Get the Picture

The Valentine’s new exhibit “Portraits: The Style Weekly Photograph Archive” gets ready for its close up.

They were like little billboards all over the city.

In restaurants and grocery stores, on street corners and in shops, there were once dozens of maroon newspaper boxes with the most recent issue of Style Weekly peeking out from behind their clear plastic windows. More often than not, the covers of those issues featured the work of one of Style’s staff photographers.

Back when Style still published as a weekly print issue, part of the thrill for readers was seeing what had made the cover.

“You never knew what was going to be on the cover the next week,” says Scott Elmquist, Style’s staff photographer since 1999. “That was the great mystery, because we mixed it up so well that it could be politics one week and a musician the next week, food coverage, you name it.”

Some of those images are now on display at The Valentine as part of its new exhibit “Portraits: The Style Weekly Photograph Archive.” Philanthropist and arts supporter Pam Reynolds, Basketball legend Ralph Sampson and victim advocate Alicia Rasin are just a few of the Richmond faces featured in the exhibit, which opens Thursday.

“It’s about great photography and great people and places here in Richmond, but it also includes the reflections of the photographers,” says Meg Hughes, The Valentine’s deputy director of collections who co-curated the exhibit with Elmquist. “A lot of these images were cover shots. Style was known for that really strong image on the cover that would pull you in, that would compel you to take that issue for the week and read it.”

Founded in 1982 by Lorna Wyckoff, Style Weekly grew into a formidable alternative weekly, racking up dozens of commendations from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (now the Association of Alternative Newsmedia) and the Virginia Press Association. Purchased soon after its founding by Norfolk-based Landmark Communications in 1984, Style was known for its dogged investigative reporting, comprehensive arts and food coverage, profiles of community notables and oddball Street Talk stories.

“We were very photograph-heavy as a publication,” says Jason Roop, who started at Style as a staff reporter for its sister publication Inside Business in 1997 before moving over to Style; he served as Style’s editor from 2005 to 2017. “We invested the time and space and the creative energy to make sure we had compelling photography.”

All five of the staff photographers Style employed over the years are featured in the exhibit: Kent Eanes, Elmquist, Chad Hunt, Jay Paul and Stephen Salpukas.

Ralph White, manager of the James River Park System, photographed in the James by Stephen Salpukas in 1999.

One of Hughes’ favorite images is a photograph by Salpukas of Ralph White, the longtime manager of the James River Park System, standing in the river.

“This shows the lengths to which Style photographers would go to get that memorable cover image. I think Stephen [stood] in the James River to get that particular angle,” Hughes says. “Ralph White is synonymous with the James River Park System, and was really the champion of that, so what more appropriate place for him to be shot than in the river itself?”

Another profile depicts Michael Paul Williams, the Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist who won the Pulitzer in 2021 for his columns about Richmond’s Black Lives Matter protests that led to the removal of the city’s Confederate monuments. The photo, shot by Paul in 1993, accompanied a story about Williams becoming the first Black columnist at a paper that had once advocated for segregation and Massive Resistance.

Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams shows off some of his fan mail to photographer Jay Paul in 1993. Williams won the Pulitzer for commentary in 2021.

In the photo, Williams holds a column that a reader had clipped out, written “BULLSHIT!” on, then mailed to him.

“The photo is kind of self-evident, showing the type of reader feedback he got,” Hughes says.

Style’s 1998 Valentine’s Day issue featured Donnie Corker (a.k.a. Dirtwoman), dressed as Cupid on its cover. A sex worker, cross-dresser and outrageous local personality, Corker showed up late and hungry for the photo shoot. Salpukas recounts buying Corker two chili dogs with everything and reminiscing about his exploits.

Donnie Corker, a.k.a Dirtwoman, strikes a pose as cupid for Style’s 1998 Valentine’s Day issue. Photo by Stephen Salpukas.

Hughes says Elmquist’s contributions to the exhibit are immeasurable.

“I really depended on him to do that first pass of potential images, and then we worked together to put together the list,” she says. “We wanted to make sure that we covered the whole time period of Style as much as possible.”

Asked why Style was more focused on photography than other altweekly publications, Elmquist credits its designers, praising longtime art director Jeff Bland for much of its emphasis on photos.

“Jeff Bland was key,” Elmquist says. “He was just such a great designer who knew how to play that image. It really benefitted any photographer that walked through that door, because your images ended up being the showpiece every week on the cover.”

It also helped that Style had a staff of roughly three dozen during its heyday, including three full-time staff photographers.

“We were just firing on all cylinders, because you could send a photographer to really spend time on a story,” Elmquist says. “It wasn’t just run out and get something quick. We really planned things out. There were times when we would spend weeks on a story.”

That additional time also meant that photographers and reporters worked together more collaboratively.

“I loved when the photographer went out with me and we’d talk about how things were developing and what I was going to write about,” Roop says. “He was really a partner with me in telling the story.”

Style was sold to Tribune Publishing in 2018, the same year it received VPA’s award for journalistic integrity and community service. In September 2021, a few months after Tribune Publishing was purchased by investment firm Alden Global Capital, Alden pulled the plug on Style. That same month, The Valentine acquired Style’s photo archive (it also now owns Style’s library of bound issues). Two months later, VPM Media Corporation, the parent company of public media group VPM, announced it had acquired Style Weekly.

Today, Style is an online-first alternative media outlet that publishes a quarterly magazine.

Noting how much the media landscape has morphed, Hughes is nostalgic for the days when she would pick up the latest weekly print issue to read during her lunch break.

“Media is changing and evolving, and it needs to, but it was fun to have that weekly issue come out, at least for me, as a ritual over lunch,” Hughes says.

Looking back on more than four decades of the publication’s photojournalism, Elmquist says Style always tried to reflect the city in its pages.

“Pound for pound, we did some solid work, and hopefully this show will offer people who are new to Style a glimpse back and the folks that have been loyal readers a refresher,” says Elmquist, who thanks VPM for saving Style from journalistic oblivion.

“We’re still beating the drum,” he says. “We’re out there.”

“Portraits: The Style Weekly Photograph Archive” will be on display through May 26, 2025, at The Valentine, 1015 E. Clay St. For more information, visit thevalentine.org.

Full disclosure: Griset has been a Style contributor since 2009.

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