He's found perfect spot to take the perfect shot

A photographer leaves Miami behind to open a state-of-the-art studio at the edge of Midtown.

Published July 5, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Jorge Alvarez wishes his father had lived to see his latest achievement.

Jose "Papi" Alvarez helped Jorge build his first photography studio, a "big box" in South Tampa. So it's only natural that Jorge wishes he could show him the carefully designed technological marvel he'll soon be calling Studio 150, a state-of-the art studio near downtown St. Petersburg.

"Dad would always tell me, 'You made it,' when I'd have a shot on a magazine cover," said Jorge, who lives in Pass-a-Grille. "I'd always say, 'I'm only as good as my last hit.' "

The Alvarez family fled Cuba in the early 1960s. Instead of wealth and property his father had accumulated in business, they had only the clothes on their backs when they boarded the plane: Papi, six children and Jorge's mother, who was pregnant.

From that low, the family rebuilt and flourished. Upscale Tampa builder Alvarez Homes is run by one of Jorge's brothers. Jorge took to photography and for the past 15 years has been making his name there.

With this latest project, Alvarez is also marking a spot in an area where the city very much wants new development. At 150 22nd St. S, the studio is in the Dome Industrial District at the edge of Midtown. Primarily shooting digital rather than film, Alvarez is bringing creative high-tech to the neighborhood.

The structure will have two full stories comprising about 7,000 square feet. Each room will be fully networked with high-bandwidth cable. While he's shooting in the main studio area, Alvarez said, others can sit in the lobby and watch his pictures appear straight from the camera onto a flat-screen monitor.

"In the old days, we used to show people Polaroids," said Alvarez, who shoots using a camera attachment that captures 22-million pixels, enough to print billboards with clarity. "Now I can send people files while I'm shooting and they can say, 'That's cool. I like that.' "

The studio also has a rooftop area that will allow Alvarez to shoot during the magic hour just before sunset, but also to cover the opening with fabric and change daylight to whatever he likes. The roof also has hot and cold water faucets so he can add waterfalls or other features to his backdrops, he said.

"Every little corner is thought out," he said of the building designed with his input by Hartley-Purdy Architects of Tampa. "I wanted it to be strong, extremely open and functional."

The building allows Alvarez's work to flow through the structure, with dressing rooms opening onto a huge shooting floor, with Alvarez's own office leading to the open deck. There are also balconies to allow him to shoot up or down at his subjects.

The concrete and steel structure is also hurricane protected, Alvarez said, but he has a generator and a natural gas line, in case he needs emergency power.

Alvarez expects to occupy the studio later this month. He sold his old building last year and has been working out of rented spaces since.

He typically travels for shoots of models, fashion, celebrities and architecture, but not having a working home has been hectic. He said he's happy that new base will be in St. Petersburg.

"I love downtown St. Pete," he said. "It's pretty hip."

Alvarez said he's been shooting in Miami, but that city is crowded, expensive and riddled with regulations. He said St. Petersburg affords him the same opportunities for beach and waterfront but without the hassles.

The studio is purposely just off the main drag, Alvarez said. Not being downtown but also not being in Grand Central, Alvarez said he likes to have some space to work freely.

Still, he said he's gotten interest from others wanting to work with and for him.

"I'm very excited about this place," he said. "This space allows me to do things I couldn't do before. I want it to be a creative mecca."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.