By Leva levitra
Monday May 20, 2013 | May 2013 Issue
Photo Credits: Top Right - Lynn Mills, Tisara Photography; Bottom - David Ford circa 1981
Shortly after I started the Old Town Crier in Alexandria in 1988, the business group KSMET (King Street Metro Enterprise Team) was formed. Back in those days the commercial part of King Street was considered to be from the waterfront to Washington Street and was supported by OTBA (Old Town Business Association), of which I was a part. True, the majority of businesses were located near the waterfront, but the area beyond Washington Street was fast developing. Local photographer Nina Tisara saw a need for a business association in the fledgling district, and started KSMET in 1990. Through her leadership and vision, KSMET and OTBA eventually merged and the commercial corridor known as King Street stretched from the waterfront to the Metro Station. Today, at age 72, a lot of Nina’s visions have come to fruition, but she has not slowed down, as she spearheads her Living Legends project. For this soft-spoken, exceptional listener, it all started out at $5.00 a picture.
Before becoming a photographer, Tisara worked for the Air Force where she was an archive selector for the photo library. One of her bosses thought that if you are selecting pictures, you should know something about photography. Tisara thought that was a good idea and enrolled in the extended learning program at NOVA and completed a photography course. While developing her film in the lab, she met a fellow photographer who worked in sales at the Gazette newspaper who told her they needed a photographer. “I was shooting plants at the Botanical Gardens, so I took some of the images and met with the editor of the paper, Jim Coldsmith,” she tells me.
“Can you shoot something that moves faster than a plant?” he asked. “He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out two rolls of TRI X film and said, ‘let me see what you can do with this and I will try to publish some of your photos.”’ Tisara would work all day long Saturday shooting, spend Sunday in her dark room developing film and making prints, and the drop them off at the newspaper Monday morning. “He would try and publish my shots, but remember, this was soft news, and I got paid $5.00 a shot. He might publish one and the most he ever did was 10,” she said.
Back in those days everything was still being shot in black and white. Not many local publications were using color in 1990. “I love black and white and I miss the darkroom,” she laments.
“Since I had been taking photographs for the local paper for years I had developed a reputation of having this archive of images. People began coming to me for images of people who had died to accompany stories they were writing about them,” she says. Tisara had yet another idea and approached Jerry Vernon of the Gazette with a novel idea. She figured she could solve future problems by starting to shoot people who were still alive, and the Living Legends program was born in 2007. Noteworthy people are nominated as Living Legends and the winners are selected each year. Tisara photographs all of the nominees to accompany the nominators short piece on each of them. All of the nominated Living Legends photos and bios are donated to the Alexandria Library. Tisara tells me, “Out of all of the award programs in the city, this is the only one that is archived. Can you imagine what this will amount to over time?”
Tisara is also in conversation with NOVA and their humanities program to see if their students can contribute to the program in the future. This project has it’s own 501C3 classification and is solely supported by contributions. The city doesn’t provide any funding so it is up to businesses and individuals. To learn more about the project go to www.tisaraphoto.com/legends.
Tisara has also been the driving force behind Tisara Photography, who for many years were known as the “go-to” wedding photographers. Since the introduction of the digital age of cameras, their business has fallen off just a little and the appreciation of a professional has waned. It seems everyone has a digital camera, and with foolproof shooting, they do their own shots. Because of this decline of business, Tisara has faded into the background and lets her son Steven do all of the shooting. But don’t count this lady out, after 20 years of helping to shape Old Town, Alexandria, she will still have visions that we can use.
“I haven’t been as active on the streets recently, but we still have conflicts between the residents and businesses, or should I say patrons of the businesses. The residents complain of lack of parking and some unsavory behavior.. Here is the paradox as I have learned; it is the same people who like living in Old Town so they can walk to the great selection of restaurants and shops that complain about the tourists and parking. The two have to co-exist,” she continues, “we can’t tell the tourists to just send us a check, but don’t come and disrupt our corner of the world.”
“The small businesses in this town are so fragile,” she says. “They don’t have deep pockets like some chain establishments, yet they are what gives Old Town its’ flavor. Working together we can find a common ground.”
“You know, I don’t want to retire… I like to work,” she confesses. “I think that I am doing something important.”
She has, and she is.
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