Seeing Is Believing

Photographer, curator, and art advocate Linda Dorman and her partner artist Tom Torluemke opened Uncle Freddy’s Gallery in downtown Hammond in 2002. Dorman and Torluemke conceived a project called Seeing is Believing to commemorate the gallery’s grand opening. Dorman photographed 100 people involved in the arts from throughout Northwest Indiana. The subjects in the photos ranged from artists, collectors, educators, patrons, administrators, and art enthusiasts. They displayed the photographs with a limited-edition commemorative poster in conjunction with the inaugural exhibit.

In 2022, on the 20th anniversary of the gallery opening, Dorman and Torluemke decided to do an updated version of the project, recognizing a new generation of contributors in the art community. Serving as the curators of the art galleries at IU Northwest, they reached out to arts organizations and artist groups to identify subjects for the project and hosted seven photo sessions throughout the region since last fall.

“The art community in Northwest Indiana has a rich history and lots of people out there making things happen, but it’s also spread out; doing this project reminds us that we are all a part of this, and it can only help if we know each other and build new friendships and creative experiences,” Dorman said.

The exhibit Seeing is Believing NOW will consist of prints from 2002 and the new project at the Seeing Is Believing NOW reception from 6-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 14. The reception will have live music and refreshments and area artists’ groups and art organizations will have tables set up at the event for attendees to learn about the art offerings of the region.

The new posters will be available for sale at the reception for $30 each. The proceeds from the poster sales will benefit the Teen Arts groups of South Shore Arts, Chesterton Art Center and The Lubeznik Center for the Arts.

“The teen arts boards of these organizations are the future of the Northwest Indiana arts community. Hopefully, they will be able to use the money to do a project or go on a field trip,” Dorman said.

excerpt from UNCLE FREDDY’S, 2002

Mayor Dedelow called Tom and me to his office. He was happy with the work we were doing and asked us if we were interested in having a gallery downtown. We looked at each other. Tom’s immediate answer was yes. My instinct was no; my mind raced with all of the potential problems and money woes, but I didn’t say anything at that moment. The Hammond Development Corp had an office building downtown with ground-level space available, and Mary wanted some anchor businesses to bring people downtown. After the meeting, Tom gave me his usual passionate and enthusiastic sales pitch. A few weeks later, an architect made floor plans, and we picked out lighting.

It was a thrilling time. We made something all our own together. We wanted the gallery to be competitive with galleries in Chicago and New York, a destination for artists and collectors. We knew opening in Hammond would not sustain us with the art programming we envisioned, which was challenging and cutting-edge. We needed to develop multiple ways to bring in income and work with the community surrounding the gallery. It was a tall order, as each of us supported separate households.

It didn’t take us long to decide the name for the gallery, Uncle Freddy’s. I pictured Tom and his uncle drawing together at the kitchen table and looking for four-leaf clovers in a field behind Tom’s house. I loved the idea; conceptually, it was perfect. We had been working under the name Dorman + Torluemke up to that point. However, we both knew intimately the ways galleries exclude people and make them feel unwelcome. It was essential to us not to do that, especially in Hammond, and Uncle Freddy’s Gallery sounded just right.

At lunch one day, we discussed the art we would show and our grand opening exhibits. There were two separate spaces, one ample main space and another small square space across the hall. Somewhere in the conversation, we talked about people in our region involved in the visual arts and that maybe there was a way to acknowledge them through the gallery’s opening.

The ideas came on quickly. I would photograph and print black and white portraits of 100 people involved with visual art.  The project would culminate with an exhibition and a poster of all the portraits sold at the gallery’s grand opening. The proceeds would go to starting an artist’s relief fund. Many of our meetings went this way, fully visualizing an idea from beginning to end. By the time we were finished, I was exhausted, and he was just getting started.

I set up photo shoots around the region and invited artists, patrons, administrators, educators, and advocates. Tom set up my lights and backdrop and visited with people waiting to be photographed. I shot a few frames of each person, no muss and no fuss.  To me, these images were intended to document and nothing more.  Some of the final photos were good likenesses and captured something special in the person, and others were on par with a decent school portrait. It was a fun project, and we met and reconnected with lots of people in the community.

I processed the film and edited the images to print for the show. Jennifer, my friend from my college days, had gone on to have a successful commercial photography business. She offered to let me use her photo studio and darkroom in Chicago to make the prints. It had been a long time since I had been in a darkroom. From age 17 until I was 25, I worked in a darkroom almost every day. I felt at home there in the red lights with the smell of chemicals and the radio on.

Tom came along to assist and keep me company. It was going to be a long couple of days. I wanted to have two prints of each portrait done and dry-mounted by the end of the weekend. Printing came right back to me, and it was exciting to see images come to life in the developer again. There was sincerity in the faces that appeared before my eyes. I was glad I did not use any tricks or filters to make the photos more hip or more stylized. They were just what I imagined.

Tom and I talked as we worked. We discussed the gallery, the portraits, and the artists whose work we would show at the grand opening. Sometimes, we talked about our home lives and even opened up to each other about the feelings we had for each other. We decided to focus on our projects. If things were to be, in the future, they would be. I was just happy to have this time with him alone, doing something special for me.