Stubblefield lands on feet after
Published 12:00 am Friday, December 3, 1999
studio destroyed by recent fire
By BRIAN BLACKLEY
When Steve Stubblefield realized that he couldn’t extinguish the flames lapping up the wall in a storage room of his home and business, grabbing his photos wasn’t an option.
Stubblefield, a professional photographer, had thousands of photographs and negatives collected over a 25-year period in his photography studio, Townhouse Photography, on Church Street. Instead, he made a slight detour en route to the door to grab his medium format Rolleiflex camera and his camera box containing his lenses and accessories.
"It was in my line of sight as I headed toward the door," he said. "I’m so glad I got it out of there. That’s my livelihood. That’s what I have to have to be able to work."
Now, two weeks after the raging fire destroyed a portion of Townhouse Photography, Stubblefield has landed on his feet, camera equipment in hand.
"The fire destroyed some old pictures and files," Stubblefield said. "It’s the stuff that I should’ve thrown away years ago, but that I couldn’t throw away because we fight that concept. Nothing that was in the works was destroyed."
Stubblefield has set up shop in the old Trojan Printing building on the downtown square in Troy, just blocks from his charred business. And Stubblefield hopes that the relocation won’t be unreasonably long.
"I want to get back," he said. "I’m not familiar with where things are and all of that. In a new location, this is all new to me."
· Starting over
Stubblefield considers himself lucky. With a good insurance policy in hand and what he says was incredible work by the Troy Fire Department, Stubblefield has been able to open up shop again and offer almost all of the same services he was providing to his customers.
"The only exception is that I lost my photo lab and my enlarger," he said. "I’m out of the black-and-white photography business for a couple of weeks."
The enlarger, a piece of equipment that transfers negative images to photographic prints, is one thing Stubblefield is sentimental about losing.
"I bought that thing 20 years ago from a woman who had bought it 20 years before from a man who owned it," Stubblefield said. "It was an Omega Vessler enlarger built in the 1940s of machined aluminum. They don’t make them like that anymore.
"That enlarger, if it hadn’t been so good and so workable, should have been in a museum. It’s a piece of history. It’s a shame it got burned."
But other than his enlarger, Stubblefield is thankful that the damage done was no more severe than it was.
"Nothing that was in progress was ruined," he said. "No one was injured and damage done to the house was minimal considering what could have happened."
Stubblefield said the quick response of Troy policemen and firemen saved thousands of dollars of property damage.
"As I ran out of the house, I called the Police Department on my mobile phone," Stubblefield said. "I never thought of calling the Fire Department and I never thought to dial 911. To me, when there’s a big emergency, I still have it in my head to call 0500."
That call led police to call the Troy Fire Department and six minutes later, units were at the scene dousing the flames with water.
"It was incredible to watch," he said. "Those guys didn’t tear up my house like they could have. They were careful about the damage they did and were very cautious with the fire. Four hours after the fire was out, they were still there prodding around to make sure they got everything. It was really good work and I am grateful to both the Fire Department and the Police Department."
Stubblefield was sitting at his desk in his studio around 9:15 a.m. mapping out his day when he heard a popping sound. At first, he thought it was his dog trying to get into the house.
"I got up thinking it was him," he said. "It was a scratching sound, maybe a popping."
It didn’t take long for him to notice that there was a small area near a ventilator fan in his storage room where his enlarger was stored that was on fire.
"The fire wasn’t really that big," he said. "I thought I could put it out and I grabbed a tray of water that I use to develop prints and threw it on the fire. It was like the fire laughed at it."
Within seconds, flames were shooting up the wall and smoke was filling the room. Stubblefield knew it was time to leave.
"It’s amazing how long it took for the fire to go from a little small fire to covering the better part of an entire wall," he said. "It was a matter of seconds."
Stubblefield retreated, as the black smoke thickened to the point of making him choke.
"It was this thick, black smoke," he said. "I always though smoke was white. I knew I had to get out of there."
Stubblefield said the fire introduced him to a phenomenon that has never heard about.
"You think that if there’s a fire, you’ll smell the smoke," he said. "Don’t count on it. I heard this fire before I smelled it."
Traffic is thick at Stubblefield’s new location, as people come and go with requests for photographs and make pickups.
"It hasn’t slowed up a bit," he said.
Two weeks after his near-catastrophe, Stubblefield is on his feet and is doing well. None of his new work was damaged and all his senior portraits survived the event and remained in excellet shape. Photos that were destroyed, he said, can be duplicated through technology to prevent their looking like anything less than the original.
His family is also situated, and almost all of the soot from the blaze has been removed from their clothing, said Stubblefield’s wife, Beth.
"What we lost was all stuff," she said. "That’s not important. We are so happy that it wasn’t any worse than it was. Stuff can be replaced."
Some furniture may be damaged and some old files were destroyed, but other than that, she said, the home and their lives will be able to get back to normal in the near future.