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VOL. 128 | NO. 152 | Tuesday, August 6, 2013

New Space

Amurica photo studio to open Crosstown storefront

By Andy Meek

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When Jamie Harmon formally throws open the doors to the first storefront for his Amurica photo studio – later this month, if all goes according to plan – fans of his quirky, trinket-filled photo booth will have somewhere permanent they can visit.

Jamie Harmon’s Amurica photo venture – the photo booth of which is shown here after a party in the Broad Avenue district – is planning to open a storefront by the end of this month in the Crosstown neighborhood.

(Courtesy of Jamie Harmon)

That means more options for customers besides looking up the ever-changing destination of the roving camper, the interior of which is known for being strewn with random props beneath a string of colored lights and which looks something like the cross between a toy chest and a costume closet.

Remodeling work is in the final stages now for Amurica’s space at 410 N. Cleveland St. It soon will be a permanent home for Harmon’s photographic funhouse on wheels, as well as a possible venue with space to rent out and a place where his customers can come to him.

Settling on a fixed space doesn’t mean Harmon is putting the photo booth on ice. Rather, he’ll now have somewhere he can park it that’s not his backyard. And he’ll still be taking the photo booth out into the community.

Even more important, opening a storefront doesn’t foreshadow any change in the Amurica aesthetic. It’ll still be the place where people line up for their portraits prepared to don animal heads and Guy Fawkes masks, cowboy hats and bizarre glasses, all while mugging for the camera in ways that might raise an eyebrow elsewhere but that look perfectly suited to a studio with a name that harkens back to an unfortunate presidential pronunciation.

That distinctiveness also points to the enviable status achieved by what started as a kind of souped-up art project for Harmon: Only a glance at one of his portraits, without any commentary or caption, is needed to identify his work.

“The plan had been to maybe rent it out at first and try to make a living that way,” said Harmon of the photo booth, which debuted in February 2011. “Over the last two years, it’s just worked. Weddings – people call me, I show up and run the booth for a couple of hours. I’ve done fundraisers, lots of local events – I even took it to South by Southwest and set it up on the street.”

It’s been an improbable evolution for someone who fell in love with the camera at a young age and who harbors an equally deep-seated disdain for convention.

He dropped out of Memphis College of Art because, in his frank and good-natured recitation of his biography, it “kept me from doing what I wanted to do – which was whatever I felt like.”

He started a photo business at age 21, and in 1995, he built a one-hour photo-processing lab out of a 1974 camper.

When he’s not behind the camera in his booth, he shoots everything from magazine work to album covers. He decided to open his own space in the Crosstown neighborhood for a few straightforward reasons, one of which is that he lives in the neighborhood.

Harmon is a husband and father of three.

Harmon said he’s hoping for the space to be up and running by the end of this month. That would come not long before a block party for the neighborhood in September.

“Right now, I just really want to get set up and moved in,” Harmon said.

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