Written by Chris Myers | Photographed by Frank Farmer
In September of 2010, the movie The Help spent several days filming in Fondren. The Strip on State Street was transformed into a 1960’s version of itself for a scene that would ultimately last a few seconds. During that time, The Studio was transformed into Protective Hardware. The day of the shoot was hot, and filming only took place in thirty-second spurts. During off periods, cast and crew would seek refuge inside of The Studio. There, they found ample seating, space, and air conditioning. They also found the company of James Patterson and Ron Blaylock, its photographer residents.
The Studio often becomes more of a living room than an art gallery and photography studio. The front room is a large, open space. There’s a variety of seating that can be adapted to any social configuration, and the walls are lined with the work of by the two, along with a collection of items and oddities that are sure to spark many conversations.
“We get tourists coming in that want to visit and look at stuff,” says Patterson. “And then,” interjects Blaylock, “they want to talk about Jackson. Want to talk about Mississippi.”
“There’s not the pressure to buy something here,” Patterson follows. It turns out that a gallery can be a place where people feel comfortable sitting and chatting for a while. (I notice this first hand when four separate people stopped by just to chat. We ended up having a long conversation about Jackson.)
James Patterson is somewhat of a native Jackson icon. Photography is only one of his many passions. He formerly published an alternative paper called the Planet Weekly, printed photos for Eudora Welty, and ran the downtown Gallery 119. When he moved to Fondren back in 2002 to be a little closer to home, the neighborhood was fairly quiet.
“TC’s Uniforms was really keeping the neighborhood going,” Patterson says jokingly. He joined business partner Jimbo for a modern furniture venture called Article in the current Studio space. It quickly became a center of activity in the neighborhood, especially during early versions of Fondren After 5, where musicians and DJs would keep the party going well after most of the other shops had closed. When Article closed, interior designer Joan Hawkins moved in.
Ron Blaylock is not a Jackson native, but you’d never know it. His family moved here when he was 16, so this is where he finished high school. He and his family begrudgingly ended up back in Jackson after Hurricane Katrina forced them to leave New Orleans in 2005. He opened a photography studio on Jackson Street in Ridgeland near the former Parker House restaurant. When he needed a new space a few years later, friends introduced him to James, who was looking for a studio mate.
That happened in 2008, and it was a naturally good fit. At that time, a particularly strong singer/songwriter scene was developing in Jackson, including musicians like Johnny Bertram, Lizzie Wright, The Bachelorettes, and Taylor Hildebrand. Their music played best in small quiet spaces. The Studio became a magnet for such talent, providing the feel of a house show. Live music venue became the space’s alter ego. On occasion, Blaylock’s own band, Electric Hamhock, would even play a set or two on the sidewalk. Those shows have tapered off over the years, but The Studio is as strong as ever on the photography front.
James and Ron have similar commercial client bases – marketing firms including Fondren’s own The Ramey Agency, publications like Portico and Delta magazine, and many more. They’re each available for commissions and private shoots. James is known for his portraits and has done many over the years, including Mississippi’s own Morgan Freeman. Ron has a thing for the blues and the open space of the Delta. Whether capturing a place or an artist’s face, both photographers know how to freeze a feeling in time.
Much of their work can be found on display in The Studio, and it’s typically divided right down the middle. Chances are that one of them will be there to tell you all about it.