ELKHART — When Cindy Lindahl photographs the Elkhart Memorial High School graduating class this year, it will be the last job for a studio whose lenses once caught the smiles of their parents and grandparents too.
Cindy’s dad, Bob, founded the studio at 800 W. Beardsley Ave. after he started photographing weddings in 1972, and she was pretty much raised in it. She and her husband, Greg Anders, have been the ones running the company for more than a decade, but they’re winding it down over the next few weeks in order to move to South Carolina to help Greg’s family.
They plan to liquidate the equipment and everything May 12 and 13, though they’ll keep a few things in case they ever get the itch again. They’ve made sure they have no outstanding responsibilities left and the website will stay up for at least another year, so people can order reprints.
One thing they’re not selling is the name, since it’s too important to give up.
“There’s a reason we say we’ve probably photographed a large majority of the people in the area,” Greg said in their upstairs studio Thursday, surrounded by walls covered with generations of framed portraits.
“People still come up to me on the street and say, ‘I remember you – you did our wedding,’” Cindy added.
What Bob had built
Cindy’s dad taught her the craft in the days before automatic anything – focus, shutter speed and other things now taken for granted by younger photographers who may have never smelled the distinctive mix of acid and ammonia in a darkroom.
“You never miss the smell of fixture,” she remarked. “It never goes away.”
She later embraced digital developments in photography, which allowed them to do new things like print giant team banners or put photos on mugs and shirts. At the same time, Greg noted, the anticipation of waiting for a roll of film to develop has been lost, along with the need to stage the perfect photo rather than rely on digitally improving them later or just deleting them.
“There’s something about the anticipation,” he said, “the excitement of working with film and the challenge to make sure you’ve honed your technical skills, that the lighting’s right and you understand it.”
Bob Lindahl had also started an equipment manufacturing business, Lindahl Specialties, and served on the Elkhart City Council and as the Concord Township assessor. He sold Specialties in 1999, after making it into a major employer that fabricated equipment in the same building as the studio.
“It did $1 million in sales worldwide. It was kind of a big deal,” Cindy said.
During all that time, Bob Lindahl continued to take wedding photos. He also had cancer for more than 20 years, something Cindy said most people didn’t know.
She and Greg, who she met in California during the two years she lived away from Elkhart, helped her dad run the studio starting in 2003. But her dad was in the hospital more often than not during that time, and he passed away in early 2005.
Greg recalled that his funeral had people waiting to pay their respects lined up around the block. Cindy remembers the city ordering flags to be flown at half-staff.
They ran the company themselves after that. Cindy’s father had a way with people, Greg observed, but she was the one with business sense.
“Basically I’m an only child, so I was mostly the one who was going to understand what he had built,” Cindy said.
‘They’re all our kids’
The couple found their niche in school photography pretty quickly, moving from weddings to proms as well as graduations, sports and other school events. Proms fell away as camera phones allowed couples to take a bunch of photos before even leaving the house, instead of knowing a professional setup was the only way they’d get a good shot in their tuxes and dresses, but otherwise student portrait work remained steady.
They say their relationship with the schools became more like family than business-to-business over time, which is why news of their closing is often met with a loud gasp and a desperate, “What will we do now?”
“There was a time when the studio had pretty much every school contract within driving distance,” Cindy said. “We do absolutely everything head to toe for Elkhart Memorial High School and a few selected things for Central High School… When you’re photographing the men’s donkey basketball, I guess you kind of are doing it head to toe.”
They were looking forward to working for the combined Elkhart high school when they decided instead that Greg’s family needed them more.
“There was a ripe opportunity for someone to be the go-to person for Elkhart Community Schools, which is what we hoped to be, but sometimes family needs take precedent,” Cindy said. “It’s a very, very lifelong legacy and it will probably always be in my gut… But right now, the most important thing is family, that just has to come first. I hope most people will understand that.”
She said they’re trying to find another studio to take care of their school customers, since they want to make sure they’re leaving them in good hands.
There’s no further generation of Lindahls for them to leave the business to. Instead, Cindy said they kind of see the kids they’ve photographed over the years as their own.
To demonstrate, she got up and walked around the studio, pointing to photos on the wall and rattling off what each of the subjects is doing now: He’s engaged, she’s on a missions trip to Ecuador, he’s an accomplished runner, she has three kids.
“Many of these kids, we’ve seen them every year since they were in preschool. We would joke and give them a hard time: ‘That’s your preschool smile, where’s your adult smile?’” she said. “They’re all our kids, I just get to give them back when I’m done”