Seymour natives lose photography studios in fire

Three photographers, all natives of Seymour, are picking up the pieces after their studios were destroyed in a fire that started Saturday night and burned into Sunday morning in the historic Irwin Building in downtown Columbus.

The building housed several other businesses including the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, Arnholt and Staggs Law Office, Bailey and Wood Financial Group and TD Advertising.

The photography studios impacted were Luminosity Studios owned by Ambrose Schneider, Lauren Kirts Photography and Marinda Fowler Photography.

Schneider said they’re all kind of still in shock over what happened and there are lots of emotions going on.

“We don’t even know where to begin and it’s something we never thought would never happen,” Schneider said. “We just feel really displaced and trying to make sense of what’s going on.”

She lived in Seymour most of her life and then moved with her family to Columbus about three years ago.

“My studio started downtown in Seymour first, then four years ago we moved it to Columbus in that same space with Marinda and Lauren,” she said.

Schneider said she learned about the fire when she got up around 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning with her 12-month-old daughter, Maeve, and saw she had missed about four calls from Fowler.

“I thought there was only one reason she’d call me four times at 4 a.m. in the morning and that’s if something happened to our studio,” she said. “I called her back and she told me there was a fire and it was pretty bad.”

Schneider had her husband, Chase Schneider, tend to the baby and their son, Isaiah, then she immediately headed downtown to the building and saw it burning, she said.

“When I got there I forgot it was winter and had left my coat at home and was just standing there where the police officer was and some people began asking me if I was okay,” she said. “I told them yeah, but this is my building and so they took me over to talk to the fire marshal who told me it had been burning since about midnight and they were still working to put out the fire.”

She said at that point the firefighters were working the best they could so she went home for awhile and then returned in the morning when it was daylight and saw where the whole back of the building was gone.

“When it was dark out I could only see the front of the building so I didn’t realize the whole back side was completely in flames,” Schneider said. “My side of the studio was far away from where the worst of the fire was but the third floor above me all burned and we’re pretty sure the third floor fell into my space.”

She said based on the what the fire marshal said it wouldn’t be safe for anyone to go back into the building to retrieve anything because there was so much water poured into the building that after it freezes, it’ll continue to get heavier and they’re pretty sure it will eventually collapse completely.

“I would never risk my own life or anyone else’s because it’s just stuff and at the end of the day, it’s just material and can be replaced,” Schneider said. “I keep my camera and computer with me at all times so what’s left is my lighting equipment, backdrops and things like that I’ve accumulated over the last 12 years and a lot of it was handmade and eventually I’ll find things to replace it but some things I’ll never be able to get back.”

She said Fowler had left some of her gear, files and some client orders at her studio because they do products and prints.

“I know that she’s lost a little bit more on that side of things, where I still have the things I’ve already worked on to deliver to different people so I’m very thankful for that,” Schneider said. “This was my fulltime job when I was in Seymour, but now I work for a company from home fulltime as a web designer and I do some coding, so my photography is part-time.”

She went on to say they’re looking for other studio spaces now and a few private landlords have reached out telling them they have some space available.

“There’s a very strong photographer community here (Columbus) and in Seymour and North Vernon, too,” Schneider said. “Everyone has been so kind to us and have said we could use some of their space for a couple months until we find someplace else.”

She said she knows they’ll have a couple of months to rely on the community to get them through what they need to fulfill and the fire marshal said it’ll probably be months before they figure out what happened, which will delay insurance and knowing where they can go and what they can do.

“I have my own studio in the building and so does Lauren Kirts and Marinda Fowler and we’re all very close and have keys to each others’ studio,” she said. “We were specifically there because we like having that community and relationship with each other.”

Sarah Wells, a client of Schneider’s and a graphic designer, was thinking about moving into one of the available spaces in the building.

“Sarah immediately set up a GoFundMe account for all three of us to help us in the transitional time between finding a place and finding somewhere to work over the next couple of months,” Schneider said. “You can only put one person’s name on it and it’s set for me to be the beneficiary, but it will be split between all three of us.”

The GoFundMe can be found online at

“Being downtown and being in a historic building was such a special place and the building was just so beautiful, the way it was made and the history of it,” she said. “I don’t see how we can ever recreate that; Our community, location and environment.”

Schneider said she’s thankful the fire happened at night and that none of them or their clients were there.

“If the fire started in the back of the building it might’ve gotten to a very dangerous place before it was even noticed,” she said. “Even the cat was saved that lives downstairs and usually hangs out in the window and there’s a video of a firefighter handing her to her owner. The cat’s name is Shimmer and we all love her.”

On Fowler’s Facebook page she wrote: “Friends. Family. And everyone in between. I am beyond humbled by the outpouring of love and grace you’ve shown me, my business, and my family. I’ve gotten so many messages, texts, calls, and emails that I literally cannot keep up. From Venmos, GoFundMes, and a special donation from our Seymour Football family at the awards program tonight, I’m speechless.”

She said there aren’t even words to put together a worthy thank you.

“Again, I cannot thank you all enough for the kind words, checking in, and just overall support. I am feeling very loved today,” Fowler wrote.

Kirts said it’s been a couple of crazy days but she’s hanging in there.

“I had 18 Santa mini sessions scheduled for Sunday morning starting at 9 a.m. so I had my alarm set for 7 a.m.,” Kirts said. “I grabbed my phone and had about 12 messages so I quickly scrolled through those and Ambrose and I chatted on the phone and she filled me in.”

She said she had to go through all of her orders and contact her clients to let them know they weren’t getting their pictures taken that morning.

“It was pretty stressful and I was still kind of in shock and looking back, I’m thinking what did I even say to them?” Kirts said. “At that point we didn’t really know how bad it was so a lot of my clients thought they’d be able to come back in later, but as they day went on, they were calling the entire block a total loss.”

Kirts used to have a studio on Second Street in Seymour before she and her husband moved from Seymour to Columbus about five or six years ago and moved her studio to State Street in Columbus.

“Then Ambrose and I moved to the building downtown on Fifth Street about four years ago, which was golden for us” she said. “I shoot a lot of senior photography and could pop in and out of my studio to shoot different locations downtown and it was all walking distance and it’s been good to be part of the downtown community.”

Kirts said she doesn’t know Wells, who started the GoFundMe account, but it’s so humbling and so kind of her to do that.

“People donating money to us literally never crossed my mind and after going through all of the emotions yesterday my mind is all over the place,” she said. “I never would’ve expected all the generosity given to us and so much kindness and it just warms your heart and reminds you of how blessed you are to be a part of a small town..