Roger’s Portrait Studio is one of the landmark businesses on our Courthouse Square, and has been the source of more than 30,000 photographic sessions, both on site and off. Founded by Roger Bedingfield and his late wife, Vicki, several generations of families in the Tennessee Valley have found the comfy studio on Washington Street to be the perfect site for all their portrait needs.
Roger and Vicki opened up shop in 1984, however, there is much more to the story than just “hometown boy makes good.” Roger was born and raised in the area, having graduated from Tanner High in 1970. He had planned on a career as an architect, but realized that designing buildings wasn’t his true calling, but “designing memories” and capturing them on film was. Serendipitously, in 1972 he went to work for Olan Mills studios, spent a year there, worked for B&R Studios in Scottsboro, and then went into business for himself in 1980. For several years he travelled to various stores in North Alabama and took pictures of children. After opening the studio in Athens, was able to slowly phase out being on the road. He and Vicki built the business, raised their family, became grandparents, active in the community, and were by all accounts, “living the dream.” Then, disaster struck: Vicki was diagnosed with cancer, fought a long and brave battle against it, and died at their home in August with Roger at her side.
Roger and his daughters have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love in the aftermath of Vicki’s passing, and wanted to express their deepest thanks to our community. Roger feels the same with regard to the big change that he is announcing. He is closing the studio, but not the business, and he wants to thank literally more than eight thousand clients for their loyal patronage. This leads to two of the goals of this article: to invite people to make an appointment to come and get their negatives and to tell you about a promise he made to Vicki.
Over the years, as part of continually upgrading the shop’s level of service as well as professionalism, Roger and Vicki would attend trade shows all over the country. At one such show, they learned about a brand new technology called “Live Portraits.” Interestingly, Vicki was not someone who had a great love for computers, social media, or technology in general, but when they saw how “Live Portraits” worked, she made Roger promise that no matter what happened to her, he would add this service to his business.
He is making good on his promise, and Roger’s is the first studio in the country to make it available for general consumption. He gave me a demonstration, and it was amazing. You can have a professionally photographed portrait which is beautiful in its own right, but when you hold your smart phone up to it, the portrait will play a video on your phone of the person in it, literally bringing it to life. You do this by downloading an app to your smart phone, hold the lens side of your phone up to the portrait, click the app button, and prepare to be wowed. By way of illustration, after you download the Live Portrait app, if you hold your smart phone up to the front cover illustration of Roger in this edition of Athens Now, he actually talk to you via a pre-recorded video!
This technology has been used with business cards, resumés, Christmas cards, political materials, engagement announcements, baby announcements, just to name a few, and the list of potential applications is endless. He is partnering with North Alabama videographer Craig Shamwell to make Live Portraits available, and is excited about adding this service to his photographic tool kit. Roger is still going to do weddings, outdoor sessions, yearbooks, fire department shoots, daycare shoots - basically anything that doesn’t demand a studio setting.
“I am moving into a space that is about 1/5th the size of the studio, and need to have folks come and get their negatives, if they want them,” he said. The move is unusual, as most studios retain permanent rights to all negatives and files. By contrast, Roger is fully releasing ownership and is charging only $35 per session. This will be on a sliding scale depending on the numbers of sessions ordered, which doesn’t even cover the cost of retrieving them and getting them to the client. He hopes to have the job completed by the end of 2016. If you want those negatives, you need to call soon to make an appointment to get them. Currently, Roger’s is open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10am to 5pm.
He is also going to have an auction of all the props he and Vicki collected over the years in November, so be on the lookout for that announcement. We finished our time talking about this huge transition, and he said with a wistful smile, “I have never gone to work, I always played.” He then added, “Vicki always decorated the windows each season.” The portrait of Vicki shown in this article is still on display in the window, and will be until the shop closes. But remember, Roger is not quitting, he’s just closing, and more importantly, he’s following through on a promise.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner