June 25, 2009


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The SOPHA community
Amateur and professional photographers join Manchester studio

By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

The storefront of Croteau Photography in a distinctive downtown Manchester building has quietly taken on a new role in the same industry.

The way the Studio of Photographic Arts (SOPHA) functions, it sounds like a nonprofit. It’s not, but owner Bud Thorpe frequently uses the word “community” when he talks about the place. SOPHA now has 39 member photographers, up from about six when they moved into 941 Elm St. near the end of 2008.

SOPHA offers studio rental, including use of lighting, props and a make-up room. They run classes geared to help people figure out what they can actually do with their fancy new digital cameras.

Professional members use SOPHA’s reception area/gallery for client meetings, and the $100 per month pro membership fee allows unlimited studio usage (depending on availability). There’s also a large format printing service.

The studio was busy with a set-up for a fashion advertisement shoot Thursday, June 18. On a recent weekend, 30 ballerinas were at SOPHA and around downtown for a member dance photographer’s shoot.

Thorpe calls himself “studio manager,” and everyone who helps out seems to be called “staff.” Interns come from local art and photography schools, including Boston University’s Center for Digital Arts in Waltham.

The first SOPHA members’ gallery show opening on April 30 collected 185 pounds of tuna for the New Hampshire Food Bank (it was their canned tuna month).

Gallery shows run for four or five weeks in their storefront space and are meant to show and sell member work, but are always tied to a charity, Thorpe said. Since SOPHA is about a photographic community, the shows should be tied to the larger community, he said. It’s “a very simple business practice ... don’t be greedy,” he said.

Their second show, “America,” opens Thursday, July 2, with a reception from 7 to 10 p.m., and is up through Aug. 1. Members were challenged to represent the theme without using an American flag. Thorpe stressed that it’s not meant to be unpatriotic — the purpose of the rule is to avoid cliché and force the photographers to think beyond the obvious. Those showing work are making donations to the New Hampshire World War II Veteran’s Memorial Fund; visitors can also donate at the reception.

Thorpe expects about 20 members to show about 100 photos; prints will probably start at $30.

SOPHA originally opened two years ago at 62 Elm St. in Manchester and included a lot of car photography. The partnership split, and Thorpe wanted to focus on SOPHA as a community in a more visible location. He saw an “opportunity that couldn’t be missed” when his friend Dan Croteau planned to close his studio. Croteau now works mainly in real estate, but is a SOPHA member and still meets clients there.

“The digital world presented some challenges” to portrait and wedding photographers because more and more people have access, Thorpe said.

Thorpe’s idea for dealing with that is to bring in the new photographers. SOPHA’s not a school — “It’s more like a community art center in the way we run our classes,” Thorpe said.

SOPHA runs four-night “KickStart Digital SLR,” “Intermediate Digital SLR” and “KickStart Photoshop” classes regularly ($199 for nonmembers, $159 for members).

Many enroll because they bought a digital SLR (single lens reflex) and want to know what all the buttons do. Thorpe said the class is a lot of fun to teach and he enjoys students’ “eureka moments.”

“We have a tremendous retention rate,” Thorpe said. Ninety-five percent take a second class.

Eric Arnold, of Hunt’s Photo in Manchester, has a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art. Finding “qualified instructors” with the “right personality” is a challenge, Thorpe said. Arnold teaches “Urban Landscapes” for SOPHA; the one-day workshop is rescheduled to June 28 because of rain.

Dave Dawson, also of MassArt, teaches one-day workshop “Dastardly Dames, Alternative Glamour” (July 26, $199 or $179 for members). “The Artistic Nude” is scheduled for July 12 ($249, or $199 for members).

While sunshine may work outside, indoor shots on digital cameras can be tricky (that’s an understatement in this reporter’s case).

Thorpe said the first way to address lighting issues is to learn to use the flash properly. SOPHA spends one evening of a four-night digital SLR class on this.

“There’s a lot people can do to improve the quality of their pictures,” Thorpe said.

SOPHA teaches studio lighting to those who want to take that a step farther. Studio lighting has “never been so approachable,” Thorpe said. That’s because with a digital camera the photographer can immediately see the result.

SOPHA has 6,000 square feet of first-floor and basement space — the upstairs was bricked off in 1945, Thorpe said. They use the bricked back alley and basement for shoots. The basement also stores props and is the home of T-shirt business, 603 Clothing. It also houses a darkroom.

“We’ve got a range of members with a range of photographic interests,” Thorpe said. Some have always shot in film, some are discovering for the first time because great film camera equipment can currently be had for very little money, he said. 

Thorpe is a self-taught photographer, with undergraduate work in infectious disease. After 25 years in paramedics, he still works as a paramedic one day per week in Townsend, Mass. — “People call during the worst moments of their life,” Thorpe said of that job.

Thorpe mainly shoots portraits, families, frequently corporate or executive portraits and some weddings.

