FARGO — Kary Janousek has relocated her HighHat Portraiture/Old School Collodion Photography business to a new studio space in Fargo — and she got it for a song.


Janousek, the first female ambrotypist to use the 170-year-old collodion method in the state, moved her studio from the old Mapleton, N.D., school to the old Dakota Business College building, 11 8th St. S., last week.

“My space is unbelievable,” Janousek says. “I’m the entire top floor. It’s a classroom, so there’s hardwood floors and the original tin ceilings and these huge windows all around. It’s like a dream. I can’t believe I have this space.”

When negotiating with landlord Frank Leland "Lee" Watkins on rent, Watkins learned that Janousek had once studied opera. He requested she sing an Italian opera song for him, which she did.

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It sealed the deal: She got the space.

Besides lots of room, the studio offers a particularly valuable asset to the ambrotypist: natural light, and lots of it. The space features 19 8-foot-tall windows, which flood the room with so much light that Janousek is able to create excellent images without need for artificial lighting. In Janousek’s former space in Mapleton, she had to rely on UV lamps to get properly exposed images.

Another perk: As her studio simply moved from one historic classroom to another, it allows her to keep her business name: Old School Collodion Studio.

Leasing the 3,400-square-foot space was made more affordable by splitting studio time and rent with Ludvik Herrera, who specializes in digital fashion photography.

“I couldn’t believe how this all just fell into place,” she says.

Janousek is excited about a chance to work within the historic SoMA district, which contains some of the oldest commercial buildings in Fargo. Today, the Eighth Avenue neighborhood houses galleries, “quirky little shops,” and Nichole’s Fine Pastry & Cafe. She looks forward to joining together with neighboring businesses to hold block parties or art events. She also hopes to be able to display her work at the Dakota Fine Art Gallery, located on the first floor of her building.

To capitalize on her new location, Janousek has decided to open the studio to walk-in appointments from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, in conjunction with the Red River Market downtown. The price for a portrait is $60. The labor-intensive method is created by exposing a collodion-covered, silver nitrate-treated plate to natural light, then rushing to develop and fix it in a darkroom before the wet plate dries.

Most recently, the ambrotypist completed a grant project from The Arts Partnership in which she took ambrotypes of 10 historic buildings at Bonanzaville, complete with models in period-appropriate clothing.

“The last main shoot was the train,” she says. “It has been a dream of mine to take a wet plate of a steam train, so they actually pulled it out for me."

As a crowning touch, Janousek recruited an old friend of hers, film photographer Chris Calderhead, to travel from Knoxville, Tenn., to Fargo so he could perch on the "cowcatcher" of the 684 steam engine as Buster Keaton did in the iconic scene from “The General.” Janousek said impersonating the legendary silent-film star has been Calderhead's lifelong dream.

Janousek recruited a friend to pose on Bonanzaville's steam engine to re-create the iconic Buster Keaton scene from "The General." By Kary Janousek/Special to The Forum.
Janousek recruited a friend to pose on Bonanzaville's steam engine to re-create the iconic Buster Keaton scene from "The General." By Kary Janousek/Special to The Forum.

Bonanzaville will keep the finished tin plates, which they can use for display and promotion. She, in turn, will have her work publicized and archived.

Janousek will also be at Bonanzaville Aug. 21-22 during Pioneer Days, where she’ll demonstrate the collodion process.

In other words, Janousek may have a new studio, but she won't be using it to put her feet up anytime soon. "You have to work hard at this kind of thing because otherwise you fade away,” she says.

Learn more about Janousek's work at https://karyboberry.wixsite.com/website-1