Spokane Journal of Business

A blending of art and science

Hamilton Photography & Film Co. offers host of imaging services

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As Hamilton Photography & Film Co. points out in its brochure, anybody can point a camera and snap a picture. Its the simple chemistry of light on film.

Great photography or cinematography, the company suggests, begins with an artists vision. Its a vision of light and shadow, stillness and motion, line and formthe most eye-catching elements of life itselfcaptured through the use of technology.

The nearly 20-year-old Spokane concern, owned by Don Hamilton and Lorna St. John, has fluorished by trying to keep a lens trained on that optimum blending of art and science. Started by Hamilton in his home as a modest commercial-photography enterprise, the company has expanded into cinematography, videography, pre-press digital scanning, and digital editing to become a one-stop imaging shop. It has grown to eight full-time employees and had annual revenue last year approaching $1 million.

It does everything from executive portraits, food and product illustrations, and photos for annual reports and newsletters, to filmed commercials and documentaries. It even has made a motion picture, called Holy Days, based on an award-winning stage production, that it hopes to sell to a cable-TV channel this year.

Its work has become varied enough now that, depending on the day and the scheduled assignments, Youre asking yourself, Do I want to be Steven Spielberg or Ansel Adams? Hamilton says.

Thats one thing I love about it, he says. Its never the same.

Hamilton Photography & Film has done work for companies such as Itronix Corp., Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp., AT&T, Rosauers Supermarkets Inc., Tidymans Inc., and Sterling Savings Bank, and now spends about as much time doing location shooting at sometimes far-flung locales as it spends in the studio, he says. One of its recent projects, for example, included three currently-airing TV commercials that it shot for Sterling Savings at Point Roberts, Wash., at the far northwest corner of the state. The companys fees typically range from about $250 to $40,000, depending on the job and how the images it produces are to be used.

The last couple of years have really been exciting because weve gone from a mom-and-pop to a company, Hamilton says.

Since about 1985, Hamilton Photography & Film has occupied the old St. Josephs Auditorium & Gym, a funky, 7,000-square-foot, two-story brick structure at 1427 W. Dean that Hamilton refers to as an art deco castle.

The buildings spacious auditorium area, which has an accommodating 18-foot clear span, provides plenty of room for building sets and storing props and photography and cinematography equipment. A 30-foot-deep cyclorama, or curved-wall studio area in one corner of the auditorium, provides an expansive backdrop for photo shoots. The buildings original elevated stage, located at the opposite end of the auditorium, gives the company additional storage and work space.

A nearby portion of the main floor serves as a photo frame shop, while a basement area below the stage houses a processing lab for both color and black-and-white film. Although Spokane has a number of film processors that could handle that work, Hamilton says he likes the flexibility that the company retains by operating its own lab.

His and St. Johns offices, all of the companys digital services, and a motion picture-editing suite are located on the buildings mezzanine-type second floor.

Hamilton is a Southern California transplant who became aware of Spokane after his mother won family tickets to the Expo 74 worlds fair here in a radio contest. They (family members) all came up for the Expo and fell in love with it, he says.

He studied theater, including set and lighting design, as well as photography before moving here at Christmas 1979 and starting his home-based photography business. He also has done some acting, including playing a bit part as a United Parcel Service delivery man in the 1993 Benny and Joon movie filmed here, and believes his theatrical interests have enhanced his creative touch.

Not every still photographer in Spokane has studied theatrical set design. Perhaps those theatrical elements are what distinguish my work, and inform, Hamilton asserts. Whats weird for me to see is just how overlapping the still photography and cinematography are in terms of telling stories.

Hamilton says he met St. John, a former fashion coordinator for the now-defunct Crescent department store here, at photo sessions in the 1980s. She joined him in the photography business in 1988. They formed a partnership in 1991 and incorporated the business last year.

Clearly she is (the expert on) the business side. I get to be the mad artist, Hamilton says. He notes, though, that St. John also provides creative input in areas such as makeup, fashion, food, and art direction.

Hamilton says theres always room for the company to take on more work, but he feels it has assembled a talented staff that works well together and he doesnt have a huge desire to see it grow larger.

Im very happy with where were at right now, he says.

Holy Days, the three-hour, tear-jerker movie that the Spokane company has produced over an extended period, remains Hamiltons pet project. Its set in the Midwest during the 1936 Dust Bowl era and is like The Grapes of Wrath, only they (the family that the movie follows) dont leave (to move to California). They tough it out, he says.

Eager to see it be exposed to a national or international audience, he says, It is the culmination of all my training.

Kim Crompton
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