Wayne Johnson has a memory for details, and to tell the history of his professional life in Nevada, he starts in 1956. That was the year that Jane Shoafstall moved her Radcliffe photography studio to Nevada.
“She (Shoafstall) had the studio in that old hotel building until 1972, right where Legal Aid is now,” Johnson said.
Shoafstall had hired Linda Bonebrake, who was the fashion editor at the Nevada Journal, to do part-time photography work for her. “Then in 1975, she (Shoafstall) sold the studio to Linda, and MaryAnn Heintz (now Gardner, another well-known photography businessperson in Nevada’s past) worked as a receptionist for Linda.”
It was Bonebrake’s business that Johnson purchased and renamed in 1979. “MaryAnn continued to work for me until June of that year and then she started her own studio,” Wayne said. This is where it might get confusing for people — Gardner’s first studio was called Memory Lane, a name which many today associate with Johnson.
In 1980, Johnson and another partner, Jack Hull, became partners in Gardner’s business. They also had a studio in Ames.
Johnson eventually bought out both Gardner and Hull and kept the name Memory Lane for his Nevada studio.
All of this transitioning took place in basically two years’ time, as Johnson had only come to Nevada in 1979, moving from Harlan, where he’d been working in photography.
He was a young 29-year-old when he started out in Nevada, and (as one Nevada Journal Facebook page follower noted) he had a thick head of “Donny Osmond” styled hair. Johnson laughs at the comparison, but can’t deny that he has a head full of hair. It’s white now, but he said he got the thick locks from his father, who had thick hair into his 90s.
“I moved into the present building (at the corner of K Avenue and Sixth Street) in 1985, and purchased the building in 1991 from Maxine Baumgardner,” he said. Maxine was the wife of Lyle Baumgardner, who had Lyle’s Clothing there for years.
As Johnson thinks back on his time in that location — 1986 to 2016 — he said Julie Clouser and Heidi Schell would probably be the most-remembered of his receptionists.
Schell was there from 2001 to 2016, when Johnson joined with Lifetouch Photography. “To operate the studio, I provided the equipment and photography ability and they paid me,” he explained.
Even after closing the studio in 2016, Johnson continued to work for Lifetouch doing sales, sports photography and filling in with school pictures until May of last year.
What led Johnson to photography as a career?
When asked why he became a photographer, Johnson, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2015, smiles and says, “I thought it (photography) was better than working.”
Johnson was raised in Ankeny and first developed an interest in photography when he was in junior high. It was introduced during an industrial arts class. “We got to go into a darkroom and make a print.” He had so much fun with it, that for Christmas, his parents bought him the chemicals and tanks to set up a darkroom in their home’s basement.
He took his love of photography into high school, doing sports photos and working on the yearbook staff.
His first job as a professional photographer, he said, was at Mid-States Church Directories. The office was in Ankeny, but they did church directory photos all over the state. “I learned how to put together families real quick,” he said.
Through the years, he continued to put together families, kids, senior portraits, wedding parties and much more.
His favorite thing about all of it. “The people,” he said. And his favorite photos to shoot? He can’t say. He loved it all and, just like the Iowa weather, he loved moving from one season to the next where photos were concerned.
“I loved doing weddings, but by the end of June or August, I was tired of weddings and ready for the next thing. I loved doing children’s photographs, but by the end of each session, I was ready not to do another one … until they called me again. I loved senior photos … and I really enjoyed photographing pets.”
Johnson came into photography back when most studios only did senior portraits in black-and-white, and he rode the changes of the profession all the way into the digital age. Along the way, his wife Helen (who many of us know right now as a friendly face at Fareway) has always been there. Johnson likes to joke that the purchase of his first photo studio in Nevada was his wife’s first anniversary present. The couple was married in February 1978.
As for the building at the corner of K and Sixth, Johnson said, “Originally my hope was to keep a renter in it and use the building as retirement income, but then when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease… I began to think differently.”
A new era for the studio
It was an ice cream run to Nevada’s beloved Starbuck’s Drive-In last year that brought Michael and Paula Feltner to Nevada one Friday evening.
Even before that ice cream run, they’d been talking about needing a new location, one with more visibility, for their growing and successful photography business.
“We were on a second level of Ames’ Main Street,” Michael said, “and our business was growing, but we knew we couldn’t grow any bigger unless we found a new place.”
They happened to be driving around Nevada and saw the sign with a phone number on the door of Johnson’s building. “I said, ‘It’s after 5 on a Friday, no one is going to answer,’” Michael recalled. But Paula dialed the number anyway. And to Michael’s amazement, “Wayne said he’d be down in five minutes.”
