Events photography

New San Antonio Photography Center in Southtown Aims to Build Bonds Between Professionals, Amateurs and Fans

Back when Scott Ball got into photography, he could have used a place like the new San Antonio Photography Center, which he and his wife just opened.

“I didn’t have a place like this,” said Ball, 34, who has been photographing for 10 years and is a photo editor for the San Antonio Report. “I’m self-taught, I didn’t go to school for that. And it’s really hard to make those connections with photographers because it’s such a lonely exercise. It takes luck and a lot of knocking on doors and emails, and I kind of wanted to break down some of those barriers.

The San Antonio Photography Center opened in Southtown in January.

It’s open to the public and is for anyone with an interest in photography, including professionals, those who take photos with their phones, and those who simply enjoy the art form. It offers workshops and exhibitions as well as a space where photographers can work and network. Some offers are free; others will charge a fee. Members will receive a discount on these as well as Digital Pro Lab print products and studio rental. Members can also make an appointment for legal advice or formal mentoring.

The center currently has around 30 members.

Ball and Gowen envision the center as a room for learning, networking, or just hanging out.

Staff of William Luther /Express-News.

“We’re trying to bring the photo community together, just giving them a little hub to network,” said Shannon Gowen, 34, Ball’s wife and business partner. “We want it to be a crossover space where everyone feels welcome. There are a lot of people who are on the equipment side, which I don’t understand at all, and people who love the end product. We try to bring all these worlds together.

The space, which is in the former home of Southtown Yoga, is open and airy, with exposed brickwork here and there. Movable walls allow sections to be blocked off for studio work or opened up for presentations. Plenty of streams of photo-appropriate light stream through the windows: “Around 4:30 or 5 p.m. it turns to gold,” Ball said.

The light and overall vibe of the space were big selling points for the couple.

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“We wanted a place that was inspiring, that wasn’t just a windowless box,” Ball said. “And we wanted people to feel like they could be here, that they could flip through a book or just have a conversation without feeling like they had to leave. I think that works.

Tall bookcases are filled with hundreds of photography books. Many came from Ball and Gowen’s home, although other photographers also donated books.

San Antonio Photography Center

Where: 724 S. Alamo Street, Suite 3

Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays

Details: thephotocenter.org


“It makes us feel like, OK, we’re doing something right, people trust us with their books,” Ball said. “It’s a great resource for anyone to come here and look through. I know that’s what has always worked for me, and it still does. I go there often if I feel like I’m in this weird creative rut.

Ball and Gowen, who have been together since 2015 and married in 2018, have long talked about the possibility of opening a photo center.

They did a sort of beta test of the idea in 2016, when they launched the Four X Five Photo Fest, a free annual one-day event that included workshops and talks by professional photographers. They have lined up some big sponsors including Geekdom.

“Each year we’ve had about 1,000 or 1,500 people attend, which is great, and it’s mostly word of mouth – we don’t spend a ton of money on advertising,” said Gowen, who s handles marketing and communications for the YMCA. “It’s just a small event, but it kind of grew, and a lot of the comments we got were, ‘We wish there was something like this all year round. “”

The festival has been on hiatus since 2020 due to the pandemic, but Ball and Gowen hope to revive it next year.

The center is an airy and bright space with movable walls that can be configured for exhibitions or workshops.

The center is an airy and bright space with movable walls that can be configured for exhibitions or workshops.

William Luther / Express-News Staff

Ball and Gowen had started looking for space for the center when the pandemic hit. They had originally envisioned a much larger space that would include offices for photographers, but found that there wasn’t much appetite for it at the moment. So they changed gears.

“That’s where we are right now,” Gowen said. “We’re starting small and hope to grow eventually, but we also want to be careful during the pandemic.”

They love that they are right across the street from the studio that photographer Al Rendon had for about 20 years.

Rendon walked up to check out the space the day it opened and said he would like to eventually collaborate with the center.

“It kinda reminds me of how Blue Star started,” Rendon said. “None of the museums paid attention to local contemporary artists, and it’s the same with the photographers. We don’t have a lot of photography exhibits at institutions here in town, unless it’s a traveling exhibit from somewhere else. Maybe with him creating this organization and creating this center, it could lead to something bigger.

There is certainly an interest in the center. The workshops are selling well, and Ball and Gowen have seen photographers offering reviews of each other’s work, as well as established photographers giving advice and contacts to newcomers.

“It’s just that stuff that excites us the most,” Gowen said.

[email protected] | Twitter: @DeborahMartinFR