© Jody Dole
Jody Dole's studio next to his house in Chester, Connecticut reflects his success as a commercial photographer in New York City during the 1990s and his fascination with vintage darkroom processes. A modern post-and-beam barn with 4,500 square feet of space, the studio includes drive-in shooting bays, a commercial prep kitchen, a rare book library and conference room, a printing suite, a wet-plate darkroom, a guest suite, and plenty of storage space.
"It went way overboard," says Dole, who'd rather not say how much he spent to build it. "There are so many details in this place that only an obsessed still-life photographer would have dreamed of doing." The windows, skylights and bay doors bathe the studio in natural light. The floors are polished concrete, so equipment rolls smoothly. A high speed fiber optic network is built into the floors and beams. The electrical system delivers 400 amps, with separate circuits for the computers so the studio lighting doesn't interfere.
Fifteen years ago, Dole had been planning to buy just a weekend house, with no intention of leaving New York. The 9/11 attacks, not far from his studio, changed everything. That day, he says, "I bought the [Connecticut] house on the phone because I was scared shitless."
He had to renovate, so Dole didn't move his family to Connecticut until 2002. The change was a shock, he says. "I was used to museums, restaurants, car service, ad agencies, design firms," and sophisticated, demanding clients, he says. His new location, about 90 minutes' drive from New York, had almost none of that.
Dole began re-building his business as a generalist, shooting for a variety of local and regional clients. He originally put his studio in a 1,400 square-foot addition the previous owner had built onto the house. But that made life in the house too hectic. Besides, Dole wanted more space to accommodate his extensive collections of photography books and magazine, antiques (including a car), and other things. So he had the 4,500-square-foot building constructed on his property.
"I've always been a pack rat," he says, explaining that his new studio has a 900-square foot storage room, with shelves 14 feet high, packed with boxes of objects he's saved over the years, thinking they might become part of a photo project someday.
Dole also needed more space for photo gear. "I'm equipped to a fault," he says, adding that in semi-rural Connecticut, "It's not easy to call in a rental." In addition to a full complement of HMI lights and strobes, Dole shoots with a Nikon D800E, and medium format with digital camera backs, including a P45+ Phase One back. "I also have two of everything, in case anything goes wrong."
He does his own printing in a suite equipped with an Epson Stylus Pro 9900 printer. And then there's the wet-plate darkroom. Nine years ago, Dole befriended Matt Isenberg, a neighbor who owned a world-class collection of 19th century photographs and cameras. Before Isenberg sold the collection in 2012 (for $15 million), Dole spent a lot of time photographing bits and pieces of it.
"When I got close to it, that made me want to try [wet plate photography]," he says. "My son and I took a workshop, got wooden cameras, brass lenses, and started shooting pretty much everything in tintype that wasn't commercial work. Then I showed my clients, and they started asking for it." (Sam Dole, his son, also uses the studio and teaches wet-plate workshops in New York City.)
When Dole built his studio, he took on the role of general contractor. It was a distraction that left little time for shooting and self-promotion, he says. His foray into wet plate photography and other personal projects also diverted attention from his commercial business, but on the flip side, those project have rejuvenated him creatively. Now it's time, Dole says, to start re-building his business.
The new studio, he explains, "isn't about all the stuff we put in it to make it look good. It's about me being able to take pictures that I feel really strongly about that also we can sell to earn a living in order to pay for all this stuff."