Mistina and Luke Hanscom inside Lotta Studio

Lens Crafters

Next to a sideways stack of records is a record player. It’s not the very old kind, but it’s still pretty old, but it’s newer than many of those records. An exception is the LP on the player’s platter: Sublime’s Sublime, whose 20-year-old tracks are much newer than the song drifting through the air: Marty Robbins’s “Big Iron,” released in 1959, which tells the tale of a handsome, quick-drawing ranger with a “big iron on his hip.” Streaming from the internet thanks to WiFi-enabled, cell phone-controlled, surround-sound speakers, the song harkens back to the Old West—or rather, how mid-20th-century Americans pictured it.

Complicated layers of old and new have come together to create this scene inside Lotta Studio, a photography/post-production business at the corner of Whalley and Blake. Here, the working equipment is needfully up-to-date, servicing customers from local families looking for portraits to global brands looking for product shots or photo retouching, but most of the design elements, like a wood-trimmed floral armchair and a room divider made of vintage luggage, are charming anachronisms with special meaning to their owners. Some of them were plucked from an old family farm in Kansas, including a delicate reupholstered couch. Nearby, the rungs of a wooden ladder hold piles of artsy and retro coffee table books, plus that sideways stack of records.

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The gatherers of these and Lotta’s many other interesting trappings are the principals of the business, husband and wife Luke and Mistina Hanscom. The left side of the studio’s main room, past a vintage Alpine safe and flanked by a couple of paradoxically unfussy mirror-ball columns, is where Mistina, who identifies mainly as a portraitist, shoots her non-location work. A room to the right, past vintage cameras and a country-style conference table, is where lighting and post-production specialist Luke, a very capable photographer in his own right, keeps a workstation with software-loaded computers and high-quality printers.

Extending up over Lotta’s large first-floor studio space and rightward over neighboring storefronts is the business’s burgeoning new layer of old and new: West River Arts, a work-in-progress offering artists their own studios in a shared complex as well as access to shared resources, including large-format, gallery-quality printers. Recently vacated by a local branch of the Church of Scientology, which had occupied it for many years, the Hanscoms are directing an ongoing renovation of the second-floor layout’s wending web of rooms.

Low drop-ceilings are out; airy 15-foot ceilings are in. Carpeting is out; hardwood is in. Certain walls are out, too, like the soundproof ones framing tiny rooms where Scientologists would interrogate, or “audit,” initiates. As of two Tuesdays ago, one studio was finished, and it already had a tenant: Eric Epstein, an architect, product designer “and overall just a good guy,” Mistina volunteers, smiling. Several more tenants are already lined up, she and Luke say, for what will amount to 11 individual studios joined by what they hope is a positive spirit of collaboration.

The two of them understand well the virtues of artists with different skill sets working in close proximity to each other. Mistina’s jaw-dropping series of panoramic family portraits, for instance, is made possible by working closely with Luke. She directs, styles and shoots; he lights and then, during post-production, stitches select images together to form the final panoramas, somehow managing to make them feel natural all the way through. One of the portraits they showed me was an astoundingly seamless composite of 27 images.

The subjects themselves, beautifully lit and unfailingly crisp, aren’t posed or styled the way you’d expect in a family portrait. “I’m a people photographer, but I don’t like photographing people happy and smiley and snug together, or in white T-shirts on the beach holding hands,” Mistina says. “I like getting a deeper storyline into an image.” Subjects are often spread out and dressed in ways that complement, or stand out against, many-splendored backgrounds. A portrait of the Bruckmann family—as in Frank Bruckmann, the local painter—involves a levitating girl against a wall of framed art and a fluffy cat behind a pink Louis XIV-style couch, among other neat sights. Mr. Bruckmann, meanwhile, gamely turned the tables on the Hanscoms, painting a non-traditional portrait of them as they photographed a portion of his family’s scene.

That painting now rests in Lotta Studio, atop an old filing cabinet, behind an old typewriter—another new, and another picturing, to go with all the others.

Lotta Studio and The Range @ Lotta Studio
911 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
(203) 780-8764

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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