Light Factory gets new focus

Sean Busher is thinking big picture.

One Saturday morning in September, if all goes as he envisions, about 150 photographers will spread out along Tryon Street uptown, from the rim of the John Belk Freeway to the edge of the Brookshire Freeway.

They will focus across the street, adjust their shutters to all match and then, at the same instant, they will all snap a picture of their allotted segment of Charlotte’s main drag. Their photos, comprising 15 blocks, will be combined into a single panoramic image.

It will measure about a foot high and 270 feet long, nearly the length of a football field.

Good luck finding a gallery that can display that, Sean.

“There’s actually three complications,” says Busher, a Charlotte commercial photographer since 2001. “Doing it, printing it and exhibiting it.”

Not on his list of complications is a motive for doing it in the first place – Busher plans to organize the street shoot to commemorate the rebirth of the Light Factory, Charlotte’s museum of film and photography.

Financial problems last fall hobbled the Light Factory, organized in 1972 and one of four nonprofit museums in the nation focusing entirely on photography and film. As part of a reorganization, it moved from its longtime uptown home at Spirit Square to the old Midwood School at 1817 Central Ave., putting it in a more Bohemian setting in Plaza Midwood.

Many workshops and classes offered for the summer have sold out and a new board has the center back on firm financial footing. A Kickstarter campaign raised $33,000 – 50 percent more than targeted – and more than $7,000 came from private donations to pay off a $25,000 debt and set up a new home. Donations from the Light Factory’s new 21-member board have covered the $2,500-a-month rent through 2014.

“People want us to survive,” says Linda Foard Roberts, a former Light Factory director who headed the Kickstarter campaign. “I feel like we breathed the soul back into the organization.”

When renovations are complete, exhibitions should begin in the autumn.

Roberts says the new Light Factory is less of a museum and more of lens-based media, arts and education organization. Exhibitions, films, classes, lectures and workshops, she says, will bring key political, environmental and social issues to light.

“We want to represent the best of fine art – film and cinema – and bring contemporary issues to the fore,” says Byron Baldwin, who has been involved with the Light Factory for decades and taught photography at Myers Park High School for 30 years.

Highlights of center

At the new center is a gallery, two classrooms, an office that can also serve as a gallery space and a darkroom.

Yes, even in the digital age, there are still photographers who like to develop pictures through the chemical process in the darkroom, says Foard Roberts. She’s one of them, though she scans the finished product and takes it down digital paths.

“There’s still LP album audiophiles,” says Phil Moody, a board member and photography professor at Winthrop University. “Some young kids are hooked on turntables and LPs.”

Six enlargers are available for students in the spacious darkroom.

Taking the picture

September’s photo shoot on Tryon Street is believed to be the first of its kind, says Busher. As such, he’s having to figure out how to pull it off.

He thinks that he’ll round up enough photographers without much trouble – for some reason, he says, Charlotte has always had a vibrant photo community – and he’ll mark a spot on the pavement for each to occupy.

“We’ll have a huddle beforehand and you’ll get a print of your spot, like No. 67, that will show what you shoot. You would line your camera up and then we’ll probably have a countdown on a website for smartphones. We’ll shoot one side of the street, then wait five minutes and shoot the other side of the street.”

Afterward, everyone will gather and hand in their images, and maybe share pizza.

Busher is thinking about something that would make the quiet nature of Tryon Street on a Saturday morning a little more interesting – inviting people from other arts groups to come out and pose. “Improv groups or whatever, maybe families or something to play a role in the photo and give us lots of kooky little things to look at.”