81 Bees

By Nancy Chan

A lone homeless man, geometric architecture and a gray scale flower were among the 43 subjects photographed by 16 artists brought together for 81 Bees’ two-room “Minimalism” photography exhibit on March 3 at Mullen Brothers Imaging.

The exhibit’s stark nature went hand in hand with the venue’s industrial Bayview neighborhood. Yet, the 81 Bees Photography Collective is anything but sterile. It is a tight-knit group with strong connections to City College.

Skilled Photographers

Although most members are City College alumni, a few current members have no City College background. Instructor and founder Bob Nishimura welcomes the change toward diversity.  

“The group started from one of my classes, advanced black and white photography, which is called 81B,” Nishimura said. Two of his photographs were featured. “81 Bees used to only be 81B students, but after a few years different people came in.”

Photographer Mary Celojko was never a City College student. She’s a former City College photography lab supervisor who photographed landscapes for a decade.

“Minimalism” is her first show after 81 Bees asked her to join due to her friendships with current members.

“They’re family and I wanted to be motivated back into art,” Celojko said. “Because you know how some artists do more work than art? Joining was my way of going back to being an artist.”

One of her photos titled “Baja Mexico” was photographed using unconventional chrome film, which inverts an image’s colors after being processed. When using it, a photographer has to know in advance what they’re trying to capture.

Distinct Themes

In contrast, Samantha Cooper found the exhibit’s theme challenging. Cooper graduated from University of Santa Clara with a film degree, but has equal interest in photography.

Cooper took her first beginning photography class at City College in 1996 and enjoyed the photography classes she completed on and off in the art department through 2010.

“This was challenging for me and not my usual style of photography,” Cooper said. Her specialty is colorful Photoshop collages, but her untitled piece for “Minimalism” captured a black and white ski lift against an empty sky.

“I took this shot because it looked more like a graphic design, as opposed to a still live image,” Cooper said. “The group, for me, is a way to continue doing photography that’s not always in your genre.”

Physical therapist Paul Vaughn frequently attends 81 Bees events because his wife, Lynda Lee, is a member.

“I love this. I love minimalism,” Vaughn said. “I love how it lets you see the true essence of something. The loneliness of it invites you to put feelings into the pictures.”

Tim Risser, a hobbyist photographer and student of Nishimura’s, found out about 81 Bees through an email notification.

“I’m interested in becoming a member,” Risser said. “Nishimura’s one of the best.”

Curators of Their Own Shows

Aside from gaining photography experience and testing creative waters for their design portfolios, 81 Bees members are given the chance to curate. Anton Bulyonov was one of three photographers who curated “Minimalism.”

“Duties are distributed across members and curation is one of them,” Bulyonov said. “There’s other duties such as helping on the website and picking food and beverages. A big list of things.”

The end result engaged photographers and visitors alike that night.  

Around 50 guests drifted among the artists, discussing individual pieces and the various ways the images had been processed. An aged communal table stretched the length of one room, while the other housed a table of savory snack platters, soda water, beer and wine.

Brothers and business partners Tim and Mike Mullen said they enjoyed looking at the show on the walls of their headquarters all week.

Visitors could look at the photographs on dramatically lit white walls from ground level or upstairs to be granted the illusion of looking at an enormous shadow box.

“This is a great place for people who are not of the formal gallery mold to showcase their work,” Tim Mullen said, who is the marketing half of Mullen Brothers Imaging. “For us, 1,000 square feet is dedicated to manufacturing, with 2,000 square feet dedicated to showing artwork.”

“Minimalism” is available as an artbook, courtesy of 81 Bees member Yelena Zhavoronkova. Order the book for $24 at ( and receive a digital copy as well.  

Contact the reporter

Send an email to: Nancy Chan


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