There’s a number of wedding photographers at SOPHA in all price ranges, Thorpe said. Others use the studio for product photography, advertising and portraits. Members come from Manchester and father afield, including Keene and Portsmouth.

If you go
What: “America” members’ gallery show reception
Where: Studio of Photographic Arts (SOPHA), 941 Elm St., Manchester
When: Thursday, July 2, from 7 to 10 p.m.
Charity: Donate to the NH World War II Veterans Memorial Fund at the reception.
Contact: 584-1492, www.thesopha.com

6/18/2009 Manchester and Concord host gallery nights June 25

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6/4/2009 Keeping jobs
5/28/2009 Monastary and Concord Arts Market return
5/21/2009 Her own path
5/14/2009 Nine public artworks for Nashua?
5/7/2009 Indoor and outdoor Mother's Day ideas
4/30/2009 SOPHA members show off to help Food Bank
4/23/2009 Visit the Currier for free during school vacation
4/16/2009 Colleges show off around the state
4/9/2009 Artist hotline pilot program launches
4/2/2009 Cause for soldiers
3/26/2009 Can art spider link NH?
3/19/2009 Group art shows open this week
3/12/2009 Earth, animals and learning to draw
3/5/2009 Where curiosity can lead
2/26/2009 Rockin' the art degree
2/19/2009 Where the art came from
2/12/2009 Get ready for free admission at Currier
2/5/2009 Pottery served with soup
1/29/2009 Wine and desire
1/22/2009 Art for your Valentine
1/15/2009 NHAA shows off at Currier
1/8/2009 Art on the airwaves in Nashua
1/1/2009 Learn to paint or draw
12/25/2008 Arts in 2008
12/18/2008 Conserving New Hampshire art with a moose
12/11/2008 What is it?
12/4/2008 New show openings and holiday fine craft offerings
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11/6/2008 A wealth of gallery openings
10/30/2008 Squeaky wheel
10/23/2008 Be surrounded by art making10/16/2008 Receptions and open studios everywhere
10/9/2008 Copyright blues
10/2/2008 Andres Institute at 10 years
9/25/2008 Andy Warhol's world leaders
9/18/2008Local color
9/11/2008Local color
9/4/2008 A weekend of fests
8/28/2008 Currier ventures into pop art
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8/14/2008 Great outdoors
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7/31/2008 Continuing tradition and exchaning culture
7/24/2008 Drinking for animals; masters of woodcraft
7/17/2008 What's an arts market
7/10/2008 Curtain calls
7/03/2008 The Lambovich Brothers
6/26/2008 HAS: How Art†Sells
6/19/2008 It's trolley tour time
6/12/2008 Helping hand
6/5/2008 Sumi-e and photography
5/29/2008 Digital to paint
5/22/2008 New Kimball-Jenkins board members
5/15/2008 Making it in New York ... or New Hampshire
5/8/2008 Public eye
5/1/2008 Art for Mother's Day
4/24/2008 New art walk planned for Manchester
4/17/2008 Awards for the state's artists
4/10/2008 New directions
4/3/2008 New exhibits: no April Art Walk
3/27/2008 Monastary Gibbons "Visions of Monadnock"
3/20/2008 Currier opens March 30 with week of free admission
3/13/2008 Looking back at baseball
3/6/2008 Painting, calligraphy and classic cars
2/28/2008 More snow delays; Dartmouth receives arts endowment
2/21/2008 Prints and animals in Concord
2/14/2008 From the Andes to New Hampshire
2/7/2008 What does your butt say
1/31/2008 Local color
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1/17/2008 Conversation starter
1/10/2008 Nominate your favorite arts-loving business
1/3/2008 The inner personalities of rubber finger puppets
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12/13/2007 Portsmouth markets Christmas spirit
12/6/2007 One more cause
11/29/2007 Three days of merriment
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10/25/2007 Spatial Matters
10/18/2007 Perfecting a craft
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9/13/2007 Local Color
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8/30/2007 Art in the fresh air
8/23/2007 Berlin pride
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8/2/2007 New Hampshire treasure honored again
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5/3/2007 Lowell is the canvas for a summer of art
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3/15/2007 Local color
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2/1/2007 DreamFarm Cafe's big show
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1/11/2007 Best practices
1/4/2007 Nominate your favorite for Governor's Arts Awards
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11/30/2006 No shortage of art sales
11/23/2006 A Granite†State greeting
11/16/2006 Santa Claus hangs with artists
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10/12/2006 Almost 80 artists in Hollis ...
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08/31/2006 An artistic endeavor
08/24/2006 The almost-all architecture edition
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07/20/2006 For museums or your living room
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06/29/2006 New ground
06/22/2006 MAA honors scholars an artists of the year
06/15/2006 Galleries open doors
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05/11/2006 Public masterpiece
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04/27/2006 In-house artists on display
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03/09/2006 A creative view of China
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Art in the Park sees attendance dip
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Harry Umen: New Work

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Itís art, and itís even practical!
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Small Town Art Hits The Big City
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