In the Perfect Spot to Build Community
Writer / Heather Hunter
Walking into Behn Gallery in the Village of WestClay is an immersive experience. Larger-than-life photo prints line the walls like windows, showcasing viewpoints snapped both close to home and oceans away. The space is bright and is not distracting, but distinctly lacks the cool distance of a typical art gallery.
Roben Bellomo, master photographer and co-owner of Behn Gallery, curated its warm aura on purpose. He displays his personal projects in the gallery, but it’s also the home base for his client-driven business, Bellomo Studios.
“I’m a firm believer that art is for everybody,” Roben says. “We want people to check all their baggage at the door and connect with each other and the art on a fundamental, human level.”
WestClay isn’t a traditional spot for a gallery, but Roben and his wife Adrienne knew it was the perfect spot for theirs. The community has been integral to the deeper relationships they like to build with his clients and the people of Carmel.
“This is the type of atmosphere we wanted for our family and our children,” Adrienne explains.
Since their move from San Diego in 2013, they’ve been deeply involved in the Village, frequenting its restaurants and jumping into its community-led activities. The entire family has trained in martial arts at Mountain Martial Arts and Wellness Center, and the couple’s daughter Neva has taken art classes at the Carmel Art Education Studio.
Art is something the Bellomos like to share with their neighbors too.
“I hear a lot of people say, ‘I’m not good at art. I can barely draw a stick figure,’” Roben says. “I believe everyone is creative, so we facilitate experiences to get people involved in their own way.”
Through his space and his work, Roben creates experiences that make art accessible to everyone, regardless of their artistic experience or the way they perceive their own creativity.
One experience involved setting up a series of three aerial photographs, then asking gallery visitors to write down their interpretation of the series on notecards. Children and adults volunteered definitions, drawings, and in one case, a poem.
“We wanted people to interact with it, and they did in such an interesting way,” Adrienne says. “It was always fun to talk to people about what they felt and saw.”
Another interaction focused on three large pieces that hung in the front of the gallery. Each piece was accompanied by a chair and a headset, which the gallery’s patrons could use to listen to a custom score created for the art. Roben worked with a local musician to create the scores.
“It was like an artists’ exchange,” he says. “We collaborated to make tweaks and passed the work back and forth.”
The project took his work from the visual realm into something multidimensional, which he loves to do whenever possible.
“I see all types of art as being intertwined,” he says. “Any time I can incorporate poetry and music in my work, it’s truer to who I am as an artist.”
Above all, Roben likes to create experiences that help people appreciate each other’s viewpoints.
“In my career I’ve focused on building community, creating connections between people, and between them and myself,” he says.
Behn Gallery helps him explore that through his personal art, but his commissioned work is another opportunity for him to forge deeper connections with the people around him.
Whenever he can, Roben incorporates his clients’ creativity into his work. That means his process may be different for each project, but he is always mindful of his clients’ ideas, personalities and creativity. They’re involved in the process from vision to completion.
When he takes senior photos, family photos and other commissioned portraits, Roben encourages families to plan their day as an experience. He gets to know his subjects ahead of time, using vision boards to help them plan the shoot’s styling and guiding them to think about meaningful props and spaces.
“Creating the experience is so important,” he says. “It’s not just about the imagery. How are we going to capture what’s most important to you and to your family?”
Dr. Doug’s Balms, headquartered in WestClay, is one of Bellomo Studios’ biggest commercial clients. The staff likes to be heavily involved in Roben’s creation of their product photography.
“Roben has an unbelievable talent for telling a story with a photograph, strategically seeks to understand each project, and formulates a vision on how he can contribute,” says Natalie Gardner, president of Dr. Doug’s Balms. “The result is truly remarkable.”
Dr. Doug Strobel, founder of Dr. Doug’s Balms, appreciates the Bellomos for their friendship as well as Roben’s photography.
“When you walk into Behn Gallery/Bellomo Studios, you immediately feel welcome,” Strobel says. “The Bellomos make me feel like an honorary Italian. When you are with them, you are one of the family.”
In addition to product photography and a full spectrum of masterful portraiture, Bellomo Studios handles branding, events, and commissioned, client-driven fine art. It’s highly unusual for one studio to offer so many services.
“Everybody will tell you to stick to one thing, but I wanted to respond to what people needed instead of staying in one lane,” Roben says. “I’m confident enough in my skill set to work in a lot of spaces.”
Even more unusual than Roben’s jack-of-all-trades approach is his mastery of many niches. He holds a master of photography degree and a photographic craftsman degree, and is recognized as a certified professional photographer through Professional Photographers of America (PPA).
In 2019 Roben was selected for a PPA first-place Grand Imaging Award from 5,073 entries. This year he’s on the USA team for the World Photographic Cup. It’s the third time he’s competed, making him one of only a handful of photographers who have been selected for the team more than once.
Despite his growing list of awards, Roben will never be finished learning. His lifelong dedication to his craft means he’ll seize every opportunity to grow. Most importantly, he, Adrienne and their children will continue enriching the Village of WestClay with their inclusivity and their passion for creating community.
The Bellomos encourage anyone to visit the gallery to experience some art, or even just to say hello.
“I like getting to know the people I’m around,” Roben says. “That’s how I run my business. Our clients become an extension of our family.”
Bellomo Studios is located at 2149 Glebe Street, Suite 100 in Carmel. Call 619-569-6709 or visit bellomostudios.com for more details or to book a session.