In Studio One at Ambient + Studio, nestled up against one wall there sits a giant scale big enough for a person – or two – to step on.
During the plethora of weddings hosted in the space, the occasional, perhaps slightly inebriated guest will find their way to the scale. Maybe thinking it’s a replica, they’ll step onto it briefly before jumping back when the ground beneath them begins to shift, eyes widening as they realize the scale is in fact, authentic, left over from the building’s cotton mill days.
Ambient + Studio – which serves as a photography and film studio as well as an event space – has more hidden knick knacks than just that scale. Located on Wells Street in Southwest Atlanta, the building that houses the studio is a former cotton mill and is 113 years old. In the 1920s, it served as home to the Dixie Lumber Company. In the 1940s, it became Southern Mills, a large specialty textile manufacturer.
When Jason Ivany, owner of the studio, came to the building in 2007, it had fallen into disrepair. Since then, what started as one studio has transformed into four, and the space hosts everything from weddings to corporate events to magazine photoshoots.
Ivany, originally from the Toronto area, moved to Atlanta from Los Angeles in 2003. He was a photographer at the time, and on the west coast he had been mostly using daylight studios, or studio spaces with a lot of natural light, but couldn’t find much of a market for those in Atlanta. There must be a need, he thought.
“I wrote a business plan to open such a business,” Ivany said. “I couldn’t get it funded and put it on the shelf.”
Four years later, he found himself walking through what is now Ambient + Studio. “They walked me through this room,” he told me. We were standing in Studio One – a cavernous, warehouse style space with a row of giant windows facing west. “At sunset, this thing glows like an industrial cathedral.”
The building was perfect for Ivany’s needs, but required a lot of work.
“Before we came along, the building was derelict,” Ivany said. “It wasn’t like we took over a factory. It was like we took over a junkyard.”
But in that rubble came some of the aspects of Ambient + Studio that make it so unique. In addition to the scale in Studio One, multiple original aspects of the building are leftover. There’s original brickwork, flooring, and windows throughout. Some of the giant, barn-style doors are original, while others were made by Jonathan Hanson, a local artisan.
In one of the smaller studios, the floor was originally covered in concrete and asphalt, but Ivany has it removed to reveal hardwood floors. They saved an embroidery machine that was too heavy to move, as well as an old 1974 AM General Mail Truck that sits in the garage space. But the biggest find – literally – was a huge cotton baler saved from the mill.
“As much as it looks like I was preserving something, there was just no way I was going to try to make this thing leave,” Ivany joked as he showed off the huge machine. “Inside it goes down six feet, so that you can compress that much cotton into one cube.”
Ivany said while it’s easy for weddings to dominate Ambient’s calendar, the schedule is usually split 50/50 with film or photography shoots. Musicians in particular like to use their garage space for gritty, industrial-style music videos. On the day I visited, Fugo Studios was set up for a small shoot in Studio One. It’s hard to remember everything over a 16-year period, but Ivany said over the years, they’ve had everything from one of the “Step Up” movies to the Netflix show “Raising Dion” grace the stage. Zaxby’s has filmed part of a commercial in the space, and magazines like Rolling Stone, Marie Claire, and Details have all held photoshoots there. Brands like Carter’s and Spanx have also used the space for photoshoots.
Last year, Lauren Liz Hubbard of Lauren Liz Photo served as the chair for a portrait project for the Atlanta chapter of American Photographic Artists (APA). The holiday portrait project was a full day photoshoot at Ambient taking family portraits for families of patients with the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.
Hubbard said Ambient’s spaciousness was crucial to the photoshoot.
“One of the most important things for this particular shoot was accessibility for people with any kind of physical challenges,” she said. “The space was a really important part. They have a large amount. The studio spaces are just very open floor plan, so it was really ideal for our needs.”
Photoshoots are how Ivany originally envisioned Ambient would get the most use. It didn’t dawn on him that his huge hall, with its sunset facing windows and copious amounts of room, could be used for weddings until a set designer asked him about it in 2009.
“I thought of [the space] as a photo studio,” he said. “I never imagined it for events or anything like that.”
In retrospect, he said, opening the space up for weddings definitely helped financially. Ambient has also been open to other events, such as an artist forum that the space hosts regularly.
“The promoters … will select 10 artists and each artist puts up a booth, so it’s a marketplace to sell their own work,” Ivany said. “But it is sort of cross-pollination, in that anybody that’s following one artist now gets ten that are kind of like them.”
That’s really what’s special about Ambient + Studio, said Ivany. Its age and style definitely, but it’s the versatility that works best in its favor. Ivany didn’t try to decorate the space in any specific way, not wanting anyone to feel locked into a certain look – a blank canvas, if you will.
“For some, it can be intimidating, because it’s a lot of space to fill with vision,” Ivany said. “But mostly, I think – I hope – it allows folks to create their own world.”
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