Photography l students visit Sun Catcher Studio, listen to owner speak


Jaime Alemán

Abigail Dold, fine arts and teaching certificate senior reviews a photo on her DSLR, Nov. 9.

Students in Photography l visited Sun Catcher Studio, a natural light photo studio tucked away in University Village, for hands-on practice with Leah Gose, professor and academic department chair of Art, on Tuesday, Nov 9.

“Anything I can do to connect with what my students are practicing in the classroom to what they could be doing after graduation is important,” Gose said. “I think all the MSU faculty are really big in terms of professional practice to take what you are learning in the classroom and apply it outside the classroom.”

Gose stepped away from the classroom to allow her Photography l students to take advantage of the photography studio and listen to Harry Tonemah, owner of Sun Catcher Studio, describe his journey from a professional photographer to the owner of the natural-light studio. Tonemah began with a brief background of his college days and what sparked his interest in photography in the first place.

“I’m from Lawton, Oklahoma and received my college degree in Photographic Arts at the Central State University, now Central Oklahoma University. I started with learning how to hold a camera my freshman year. It lit a fire in me,” Tonemah said. “The newspaper was looking for a photographer and my instructor said I had some promise, just like that, and they asked if I wanted to take some pictures for them. So later, I was able to process some pictures I gave them and actually had some images that they wanted. They ended up giving me a partial scholarship to be able to continue with my education in photography and to change my path into journalism.”

Owner of the Sun Catcher Studio Harry Tonemah adjusts a light used for photography.
Owner of the Sun Catcher Studio Harry Tonemah adjusts a light used for photography, Nov. 9. (Jaime Alemán)

The students heard first-hand from Tonemah and were able to see a professional operating his own business. Students saw some insight into the process of opening a photography studio, and Professor Gose encouraged them to find all sorts of opportunities and not fall into the stereotype of there not being a profitable outcome with an art degree.

“I think there’s that stereotype of ‘What are you going to do with an art degree?’ So, showing my students that you can start a business, or you can be hired by an agency, or showing them all the different opportunities available for photography in terms of getting a job and creating a career,” Gose said. “I try to look for people in the community who have successfully had a career in art. So, having Harry tell my students about his studio and his background and what he did, it’s another viewpoint as opposed to me telling them.”

After Tonemah spoke, the students were able to pull out their own DSLR cameras and practice using the different backgrounds and sets Sun Catcher Studio has already set up. The creativity could be heard from everyone spilling out ideas about what kind of photos they were wanting to create. The set-up in Sun Catcher Studio provides, at least, 8 to 12 different sets depending on an individual’s tastes.

“You save time setting up because there are sets already here,” Tonemah said. “And the best part, you can make your own set right here; just pick out what you want and that allows a lot you can do. What I built [the studio] for is so you could use your creativity. You guys are creative, but if you have your idea of what you want to create, then I want to make it possible to have this space available for you to make that into the images that you want. So, listen to what your professor is teaching you and ask questions because you will not be able to fake it when a client asks for something above and beyond of what is normal.”

The students spent the last minutes of class exploring the studio, moving furniture pieces and rolling backgrounds to their likings. Every student had their cameras out pointing at one of the many sets inside the studio.

“There is so much in this studio. I liked the variety of different props and backgrounds,” Abigail Dold, fine arts and teaching certificate senior, said. “Some studios I’ve been to, it’s usually one set and you have to bring everything else. I like that here at this studio, he supplies different things that you can use.”

The experience for the students was unique and provided a glimpse into a professional setting. Listening to the owner speak about his journey shed a light on where photography could take these students professionally.

“I thought it was a lot of fun. Just getting out of the classroom is nice and seeing different things about photography,” Sarah Griego, fine arts and teacher certification senior, said. “That’s the most interesting because we know photography is profitable, but today we got to see different ways in a real business.”

Students of the Photography I class got to see an application of a successful business in the arts firsthand.
Students of the Photography I class got to see an application of a successful business in the arts firsthand, Nov. 9. (Jaime Alemán)