By Karon Liu
Frustrated with the lack of studio space and adequate-at-best equipment in the Image Arts building, Inessa Radostin and her father opened Namelings Photocafé. It’s a one-stop shop where emerging photographers can get their work done, display it and still have time for an espresso.
“We wanted to cater to the artists and create a space where people don’t have to feel awkward and out of place,” Radostin says in her bubbly Russian accent. “We don’t want it to be a pure working area but instead establish a good place for students to promote their work.”
Even though the dimly-lit Parisian coffee shop is the first thing people see when they enter the building at Church and Queen streets, Radostin adjusts her black glasses and is quick to correct that Namelings is primarily a studio space and display area. The main gallery is in the back with a door that leads to a studio and an installation gallery in the basement. The café is just the final touch for this former lighting store.
Fourth-year photography student Jessica “Stella” Kulagowski, who runs the café counter, says photo students have to pay a lot to produce work that may never even make it to a wall or display case. A major fourth year project typically costs $2,000 with printing, framing, hiring models and stylists, renting studio space and travel costs. Despite the year-end Maximum Exposure show, she believes many students still have a hard time finding gallery space.
“But if it’s something you love you’re going to find a way to do it,” justifies Kulagowski while making a large vanilla bean soy latte. “Places like this hopefully give people an opportunity to sell their work and put the money back into other projects.
Currently, the brightly lit, white walls of the gallery are adorned with vibrant black-framed photographs of cityscapes, portraits and collages courtesy of eleven photo students, four of them from Ryerson.
“It’s not going to be the Inessa Gallery,” she says in all seriousness. “I wouldn’t put any of my work out here because it’s cheating.” It’s not just photographers who are approaching Radostin — fashion and theatre students will be shooting their fashion lines and headshots. An auction for Skate for Cancer, a wedding reception and more shows are also in the works.
The equipment studio in the backroom still needs to be set up and the basement still needs to be renovated, but Namelings is open for business.
For now, the place is doing mostly printing and framing jobs in the studio where Radostin’s father and business partner, Alex, is in charge.
Two months ago, he approached his daughter with a business proposal for a café gallery. Radostin agreed and her role soon grew from advisor to co-owner.
Transforming the old lighting store in such a short time wasn’t hard since the ceiling and walls were intact but the original budget of $45,000 soon ballooned to an estimated $70-100,000 says Radostin. She had stopped keeping track.
“I used to manage a Second Cup and that was a lot harder because you’re forced to care about something that’s not yours,” she explains. “I still don’t see it as work so I don’t really see myself as a boss. I’m an artist first and this place is to support my crazy art habit.”
Though it is considered contradictory to be an artist and businessperson, Radostin tries her best to walk the fine line between making art and money.
“It shouldn’t cost anything to display your work. Walls are free,” she says, explaining that most galleries take a percentage off the sale.
“If somebody comes in and spent a lot of money on their work and expects $2,000 back, of course I’m not going to price it as $4,000.”
And the gallery’s profits won’t be put towards Radostin’s tuition. Right now, her and her father are trying to break even. She plans to apply for grants and credits summer school for making life easier.
“I have no doubt that things will get hard when school starts but fortunately I don’t have such a heavy schedule this year,” she says confidently.
She also plans to get someone to help her father run the studio. The two of them laid bricks, built a huge room divider and lugged heavy studio equipment on their own all summer.
Radostin’s father gives a mini tour of the cluttered studio, pointing to a refrigerator-sized printer box in the scanner room. “See that? That’s my grave,” he says, laughing. “So how is it like working with me?” Radostin asks her father. “Not so good, but I have no choice,” her father replies. “Actually I’m nobody here. Maybe I go collect welfare tomorrow.”
The 23-year-old entrepreneur likes to joke with her father. “You’re fired; now go into your box,” she says. As she makes her way to the basement, still laughing, her father watches her leave and whispers, “But seriously, this place is her future, not mine.”