After 10 years of running a small business that has yet to make money, Roylee Duvall isn’t ready to give up.
“This is not the time to quit,” said Duvall, who opened Through This Lens in November 2004 on East Chapel Hill Street in downtown Durham.
The photography gallery’s story starts with opening in a still-struggling part of downtown, rising to potentially making a profit in 2007, followed by a recession that drained the momentum.
Like many art galleries, most of the company’s consistent revenue comes from services, including framing and printing art prints and posters.
Since Duvall can remember, photography, which covers the gallery’s walls, has been a mainstay in his life.
Duvall believes his small-business tide is rising, he said, as the surge of hotel rooms and apartments in downtown Durham just might elevate Through This Lens to profitability.
“We are just months away,” Duvall, 62, said about the opening of downtown apartment and hotel projects, such as the 21c Museum Hotel, a 125-room hotel with a modern art museum expected to open in the spring. “It is bound to have some impact on business.”
Before opening Through This Lens, Duvall had a nearly 30-year career that included co-owning a camera shop, PHOTOsynthesis, at University Mall in Chapel Hill for seven years followed by stints owning a small gallery and selling photographic equipment and digital printing services for various companies. Duvall also did computer and software training and taught related classes at Durham Tech.
Duvall decided to move forward with opening a gallery after inheriting some money. He exhausted those funds by the end of 2005 and supplements his income by teaching photography classes to individuals and art centers across the Triangle.
To increase the gallery’s exposure, Duvall is turning to two collaboration opportunities.
Through This Lens is among the arts organizations working together under an effort dubbed All Ships, which seeks to increase traffic and profitability at participating galleries.
“All of these different arts-related organizations get together and brainstorm how to drive more business to our venues,” Duvall said.
Duvall has also set up an informal partnership with Durham fine art photographer Jean-Christian Rostagni, who recently moved his Church of Photography brand from his home to Through This Lens.
Rostagni announced he was moving to downtown Durham in November, and about two weeks later he released a 3 minute 52 second video – mainly done by filmmaker and multimedia producer Rodrigo Dorfman – to announce that Through This Lens would be the new home for Church of Photography.
“Moving on Up” highlights a journey that includes Rostagni rolling his packaged art through downtown, greeting various characters, including Durham Mayor Bill Bell and County Commissioner Wendy Jacobs, before he circles Major the bull at CCB Plaza and is greeted by Duvall opening the doors at Through This Lens.
Rostagni started to appreciate the benefits of expanding his local reach beyond his Old West Durham neighborhood friends and contacts, he said, after a show in a downtown Durham gallery and through hanging his photographs at a now-closed coffee shop.
Rostagni plans to be present and help sell art at Third Friday art walks in downtown Durham and assist in promoting Through This Lens art and events.
“Adding both of our strengths together would make us both stronger,” Rostagni said.