SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) — People might do a double take when driving by the sign for The Black Hills Studios at 125 E. Grant St. in Spearfish — and yes, the name is a tribute to a well-known photographer and studio of old in the Black Hills.
Owner and photographer Russ Aman said that he and George Fassbender, of Black Hills Studios — and what would become the Fassbender Photographic Collection — were friends "back in the day" when Aman was attending college at Black Hills State. Aman tried to convince Fassbender to take him on as an intern, but as Aman describes it, Fassbender did him a favor by refusing, which led Aman to seek other ways into the industry.
He would eventually attend Elkins Institute in Dallas, Texas, to study photography, which opened doors for work in the profession — and after 30 years, Aman has had a variety of experience capturing images on film and digital for clients such as Dillards, Dr. Pepper, Fossil, JCPenney, Motorola, PepsiCo, Zales Jewelry, and more.
Aman, originally from Spearfish, has family in the community, and about a decade ago, he and his wife bought property in Higgins Gulch, with the intention to move to the Black Hills.
"It was just time, and I'm from here. This was always home," he said of the recent move.
He also heard from friends in the area that once James Photography closed in town, there was a need for a photography studio, as a lot of business went to Rapid City versus remaining in the community.
"There's no reason for that," he said, adding, "In that 30 years (of experience), I've acquired a ton of skills, and (I'm) looking at what's here and what I can do to improve and pull the business that's going to Rapid City back."
Aman hopes to help to continue to build the photography program at Black Hills State University, with the idea of offering internships and opportunities to students in the program. He would also like to partner with the university to have students learn by creating a new website for The Black Hills Studios that can be launched.
Aman remembers being a student interested in photography; he got his camera in about seventh-grade, and he remembers doing "some kind of edgy cool stuff with a Polaroid Swinger."
However, his interest turned to architecture, and after enlisting in the military for four years, Aman attended Black Hills State with the dream of becoming an architect. At a certain point, his sister asked him why he wasn't studying photography — and that question caused Aman to switch tracks, researching options for where he could go to study photography and eventually attending Elkins Institute in Dallas and finding a job with a communications company that did audio-visual shows for various corporations and major clients. This opportunity eventually led to freelancing and other staff jobs for Aman through the years.
"I've done some wonderful stuff," he told the Black Hills Pioneer , adding that most of the work has been commercial photography.
One of the first jobs he landed when he moved back to the area was as the official photographer for the 2019 Downtown Friday Nights, and Aman said his motto for this event is, "I'm living with eyes wide open," seeing things in the crowd no one else is noticing and capturing that in photos so that others can see it later.
"It's been a lot of fun," he said, adding that he's also photographed the Festival in the Park, D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives and other events. He prefers to work outdoors, and a sign at the window in the studio states, "Catch me here or by appointment," as Aman is generally out and about. The studio is a "place to hang" his gear and meet and greet, he said. Some of his work, as well as vintage cameras, are on display in the space.
The studio has been open for about three months, Aman said, adding that he was working on it for longer than that. The space is a former garage.
"It's me," Aman joked of the interior of the studio, describing it as "kind of old and rough."
He added that he's been pleased with the response of people reaching out to him, interested in The Black Hills Studios, and he said that his goal is to do what he can for the community to bring them a step up, whatever their photography needs.
Information from: Black Hills Pioneer, http://www.bhpioneer.com