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August 25, 1998

Savage Photo Lab & Gallery

by R. Bruce Brasell

The afternoon I met Stephen Savage at his photo lab and gallery on Old Shell Road it was bright and sunny. The kind of day good for hitting the streets with one's camera to search for photographic opportunities, or to borrow a phrase from Henri Cartier-Bresson, "decisive moments." But indoors to the lab and gallery I went with Stephen to learn more about it.

"Untitled" by Stephen Savage is part of the Dog Days of Summer show currently hanging at the Savage Photo Lab and Gallery.
Accompanying Stephen was his dog, Alfred, named after the famous early twentieth century New York photographer Alfred Stieglitz. The gallery was a cozy place. A current photo exhibit titled Dogs Days Of Summer hung on the walls. A portraiture of Alfred - the dog, not the person - was among them. As we set down in the seating area to talk, Alfred sneaked the top of my soda bottle off the coffee table where I carelessly laid it. Poor Alfred, even after being disciplined for my negligence he was still willing to play fetch later.

Emily and Stephen Savage opened Savage Photo Lab in April 1997, followed by the Gallery in November 1997. They moved to Mobile from Washington, D. C. because, as Stephen describes it, "we wanted to work more creatively and have some freedom economically." They were previously familiar with the area because Emily's mother lives here.

Both Emily and Stephen are working photographers and the operations of Savage Photo Lab and Gallery reflect their love of photography and concern with creativity. For example, education and community involvement are prioritized to promote photography as an art form in Mobile, resulting in Savage first opening a photo gallery followed by the offering of photography workshops. All of the staff at Savage are working photographers. As a result, one can count on caring service by individuals who understand your photographic concerns and questions. Per Stephen, the lab and gallery provide a space where those who have an interest in photography and a desire to learn more about it can do so. Its client base tends to be primarily professionals, serious amateurs, and students. In our conversation Stephen used in passing the phrase "celebrating" to describe the attitude of their clientele toward photography. But the term is a good one for describing the attitude of the lab and gallery as well, a celebration of photography mixed with a generous dose of concern for quality. The lab and the gallery each offer Mobile something it previously did not have.

Savage Lab is the only Kodak E6 Q-Lab in the state of Alabama. "E6" is a technical term for describing color transparencies, also popularly known as color slides. "Q-Lab" is a designation for Kodak's highest level of quality control for processing color slides. It is applied only to those labs that meet a stringent set of quality control standards established by Kodak, thereby assuring color slides are always processed perfectly with the greatest color saturation and sharpness. It requires implementation of a continual monitoring system by the lab in order to retain the designation.

In addition to color slides, the lab also specializes in processing custom black and white film. Rather than the uniformed one size fits all, the processing of black and white film is tailored to the appropriate manufacturing requirements for the particular brand and type of film, hence custom processing.

Savage Gallery is the only gallery in Mobile dedicated strictly to photography. The gallery opened with a group show titled Speaking With Light which consisted of photographs by students at St. Paul High School. This exhibit was followed by a First Annual Friends of Savage Invitational Exhibition in March 1998, a Plastic Camera Photography Exhibit in April 1998, a Savage Photo Staff Show in May 1998, and the current summer show still in exhibition, Dogs Days of Summer. The summer show, with contributions by over 25 local photographers, is a tongue in cheek look at hot weather, days at the beach, family vacations and of course, dogs.

"Les Fleurs" by Leigh J. Brown will be on display at the Savage Photo Lab and Gallery from September 11 to October 20.
The next exhibit at the gallery, to open in September, will feature the work of one person, Mobile resident Leigh Brown. Brown, considered one of the best fine art photographers in Mobile, specializes in portraiture and experimental photography. An opening public reception for the Brown show will be held September 11, 1998 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the gallery. Photographs exhibited at the gallery are for sale.

In the future, the gallery will include both group shows as well as individual and two-person shows. Although both types of shows allow people an opportunity to seriously engage with photography, according to Stephen, each type allows the gallery to serve a different function. Group shows provide a space for community involvement and broad participation. Although there is a jury selection process for open call group shows, he believes this should not intimidate people from submitting work for consideration. The individual and two-person shows provide an opportunity for a more detailed exploration of a particular photographer's artwork.

Workshops were introduced for the first time this summer. They covered such topics as lighting for portraiture using full flash, Polaroid emulsion transfers, and table-top product photography. Workshops provide a concentrated way for an individual to increase his or her skills and understanding of the photographic medium. Stephen describes the workshops as "hands on, easy to learn and easy to do. Accessible." Even if one never intends to use at home the processes and techniques taught in the workshops, one will still come away with having "learned something very interesting." Although workshops are open to anyone interested in attending, enrollment is usually limited to 15 participants. They typically cost about $50.

Planned for the fall are workshops on basic photography, alternative film printing processes such as cyanotype and palladium, and a repeat of the Polaroid emulsion transfer workshop. Many of the alternative processes to be taught and demonstrated in the workshops date back to the nineteenth century, prior to the development in the 1880s of gelatin emulsion which forms the basis for contemporary film. Although at one point these processes constituted what was photography, today they are used primarily by artists.

Stephen is in the process of editing a book with Christopher James of the Boston Institute of Fine Art on alternative photographic printing processes. Stephen characterizes the book as a "photographic cookbook." It will be a "how to" book on using alternative processes to print film. Along with the "recipes" it will contain photographic examples to illustrate how the final image will look. The alternative processes workshops to be offered by the lab and gallery will cover many of the same types of alternative processing techniques to be covered in the book.

Savage's educational focus does not consist of just offering workshops. Tours of the lab and gallery are also provided to children's groups.

Hours for the lab and gallery are Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. However, Savage is the kind of business that if someone is there, they are open. It can best be summed up as a friendly place. Savage Photo Lab and Gallery is located at 2504 Old Shell Road. The telephone number is (334) 450-0007. Or you can e-mail them at

The Harbinger, P.O. Box U-980, Mobile, AL 36688-0001