Batista closing downtown photo studio and gallery


Photographer Randy Batista is closing his gallery, Gallery 21, at 21 SE 2nd Place in Gainesville, Fla., shown Wednesday, August 14, 2013. Erica Brough/Gainesville Sun

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, August 18, 2013 at 6:45 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 6:46 p.m.

Randy Batista said it was always part of his master plan to close his downtown photo studio and gallery and devote more time to art photography and documentary work.

So when 160over90 — a branding agency from Philadelphia — called wanting his building, he went along with it.

"It happened rather promptly," he said.

Batista, 64, informed friends and customers by email last week with the "good news about changes in my life" after four decades of studio work.

"I want to explore changes occurring in Cuba, as well as pursuing some 'back-burner' projects that will require travel to some new places," he wrote.

Randy Batista Photography will clear out of the building in a couple of weeks, and he said he plans to be in Cuba on Sept. 1 on a "photo safari" at a nature preserve.

Batista said he will remain in Gainesville and continue to do some commercial work and custom portraits on location. With a renewed focus on art photography, he said he also hopes other galleries will feature his work now that he won't have his own studio.

Batista grew up in Cuba, leaving at age 11 in 1961.

After graduating from the University of Florida with a degree in fine arts, he opened a black-and-white photo processing lab in 1974, doing custom printing in half of a duplex while he lived in the other half. The building at 505 S. Main St. has since been torn down.

Batista's business, originally called Media Image Studio, moved to its current location at 21 SE Second Place next to the Hippodrome Theatre in 1981. The building — built in 1935 — had been a gas service station and later a Pontiac car dealership, first Batey Pontiac and then Montgomery Pontiac. The Pontiac Indian head logo is still visible on the outside of the building, and the photo gallery is in the former auto showroom. The previous tenant was a hair salon where Batista got his hair cut. He told the owner he would like to move in when the building came up for rent.

"Within three months, they said, 'We're leaving,' " he recalled.

He rented for five years before buying the building in 1986.

Batista said downtown has come a long way since he moved there about the same time developers Ken and Linda McGurn were starting to revitalize the area. When he started there, he said downtown was deserted. Now, he said he sees a good arts community and restaurants coming "in droves."

"From that sense, it was nice to be one of the people who set the ball in motion down here, where we realized, by God, this is just a really cool place," he said.

Over the years, Batista has held numerous fundraisers at his gallery.

"That's one of the things I'm really proud of — that we were able to give back to the community as much as they gave to us," he said.

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