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Inside the Studio

Commercial photographer John Campbell (posing like Superman above) has turned skill and passion for images—and an old building—into a dream creative space that would make any community proud.

John Campbell is a gritty photographer by choice. You can see it in the compositions and fine details of his favorite photos. A photo of his personal studio puts you in a corner of the building where you see a dusty desk topped with a pair of uber-old boots, plastic crates filled with incidental items and a shadowed, dark doorway centered in the frame that you can’t help but look towards because of the natural lines that move your eye to the door. The image was captured prior to the massive renovation project that Campbell started. The job was meant to turn a small-town building that was once a Fire Hall, a City Hall and a Museum (all at different times) into a creative, rentable space used by him and others. In the photo, like most of his work, there is a consistent undertone of rawness and a clear contrast of colors throughout the image. When you see a John Campbell photo like that or any of his others, you’ll smile, then say to yourself, “Wow, that is amazing,” inevitably followed by this comment, “And that has to be John’s.”

Spend any time with him, and it’s apparent that the stunning light choices, sight lines and captured details of his photos are anything but coincidence. A surprisingly self-taught commercial photographer that is positively obsessive about the quality of his work and in love with the creative power of a camera, Campbell is making a constructive impact on the region from both sides of the camera whether he steps out of his studio or not.

The Studio Is Calling

For roughly $1,500, Campbell purchased the opportunity to create his dream space in Reynolds, North Dakota. On the main drag in Reynolds, a former Fire Hall turned City hall turned Museum turned abandoned building, was up for demo before Campbell threw out an offer to the city. Almost two years later, he has the time-lapse photos to prove that he put his blood, sweat and tears into the renovation of the space. The Studio, as it is called, is a space for creatives, other photographers (Campbell included), or groups to utilize and rent for their own needs. Campbell performed all the demo and much of the other renovation work where he could. He designed the interior with unique details. “I wanted little elements of the area to be represented in the space,” he says.

Landscape Love Along with gritty and unplanned settings, Campbell enjoys taking regional landscape images as a hobby.

An old sign from the front of the building was saved and put on display. An entire curved wall made of corrugated steel was formed to create the industrial ag mood of the area. The floor—which was totally busted out, supplied with in-floor heat and recast in concrete—features relief lines that mimic the same grid pattern on a camera lens. And, when you go there, you’ll see Campbell’s commitment to detail. Embedded into the concrete floor are randomly placed red glass specs that match the red tones throughout the interior. In the entire space, there might not be more than 50 small red specs. “Everything in here has a purpose,” he says.

Welcome To The Darkside Lightplay is a popular strategy for Campbell. He often darkens a room before relighting it to control the mood in the frame.

On the walls, a wi-fi enabled television monitor is attached and a handful of his photos hang from small wire attached to the ceiling (photos his wife had to pick out because he wouldn’t). Later this year, Campbell will outfit his space with art produced from the local schools. “I want them to see their art in a non-school setting,” he says. “Seeing art in a commercial space is just so different and exciting.”

Since he began his studio venture, Campbell’s life has been a rollercoaster. Last year, after watching his Dad pass away after several months of in-home hospice-type care in his hometown of Oklahoma City, he didn’t have the amount of time or passion he once had to spend in his new studio or to be creative. He’d already left a commercial photographer job at a local advertising agency to pursue the work and renovation of the Studio. The travel time and amount of care he spent for his father left him drained. But, as he spent more time in the Studio while back from OKC and away from the difficult realities of the situation of watching his dad continually on the brink of passing, he realized that his happiness was directly linked to what he’s done with his family in Reynolds. Now, he insists he’s happy where the ride has taken him. This year he plans to run for office in the region. When he’s not at the studio working on editing projects or building things with wood, he’s trying to find ways to get people to see, experience or utilize the space, no matter how old they are. He’s proud of what he’s done—with the space, in the space and for the space. “Having traveled the country and seen a lot of different places and people,” he says standing on the concrete floor of his Studio looking out to the south and the main drag of the city, “this is by far the best place I’ve seen.” G

// To view the full story, check out the digital issue here



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