Downtown Bloomington is home to many local businesses, including a variety of art galleries. A majority of these galleries exhibit eclectic mixes of paintings, photography, jewelry, pottery, and more.
To stand out in a crowd this broad can be a difficult task. However, David and Martha Moore, owners of Pictura gallery, make it look easy. Pictura is a fine art photography gallery located on the corner of Sixth Street and College Avenue. It offers some of the best local and world photography.
"You can go to New York," David says. "You can go to San Francisco. But you don't have to. You can come to Pictura."
The gallery opened a little over two years ago. To survive in a town like Bloomington with lots of college students, the Moores also sell books and cards because not everyone that appreciates photography can afford the art.
An opportunity arises
The Moore's are Bloomington natives. They have family here, David graduated from Bloomington High School North in 1976, while Martha graduated from Bloomington South in 1977. They raised three kids here -- and then kicked them out, David jokes.
David was involved with his family's business, which provides health care and housing for seniors, while Martha was a school teacher. However, they always wanted to own a gallery downtown on the square, preferably on a corner.
"David was going to workshops around the world, and he always said you never see this type of photography in the Midwest," Martha explains. "He had the idea of showing other people in Bloomington what he sees around the world."
Martha says a couple years ago, around David's 50th birthday, a spot on the square became available. It was on the corner. Opportunity was knocking, so they answered and said, let's do it.
"It's kind of funny because we didn't have a business plan," Martha laughs and says. "We were renovating and thought, 'Well, maybe we better get photographers!'"
Brenda Stern, Pictura associate director, says David has been passionate about photography his whole life. She says he would never say so, but he's a great photographer himself.
"They both have such a love of fine art photography, and that has got to be the basis of any gallery first," Stern says. "Then other things can come."
David believes that anytime you focus on a specific medium, you do a better job.
"Being a fine art photography gallery allows us to focus on a niche that isn't being served," Stern says. "We've done well in seeing a real impact from the gallery because there was nothing like it before."
Focusing on that niche hasn't been a disadvantage for the Moores. Martha believes people who weren't interested in photography before come in to see what the buzz is about.
"So it may limit who walks in our door," she explains. "But in a way there are few people who don't walk in because we've created a buzz. They wonder, 'So what's it about'?"
David and Martha hope to become the go-to place in Bloomington.
Local and world coverage
The Moores knew they needed to be different to survive among the other downtown galleries. Exhibiting both local and world photographers sets them apart.
"He had the idea of showing other people in Bloomington what he sees around the world." - Martha Moore, Pictura
Martha explains that they always welcome and support local artists. However, they wanted their focus to be bigger, so they couldn't limit the scope to only local.
The couple strive to answer three questions, 'What sets good photography apart from all others? What makes it great? What makes it art?' To answer such broad questions, Martha says, they have to look broad.
"We look here and outside to find great photography," she says. "We encourage photographers to look at other work. We challenge local photographers by doing that."
David also challenges photographers with a simple but powerful statement -- "Beware, you are not the only good photographer, you know?"
Pictura exhibitors are found through different means. Some are referred to the Moores, others are found through Internet searches or portfolio reviews. David says everybody knows somebody, so the gallery receives a lot of referrals. The gallery also gets approached by photographers. David says they will always spend time looking at what the photographer has to offer.
"What surprises me the most is how much fun it is working with the artists and getting to know them," Stern says.
The current exhibit of Bill Guy and Matt Nighswander, up until July 31, has about 25 pieces in total. Guy's exhibit is called "Finding Walden" and Nighswander's "chicagoland."
Pictura's white, non-cluttered walls weren't an accident. Martha explains it was a conscious decision to not fill every space on the walls.
"What we're going to show is really special," she says. "It needs its breathing room. We don't want it too close so people have to sort out what they're looking at."
The great work hanging on the walls and the advantage of living with the photographs for two months is a positive aspect of the job for Stern. She loves the variety of working in a gallery.
"You never know what to expect, even when you have every detail planned," Stern smiles and says.
Her face lights up when describing how it feels to make a sale.
"It's amazing to see someone walk in and make a connection with a piece," Stern explains. "I love when someone takes something home that puts a smile on their face, like it does for me every morning when I get to work."
The Moore's look for bodies of work with photographers they are considering. They want consistency and interesting ideas. To catch their eye, there needs to be an idea of a singular image, a question across multiple photographs.
"We help people understand what they're looking at. It's not just a woman standing in water. It's not just people sitting on a blanket in the park. It's more." - David Moore, Pictura
"There are a lot of cameras out there, but not all of them are photographers," David says. "There is a difference. The challenge is to find strong photographs and a competent photographer."
He says it is much harder than finding just any photograph. Martha agrees and says their goal is challenging. Even the staff doesn't always agree. David smiles and says that's part of the fun of it.
They believe an important part of owning the gallery is educating people on the art of fine art photography.
"We help people understand what they're looking at," David says. "It's not just a woman standing in water. It's not just people sitting on a blanket in the park. It's more."
The gallery is designed with people in mind. Martha says they have comfy chairs for people to sit, enjoy, and have a good experience in an art gallery.
Stern thinks it is important in life to be doing something you're passionate about because not everyone is able to. The Moores are passionate about photography and thoroughly enjoy their experiences.
"It's been like a two-year party," David explains. "A lot of unexpected things have happened. On opening nights we have about 400 people here. What else could I be doing to invite 400 people and have a party?"
Megan Erbacher can be reached at email@example.com.