Not Your Typical Family Photo Studio — A Conversation with Michael Raines


In 2021, Portland's Lloyd Center Mall had officially closed its doors after some of its large retailers one by one shut down due to the pandemic. The mall was observed dead and people wondered what would happen to the space that once held the largest mall in the country.

In recent months however, a number of tenants have revived Lloyd Center to become an arts district, comprising new and hip art-focused businesses. One of those businesses is Family Photo Studio. Not your typical photo studio, Family Photo Studio takes an avant-garde approach to family portraits, combining quirky facial expressions with modern digital filters, all with a 70s vintage aesthetic.

We got the chance to speak with founder Michael Raines on the story and prospects of his studio.

© Family Photo Studio | Portland-based “Alien Boy” posing for a band pic in the studio.

Hello Michael, welcome to Lomography Magazine. Can you tell us about the origin story of Family Photo Studio?

Hi! Family Photo Studio was a business that started almost by accident. I had moved back up to Portland (my hometown) from LA and was wanting a small office and studio space to work from that wasn’t my house. Around this time, there was some buzz that the Lloyd Center Mall, which was on the verge of closing, was offering affordable rent on their many vacant units. A small wave of cool people and shops began opening up, and it seemed like an exciting moment to be a part of. Since my personal work tends to be humorous and playful, and the studio is in a mall, it felt obvious to lean into the nostalgia of family mall studios of the past, and do my contemporary spin on that.

© Family Photo Studio | (top left to bottom) Photographer Chris Nesseth during the “MallRats” Group show. Family Photo Studio display in storefront. Chris Nesseth at the counter during his week-long residency. Merch wall and photo display.

Your portrait services are so iconic. What was the inspiration behind this style?

I try to jump around in styles and not get too stuck in a certain look, which keeps things fun, and it certainly helps when customers come in with very specific ideas, and it’s my job to achieve a version of that as closely as possible. Having said that, the most consistent and profitable look people love is the old 70s/80s family portrait. People love the double exposure style, or just leaning into the ironic awkward family photo, and because of that, I’m always getting inspiration from the Awkward Family Photos website and IG. The archive on their website is incredible.

How do you collaborate with your customers to develop the final portrait look?

Usually, when the customer first walks in, I can quickly get a sense of whether they’re looking for something funny or ironic, sincere or professional. From there it’s just a matter of throwing around ideas and seeing what excites them. If I have a strong sense of what they want, and bring a level of levity, friendliness and confidence to the shoots, it’s been easy to gain their trust and achieve something that we’re all happy with.

© Family Photo Studio | (left to bottom) A young couple posing during the “Pay What You Can” event. The studio setup during the “Greetings From An Endless Winter” pop-up. Allison Barr during her residency photographing a star-studded couple. Chris Nesseth photographing a photo in the studio. A local band posing for a band pic during the “Glorious Shots” Pop-up event.

Do you have any favorite memories since you’ve opened the studio?

Before opening the studio officially I held a soft opening photo group show called “Mallrats”. My hope was to bring in a ton of local talent and integrate the studio with the photo community here. I wasn’t sure if it would be successful (not every photographer wants their images displayed in a mall), but the community here turned out in a big way, and it was a really successful night/show.

What do you envision for Family Photo Studio’s future? Any future projects or plans?

The fate of the mall is uncertain, and when I opened the studio I wanted to treat it more as an art project and experiment. I’m about halfway into my lease, but have many art shows, workshops and residencies planned until the lease is up. After that, I may stay, or I might even take the concept and shift it around a bit. What’s been fun about the studio is experimenting and seeing what works and doesn’t, so I’d like to maintain that level of playfulness, flexibility and spontaneity.

© Family Photo Studio | (left to bottom) Members of “Alien Boy” with their roommate. Nathaniel Perales during his film scanning workshop. People read through the various photo books, which are also sold at the studio. Family Photo Studio owner Michael Raines photographing a guinea pig for Willamette Week’s Pet Pageant cover story. Nathaniel Perales during his film scanning workshop.

From your experience starting a creative business, what advice would you give to those looking to do the same?

Make sure the overhead and expenses are low, surround yourself with talented and friendly people, be adaptable…and try to not take yourself too seriously.

Thank you Michael for speaking with us! Visit Family Photo Studio at their website and Instagram. You can also check out Michael's personal work at his website and Instagram.

written by kaylalew on 2023-05-16 #culture #people #interview #portland #family-photo-studio

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