Photography Hub, Community Space, Light Rider Studios to Celebrate Grand Opening

After a successful soft opening last September, a local artist is celebrating the public launch of Light Rider Studios – a community-focused photography hub – this Saturday, March 26.   

Located in Corvallis on 2150 NE Conifer Blvd, mulch paths lead toward a garage that has been converted into an open, colorful interior dotted with cushions, yoga mats, and coffee tables, and fully equipped with digital photography tools. Towards the back, a rotating, star-sticker-adorned door serves as the entrance to the darkroom. 

The studio, open Sundays through Wednesdays from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., is stewarded by photographer Koa A. Tom, who welcomes the community into their space “for custom artistic & [sic] restoration work; hands-on workshops in digital & analog photographic methodologies.” Their studio “offers space use and equipment to artists, seasoned & raw alike, for their personal artistic endeavors or events.” 

Community members can use the studio’s photography resources, digitize or restore personal or professional photos, take classes, participate in weekly art club events, or rent the space for other creative undertakings. 

Purpose and Background 

The studio’s community agreement describes it as “a space for each person to safely self-explore & express via the medium of Photography & other creative, respectful uses of the Space.” 

“I definitely want [the studio] to be a multi-purposed community space, and that’s why it’s not limited to just photography; that’s what I specialize in, and those are the services I offer, but the space itself is still just a space,” said Tom. “If people want to host a class or a workshop, or have kids come in and do art, that’s totally fine because the intent is to support the arts community and whatever that looks like. And for me, that’s very broad: it includes music, writing, all of that.” 

Having grown up in Corvallis, Tom moved to Seattle to pursue more hands-on experience in their photographic endeavors. They cited the pandemic as a significant instigator for moving back to town.  

“I worked at Moon Photo, where I learned photo restoration under the tutelage of Bob Mullins and Jane Keis, who are fantastic artists in their own right,” they said. “With COVID happening, folks were cleaning out their darkrooms or their garages and calling the photo lab to ask us if we wanted equipment, which we didn’t need because we didn’t have a darkroom. At the back of my mind, I knew I always wanted to start my own darkroom, so I started amassing this equipment in my 254-square foot studio. Then COVID sent rent skyrocketing in Seattle, and I wanted to come back to a less populated environment and be closer to my family.” 

Though not a city person, Tom felt confident that they could take the artistic knowledge and experience they gained in Seattle and share them with a smaller, more familiar community. 

“Having lived in Seattle and seeing so much support and reverence for the arts up there, I think we could do that here, too,” they said. “I’m coming back and finding that a lot of my peers are still here, and there’s so many incredible, incredible artists as well as resources supporting that community, and I want to be a part of that.” 

The Darkroom 

Tom saw an opening for community support when the darkroom at Oregon State University’s Craft Center had permanently closed.  

“I knew there was no longer that resource that used to be here, so that could have been a case where opening a community darkroom wasn’t a good idea because there isn’t a demand for that, or maybe it’s a need in the community that’s not being met,” they said.  

While there is a photography and digital studio at OSU, it is only open for use to students who are taking photography classes at the university. 

“Oregon State University is the only place [in Corvallis] where you can access darkroom knowledge if that’s something you want to learn,” said Tom. “But attending a BFA program isn’t everyone’s desire and isn’t accessible to everyone. So I think I’m kind of on this other side of it, curating a space for folks who want to dabble or learn a little for whatever reason, who are curious, or for those who are already artists or who get really into what they’re doing.” 

It can also be, as described on the studio’s Instagram page, a space for those who “desire greater control & liberation in [their] creative efforts.” 

“Maybe you want to do a bit of custom work yourself versus just sending it out to a lab,” said Tom. “And it’s really meant to provide a different sort of education than what’s available – stuff that’s just for fun, for your own benefit and gratification, and stuff to open up people’s eyes to what photography can be.”  

The Necessity of Art 

Tom also questioned the demand for art at local and broader levels in the time of COVID, and what they could provide to help meet that need. 

“I definitely debated the utility of art, because it always seems like in crisis situations, we interpret art as kind of frivolous, but I think that’s because we see the art world, not as a world of artists, but a world where really arbitrary value is assigned to a select few who get put on a pedestal,” they said. “I’m more interested in what art actually means to individuals in their day-to-day lives.” 

Looking at last weekend’s local Garbage Fest – an art event in which Tom participated – as an example, they note that there are numerous other ways art can be utilized and applied that tend to be forgotten when thinking about art mostly in terms of galleries and museums. 

“I think there’s a culture that’s already there, but hopefully it will really rise to the surface where we value art because we see it everywhere,” said Tom. “Talking about the Garbage Fest, you have all these products that end up in the trash, and you recognize that someone designed them, someone picked those colors – there’s thought that went into them, and that’s artistry. That’s one of the reasons why I want to have this space, so that people can explore themselves and explore media in that way.” 

Maintaining Accessibility 

One of the main things Tom wants for the studio is for it to be welcoming to all, spatially, culturally, as well as financially.  

“I want to have programs for folks that are at a sliding scale, or I fund them if they have a genuine interest in learning about film or other media, but they just can’t afford the equipment,” they said. “I don’t want that to be a barrier, because whatever financial place folks are in, they deserve getting access to the resources they desire to entertain that curiosity they might have.” 

As an antidote, those who are able to pay in full to use the services provided at the studio – or to sign up for a monthly or annual membership – will help sustain it for those with lower incomes. 

“Anyone who becomes a patron of my space contributes to the arts community that wants to use it,” said Tom. “I see it as sort of like how Bill [McCanless] has Interzone; it’s a coffee shop for a lot of people, but it’s also an art space because his heart is really in the punk scene, so he doesn’t charge people who are going to a show that’s hosted there, but he sells coffee to be able to have that space available for these different artists and events.  

“So by coming [to the studio] and either investing in an artistically done photo restoration, or a fine art print, or getting reproductions of your painting that you can then sell, or just making art, you’re supporting other artists by helping to keep the studio open. So then for the people who want to use a service but don’t have enough money, I can cut them a deal, or if someone likes the work I’m doing and gives me a tip, I can put that into gas money so I can go and pick up another person who wants to use the space but doesn’t have a car.” 

Tom jokes that running the studio in this way might not make them the best business person. 

“I’m basically taking advantage of the luxuries and privileges that I have and wanting to share it,” they said. “I have the space and will continue to make sure it’s funded and do that whole side of it, and I also see it as my responsibility to acquire the resources and disseminate them to those who need them. Even if it doesn’t survive as a business, and at the end of the day I just have this awesome studio, great – but I’d rather share it. I definitely don’t want it to be just mine.” 

The Opening 

Taking place from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. tomorrow, the grand opening will be a more festive version of the studio’s “Art Parks”, held the first Monday mornings of every month, where seasoned and developing creatives get together to talk, make art, play, etc.  

Guests will have access to art supplies, books, food and drinks, and darkroom demo activities, and are encouraged to bring their own musical instruments to jam. A raffle will be available for those who participate; prizes include three giclee 11×14 prints, a free Intro to Film Photography session, and a free photo restoration. Weather permitting, there will also be an outdoor fire.  

For questions about the studio, email Tom at or call 541-602-4342. Those who are interested in using the space can download and sign the studio’s community agreement here. 

“Light Rider Studios operates on historical land of Kalapuya peoples past & present and honors with gratitude the land itself and the people who have stewarded it throughout the generations.” —LRS Mission Statement 

By Emilie Ratcliff 

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