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May 14, 2007
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
Haven for photographers opens on the edge of Downtown

Take a look in photographer Jayson Wold’s portfolio and you’ll see shots of elegantly arranged sushi and dazzling cocktails. Purses, perfume — even a hockey puck — are captured in expertly composed photos.

You may have seen Wold’s work in magazine spreads or advertising campaigns. But rarely does it hang on the wall of a gallery.

“I just don’t know where to start,” he said, explaining the conundrum a commercial photographer faces in finding entry to the fine-art world. “Do I just go in a coffee shop at first? How do you do that?”

Maybe he could start hanging out with a bunch of fine-art photographers and a little bit of their artsy know-how would just rub off. That’s kind of the idea behind Minneapolis Photographic Studio & Gallery Cooperative.

Known as the Mpls. Photo Coop for short, its 15 members share studio, gallery and office space in Northwind Lofts, 2400 N. 2nd St., on the edge of Downtown.

Formed just a few months ago, the co-op opens its doors to the public for the first time this weekend with “One By Fifteen.” The group exhibition is one stop on the Art-A-Whirl tour through Northeast studios and galleries.

Founder Orin Rutchick said the co-op was formed, in part, for practical reasons. Splitting rent 15 ways keeps costs down, for one thing.

But Rutchick seemed more excited about the potential for “cross-pollination” in a group that includes both fine-art and commercial photographers ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s.

“If anything, what I feel really, really good about is being able to bring people together,” he said. “It creates a sense of a community of artists.”

Co-op members are still getting to know one another, but the melting-pot atmosphere has already inspired Wold to show some personal work at this weekend’s show, probably shots from a recent trip to India.

“I’ve always wanted to explore that (fine-art) realm,” he said.

The co-op is on the city’s North Side, but its roots are in the North Loop.

Rutchick and five other photographers previously shared a studio in the Security Warehouse Lofts on North Washington Avenue. In 2004, that building was converted to condominiums, and the six went searching for a new home.

They found it 20 blocks north in the Northwind Lofts building, an old warehouse in a rather desolate strip of industrial-use land between Interstate 94 and the Mississippi River.

The neighborhood may not be pretty, but Rutchick and the others liked what they found inside: a large, open loft with bare brick walls, wood floors and exposed wooden beams running across the ceiling. A long southern exposure provided ample natural light for shooting bays.

Shortly after moving into the new space, Rutchick’s career path took a turn. After years of shooting mainly editorial and advertising assignments, he decided to focus his efforts on fine-art photography.

A project Rutchick began in Hong Kong in 2004 turned into Push Button Memories, a series that captured tourists taking photos at world landmarks. Two years later, the work earned him a McKnight Photography Fellowship.

Along the way, Rutchick learned the Catch 22 of fine-art photography: No gallery shows without a résumé, and no résumé without gallery shows.

His solution to the paradox was simple. Basically, he fabricated a system of hanging walls that turned the loft into a part-time gallery.

Before signing a new lease on the space in March, Rutchick decided to open the new studio-gallery hybrid to more photographers. An open call for studio-mates quickly filled all 15 slots in the co-op.

One of the new co-op members was Emma Freeman, a 25-year-old photographer just starting her professional career. An aspiring fine-art photographer, Freeman was excited about the easy access to gallery space.

“As someone who’s starting out, it gives me the opportunity to really explore exhibition ideas,” she said.

Rutchick said the co-op planned two group exhibitions per year, with rotating individual exhibitions in between.

Most days, the loft is divided into several shooting bays. And it’s all business for photographers like Wold who bring in advertising clients during shoots.

A shoot can last for hours, time Wold’s clients spend hanging out in the loft’s kitchen, using the Wi-Fi in the lounge or just soaking in the atmosphere.

“My clients, they like to know that there’s other people in the studio, other people doing different things,” he said.

Co-op member John Abernathy agreed.

“It’s kind of a hip space, and I think they like that,” Abernathy said.

Two weeks prior to the opening of “One By Fifteen,” most co-op members were still settling into their new surroundings. Not everyone had been introduced yet.

Abernathy said the collaborative spirit was just starting to grow.

“I think that maybe this show will be more of a start for this stuff to happen,” he said.

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com or 436-4391