A woman views some of the images in the Seen photo contest at Studio Altius on March 10. (All photos by Steve Bowman)

A woman views some of the images in the Seen photo contest at Studio Altius on March 12. (All photos by Steve Bowman)

Studio Altius run by former Wash U basketball player

 
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
Email: bowmansj@sbcglobal.net

There’s a huge banner showing a tournament bracket that hangs in the lobby at Studio Altius, a photography business in Hanley Industrial Park. At first glance you might think the employees there are following March madness, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Especially considering that the studio’s owner, 6-foot-8-inch David Cerven, once played hoops for Washington University.

But the banner has nothing to do with basketball. It charts the progress of Seen, the studio’s annual photo contest.

Weeks ago photographers from all over St. Louis submitted 465 images to Studio Altius. Judges picked the best 120 and seeded them for the bracket. Category and overall winners were then voted on by spectators during exhibitions on March 11-12. The shows were parties, with over 100 people showing up each night to discuss the images and socialize. Everybody seemed to know everybody else.

The Seen photo exhibition draws a large crowd on March 10. Viewers voted for their favorites.

The Seen photo exhibition draws a large crowd on March 12. Viewers voted for their favorites.

Community involvement has been part of Studio Altius (pronounced ALL-tee-us) for all of its 10-year history. It’s a byproduct of their business plan, which includes renting the studio and its equipment to other photographers.

“When I started the studio it wasn’t just for what I was doing but a resource for photographers,” said Cerven. “From the get-go we’ve rented studio space for photo shoots and rented equipment. Also, over the past decade I’ve taught hundreds of workshops and classes, and we’ve done networking events and resourcing for the photographer community in St. Louis.”

Studio Altius owner David Cerven speaks to friends at the photo exhibition on March 10.

Studio Altius owner David Cerven speaks to friends at the Seen photo contest. “Everybody loves and looks forward to it every year,” he said. “We enjoy putting it on to kind of step away from taking pictures and do this for everybody else.”

From Maplewood to Brentwood

Cerven started the business in 2007 and was in Maplewood for eight years. In 2009 he was elected to the Maplewood City Council, where he continues to serve. Two years ago he moved his business to Brentwood, at 822 Hanley Industrial Court, behind Dobbs Tire and Auto Center.

Cerven is the main photographer, and the studio manager is Erica Robnett, also a photographer. Ryan Archer specializes in videography. Ann Auerbach helps curate Seen. They do mostly portraits and advertising , and extensive work for three private high schools: Whitfield, Nerinx Hall and Cor Jesu.

“My wheelhouse is in conceptual sports stuff,” he said. “It’s stylized action in the studio.”

Portraits of Whitfield wrestlers taken by Studio Altius hang in the school's gym during the Class 3 District 4 wrestling championships in February.

Portraits of Whitfield wrestlers taken by Studio Altius hang in the school’s gym during the Class 1 District 1 wrestling championships on Feb. 13.

He no longer shoots weddings because, he said, “I’ve got the overhead of the studio and staff and there’s no way I can compete [price-wise] with people working out of their homes.”

Altius is especially handy for out-of-town photographers needing a studio. It has a 55- by 25-foot shooting space with high ceilings, plus a kitchen, a living room set for posing, a dressing room and a makeup counter. Available for rental are studio lights, cameras, lenses and a wide assortment of backdrops.

A wide array of backdrops stand behind images in the March 10 photo exhibit.

A wide array of backdrops stand behind images in the Seen photo contest.

Opera and basketball

Cerven came to St. Louis to attend Washington University, where he majored in music as an operatic baritone.

“My theater training is actually where I developed much of my portrait and lighting technique,” he said.

He was also on the varsity basketball and track teams. After graduating in 1999 he served as an assistant coach in both sports for several years.

Cerven became a full-time professional photographer in 2006, running the St. Louis district of a national youth sports photography company. A year later he started Studio Altius, a name inspired by the Olympic motto “citius, altius, fortius,” a Latin phrase meaning “faster, higher, stronger.”

As for opera singing, “I don’t really sing much anymore,” he said, “unless it’s karaoke over at Double-D’s.”

For a video on the studio’s high school senior portraits, click here. For the studio’s Facebook page click here.

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