That call began what has become a wonderful relationship between a modern-day photography couple and a very traditionally schooled photographer.
The Feltners say the building just happened, in the way that the business itself just happened. “In life and in photography, we feel we’ve been led by God to do what we’re supposed to do…,” Paula said.
Michael was in the real estate finance business prior to 2008, and Paula was a mom who loved taking photos of her kids and other people’s kids. She was so good at “seeing a picture” that her natural skills impressed others.
“One of her friend’s daughters was getting married and wanted Paula to take her wedding pictures,” Michael said.
As difficulties arose in the real estate finance business, Michael had an idea. He wanted to turn Paula’s talent and favorite hobby into a business. At first, Paula wasn’t excited about it. “I didn’t really want to charge people for doing something I loved,” she admitted.
But her husband had a business plan. “I could do all the business side of things — marketing, website, getting clients…” He put that plan together. “Part of our business model was that we needed to be different,” he said. So they made a list of the things they would change about all the photographers they had dealt with over the years and a list of what they’d want to have if they hired a photographer today.
And while they are best known and started out as engagement and wedding photographers before they had a brick-and-mortar store, the Feltners realized there was a natural progression to expand their business as those brides and grooms became parents and wanted even more types of photos to mark the various milestones within their families.
Today, Thisday — a name they came up with after writing out all kinds of possibilities and deciding that Thisday captures the sentiment of a special one-time day when it all happens for weddings, births, etc. — focuses on three brands:
• Thisday Studios is their family, baby and senior photography brand — they offer baby plans that take a baby from maternity to age 1.
• Thisday Photography is their engagement and wedding brand. “We are aimed at Iowa weddings (and have earned honors statewide in that area), and we also do videography for weddings,” Michael said.
• Iowa Headshots is their third brand. “We do professional headshots for businesses,” Michael said, as well as a variety of other business marketing needs. “We build websites and do other branding for businesses.”
Since coming to Nevada, the Feltners are liking the community and the visibility they have on the town’s main street. “We’re super close to purchasing the building and we’re super excited,” Paula said.
A friendship has formed
It’s not often that you can buy a building for a business and have that building come with its own historian, but in this case that’s exactly what has happened.
“Wayne is like our Google. He’s a wealth of information,” Michael said.
For example, Johnson been able to sit in on photo sessions with Paula and help her get used to the lighting of the building. “He has helped me with a couple of projects,” Paula said, as she transitions to her new workspace. She also likes that Johnson can show her some of the more traditional poses for photos.
“We just wish his health was better so he could do more things,” Paula said.
But Johnson still gets around pretty good for a guy who has Parkinson’s. And he’s grateful that the Feltners understand how difficult it is for him to walk away from photography and that building totally. “They’re understanding of my need to still be connected with the profession that I have loved for so many years,” he said. In fact, ask Johnson about almost any photographer in Iowa and there’s a chance he knows them. He was president of the Professional Photographers of Iowa back in 1993.
“When we first came here, we were asking about Wayne…,” Michael said. “We ran into person after person that said, ‘I remember Wayne. Wayne is a great person.’ No one has an ill word to say about him… We value Wayne and we think he has a lot of value and knowledge. If we could only put a vacuum up to him and capture that knowledge.”
Michael and Paula talk about the incredible amount of photography history still stored in the basement of the building. Wayne walks through it and can pretty much name everyone whose negatives and photos are still in that basement, which is where all his darkroom work also took place.
“Even though we come from different photography worlds,” Michael said, “he has so much relevant information to help us continue to grow.”
Johnson is pleased that his building finally houses a photo studio again. “I think this community needs a photography studio … It needs an image-generating, community-committed couple. I think that from what I’ve dealt with [the Feltners], they have a genuine love of people and of the work that they do, and a genuine desire to provide a quality product in an affordable manner.”
About Thisday Photography
Weddings: Thisday Photography, brides go to www.thisdayphotography.com and complete the contact form to check availability.
Portraits for families and newborns: Thisday Studios, most people go to www.thisdaystudios.com and reach us through the contact form.
Both groups can reach us by phone as well, 515-599-0123, or email us email@example.com.
Business wanting executive headshots: Iowa Headshots, most go to www.IowaHeadShots.com and reach us through the contact form.
They can also reach us by phone 515-999-4511 or email me for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Feltners plan to hold an “Open House” this spring to welcome folks in to see the updates they’ve made to the studio at the corner of K Avenue and Sixth Street.