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A behind-the-lens internship leads to business venture

By Amy Lohmann '14
November 14, 2011

Most people's photos are of predictable, planned, and, most importantly, stationary subjects.

The photos that Heidi Bohnenkamp '12 takes typically don't fall under any of those categories.

Bohnenkamp recently established a small, freelance photography business that caters to the arts. This includes live performance photography capturing theater, musical concerts, and dance performances, along with other event, portrait, and artwork photography services.

Though Bohnenkamp's love for the theater began in high school, it was an internship at the Guthrie Theater this past summer that helped her realize she could make a career out of combining her interests in theater and photography.

"I had an absolutely incredible experience interning for the Guthrie not only because it is the king of the Twin Cities theater scene, but because they gave me a lot of responsibility and opportunities to photograph a wide variety of different things," says Bohnenkamp.

As an intern for the communications team at the theater, Bohnenkamp was responsible for editing and archiving photography for the Guthrie's website and various print publications in addition to taking photographs. The subjects of her images included rehearsals, opening night parties, concerts, costume and prop shops, promotional advertising of the productions, food for the Sea Change Restaurant, and merchandise for the Guthrie Store.

"I'm convinced that there is no other place that I could have gotten this breadth of hands-on experience or have had as much fun as I did doing it," says Bohnenkamp. "I got to interact with a lot of wonderful people."

After the internship Bohnenkamp began the search for other potential clients. "I started by sending out emails to every theater I could think of in the Twin Cities area and got some sort of response back from about a quarter of them," says Bohnenkamp. "The theaters that I've begun to build relationships with are in close proximity to my home in Excelsior."

Heidi Bohnenkamp '12 behind the lens of her camera, where she spends a lot of time these days. To see what's on the other side of her lens, check out the portfolio section of her website.

First offering free or very inexpensive shoots to various theaters, Bohnenkamp began to hear more and more requests for her to return for paid work. She has since developed a relationship with the Old Log Theater, the oldest theater in the state of Minnesota, which prompted its director to request her photography for other projects, including Flying Pig Productions. Bohnenkamp has made use of the St. Olaf network by connecting with Thomas Borger '06, who is the communications associate for the Playwrights' Center. She's also working closely with Minnetonka Theatre.

"I've also had the incredible opportunity to be hired back by the Guthrie to do production photography, which was something I didn't even get the chance to do as an intern," says Bohnenkamp. Her shots for the Guthrie production The Edge of Our Bodies recently appeared on the front page of the Star Tribune, and she is optimistic about establishing a business relationship with the Guthrie in the future.

While Bohnenkamp attributes her recent success to her internship at the Guthrie, she also credits her experience at St. Olaf, both in the classroom and through extracurricular activities.

"The education I've had through my management studies concentration has taught me a lot about being a self-starter and how to work effectively with clients," says Bohnenkamp. "The strong communications skills that you gain in a liberal arts college definitely pay off in the real world." Bohnenkamp is also thankful for her exposure to the St. Olaf College Theater Department, which allowed her to work in a semi-professional setting on both a proscenium stage and a black box theater.

Bohnenkamp will be completing her senior year while balancing her photography career, a task she finds both daunting and exciting. "I wanted to start up my business while in my senior year at St. Olaf to build up clients and work out the kinks so that I can go at it strong when I graduate," says Bohnenkamp.

"I feel the competition of the other photographers out there doing this; I am expected to work with and understand the deadlines and communications process for promoting shows," she says. "Usually, photographers get to set up lighting, decide on the placement of the model, expression, etc. In theater, you work with what happens. That spontaneity is exciting to me."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or vanderve@stolaf.edu.