Since 1956, Manuel’s Tavern has been a popular hangout for multiple generations of Atlantans –—with decades’ worth of photographs, art, maps, and bumper stickers on its walls to prove it. When a developer recently purchased Manuel’s and announced plans to renovate the dive bar’s interior, patrons feared the artifacts would be lost forever.
Enter Ruth Dusseault, a long-time Manuel’s customer and a lecturer at Georgia State University. She hatched a plan to document the bar’s interior through an online research project called Unpacking Manuel’s Tavern. After recruiting a voluntary team from SCAD, Emory, University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, they set out to photograph the entire bar and create an online 3-D virtual tour where visitors can learn all about the 59-year-old watering hole.
Given SCAD’s extensive expertise in historic preservation and photography, Dusseault reached out to Michael O’Brien, SCAD Atlanta’s associate chair of photography. O’Brien in turn recommended SCAD student Hastings Huggins, who received a B.F.A. in photography in 2012 and is currently pursuing his M.F.A. in photography.
Hastings was responsible for lighting the Unpacking Manuel’s Tavern project. Here, Hastings chats about the tribulations, triumphs, and idiosyncrasies of the work.
NorthaveRmGoProFilm from Ruth Dusseault on Vimeo.
SCAD: Can you take us through the shooting process?
Huggins: The technology we used was a GigaPan system, a mounted camera that can articulate up and down, left and right, and every axis in between for a nice, fluid pan.
We had tracks set up that were parallel to the wall that we were documenting. The tracks had a dolly and tripod with this GigaPan system set on top. We would march the tripod and dolly along every 32 inches left to right, and at each stop, we would take as many as 22 images from the very top of the wall where it met the ceiling.
SCAD: What was the biggest challenge?
Huggins: There were six rooms, and every room has characteristics that made things a bit challenging. One room wasn’t perfectly flat. It had ramps for access and metal railings that were fixed into the floor that couldn’t be moved.
Another challenge was the fact that a lot of what we were photographing gave off reflections that would obfuscate the images. We had PVC pipes that we’d throw some black material over and just raise as high as we could to block whatever the GigaPan system was catching as it marched along. That was probably the most frustrating and awkward part of the process.
SCAD: What were some of the most interesting pieces of memorabilia you photographed?
Huggins: One work of art on the wall – a beautiful, impressionistic painting of a woman’s figure – could easily be in a museum. We asked the bar owner’s son about it, and he said it was from a customer who was an accomplished painter [Dean Chapman] but couldn’t pay his tab. So he paid with this piece of work, a painting of his wife who also frequented Manuel’s.
SCAD: Any other fun stories?
Huggins: Well, at one point I was standing in the bar area and I looked up and saw this mobile. I said, “Doesn’t that look just like a Calder mobile?” A guy behind the bar said, “It is.” Then I said, “Yeah, right. If that’s a Calder, you would have had an appraiser in here and probably would have gotten some sort of…” The guy finished the sentence for me: “A six-figure appraisal? That’s exactly what we got.”
They had this Calder mobile hanging in the bar and it was filthy – covered in tar from cigarette smoke! I said, “Well at least clean it!” And he said, “Oh no, if we clean that thing, we won’t hear the end of it.”
Photo by Hastings Huggins.