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Picture This

Photo Works Opens as a Community Center for Local Shooters

Cornering the Market: Photo Works’ Susan Hayman and Bob Creamer hope their new gallery/darkrooms in Hampden will fill a niche.

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 2/23/2000

The rather plain-looking building at 3531 Chestnut Ave. in Hampden once served as this working-class community's post office. For generations of Hampdenites, it also served as a place to gather the news of the day. Mail has not been sorted here for years, but now, following a brief stint as a carpet store, the building will once again be an agora of sorts.

Aptly, considering the infusion of artists and small businesses into Hampden in recent years, this building has been reborn as Photo Works LLC. It's being touted by those behind the project and those likely to use it as the equivalent of a community center for area photographers.

The extensively renovated 4,000-square-foot facility now boasts film-processing stations, a lighting studio, individual and group darkrooms, a digital media center, and an art gallery. Photographers who have the desire but lack the facilities can rent them here at an hourly rate (though the equipment is not available for off-site use). People who would like to learn more about photography can sign up for classes and workshops. Photo Works will also host the only gallery in the Baltimore area devoted solely to photography, hosting a new exhibit every month.

Perhaps most importantly, local photographers will have a place to congregate and trade shop talk. (You can join the crowd too, as Photo Works hosts its grand opening reception Feb. 26 from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M.)

"There has been a real need for a photography facility and gallery like this," says Photo Works director Bob Creamer, who is on the faculty at Oldfields School in Glencoe and the Community College of Baltimore County's Catonsville campus. "It's a place for people to learn more about photography, and that educational aspect means a lot to us."

Appropriately enough, this ambitious project had its origins in a classroom friendship, between Creamer and Mike Welsh, a student of his at the community's college's Essex campus. (Creamer went on to teach Welsh's daughter at Oldfields.) After his classroom stint, Welsh stayed interested in photography but was frustrated in his search for a place to develop his prints. The retired stockbroker started thinking about setting up a facility of his own, and Creamer helped him scout sites.

"We started to look around for spaces, thinking it'd just be a darkroom-rental business," Creamer says. "Then we thought maybe there also could be room for a gallery and some computers, and the idea evolved."

It evolved to the point when Welsh provided the financing for the $250,000 project, which has been constructed within the cavernous interior of a leased building.

"This place offers so many different things and will be a wonderful gathering place," says Chris Hartlove, who, along with Jim Burger, Nanine Hartzenbusch, and John Dean, is showing work in the gallery's inaugural exhibit, Bread & Butter. The first show features little-seen personal work shot by photographers who make their living doing commercial photography.

The high-ceilinged gallery will be able to accommodate shooters who want to make super-large prints, or those industrious souls who are inclined to stack their work up on the wall, salon-style.

In fact, the entire facility has a spacious feel to it. Even the darkrooms are anything but claustrophobic. These are places you can stretch out and develop your prints. Nearly all traces of the building's former postal identity have been erased. The only real reminders of the structure's original purpose are narrow horizontal slits high along certain walls, which postal inspectors once used to spy upon their employees as they sorted mail.

Perhaps Photo Works' greatest contribution to the local photo scene will be its physical resources. As a photography teacher, Creamer understands the frustration felt by college alumni who no longer have access to the equipment and darkroom facilities they enjoyed on campus. He anticipates that such photographers will be frequent visitors to Photo Works.

This idea is seconded by Jack Wilgus, who chairs the photography department at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, alma mater of several Photo Works employees. "There are places in cities like Chicago, where I'm from, and New York where you can rent studio and darkroom space, but I don't know of anything quite like this in Baltimore," he says.

"At the Institute, it's tough trying to make the facilities accessible to former students when there are current students who need them," Wilgus adds. "I'd anticipate some of our former students going [to Photo Works], but also current students who might want to use some of their equipment, like if somebody wanted to make large color prints. Maybe I'll use them too. I'm going to their opening to see what they've got."

Bread & Butter runs Feb. 26 through March 26 at Photo Works, LLC, 3531 Chestnut Ave. The facility itself is open seven days a week from 10 A.M. to 10 P.M. Call (410) 889-4600 for more information.

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