me good candidates for some safe-light time.