Career at Kodak inspired Gardners’ generational love of black and white photography
By Jamie Organski
An exhibit at View in Old Forge has been years in the making and features a lifetime of work by father-and-son photographers, John and Kurt Gardner.
“A Father & Son’s B&W Film Series” features 22 limited edition series black and white prints, many captured on John’s refurbished 1953 Crown Graphic 4×5 film camera.
That camera serves as a cornerstone for how the exhibit came to fruition, and also ignited Kurt’s interest in pursuing photography as a career.
“My father let me use his 4×5 film camera when I was 18 years old. Three years ago, I bought new parts, restored it, and on Christmas Day I surprised my father with the camera, asking him to do a father and son series and shoot the Adirondacks with me.”
John, who has had a home in Old Forge for about 40 years with his wife, Kathy, is a retired master black and white printer who worked for Kodak for more than 32 years and served as the head of the B&W Print Finishing Area upon his retirement. He worked with photographers Kodak sponsored, including Richard Avedon whose photos, including many large, 6-foot tall fiber-based prints, were shown in NYC and Europe, and John Sexton, who worked as an understudy of Ansel Adams.
John said although his work with Kodak has been shown worldwide, this is the first time his images will be displayed as both a photographer and a printer.
“It feels funny, because I have always been printing for Kodak and am used to being behind the scenes,” he said. “This is the first time Kurt and I have worked together. We’ve had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun.”
Hooked on photography
Both Garners became interested in photography as teenagers. Kurt’s “ah-ha moment” was at 16 during a “Bring Your Kid to Work Day.”
“When I went to Kodak with my dad, it was like another world,” Kurt said. “I was like, ‘Oh, man, this is like Disney!’ I was hooked.”
Prior to Kodak, John said he shot sports games in high school, attended the Germain School of Photography in NYC, and shot weddings and other events. After graduation, he accepted a position in a photography lab in Paterson, N.J., where he would become manager of the B&W department.
Kurt attended graphic design classes in high school and photography courses at Monroe Community College. He worked for Kodak’s lab as a subcontractor and an assistant studio manager in Rochester, staying late most nights working on his own photos. From there, Kurt began working in the fashion advertising industry, traveling all over the country and overseas.
Following a debilitating neck injury, Kurt wasn’t sure he could ever work again. About a year after multiple emergency surgeries, his wife, Ximena, convinced him to shoot the stars with his friends at Moss Lake. That experience led to Kurt and Ximena opening a one-room photography gallery in Old Forge in 2017.
A true family affair
Kurt said seeing his father work alongside his youngest son, Grey, is unparalleled.
“Grey learning from his grandpa, a master in his field, was incredible,” he said. “There is no Photoshop, it is all done by hands and minds. My father likes to make his images ‘dance’ and now I know what he meant after spending 15 days in the dark room. It’s been a dream come true to spend time with my dad on this project.” The pair worked closely for six months on the printing and framing, Kurt said.
The exhibit’s images were shot by John and Kurt, and were traditionally printed by John. All images are limited series editions, with only 3 prints of each image available for purchase (and 1 artist copy of each image.) After that, these images will never be printed again, Kurt said. In fact, as of July 20, two prints have already been sold.
“Everyone knows my dad as the [Enchanted Forest Water Safari] water park manager, and a Kodak retiree,” Kurt said. “It’s about time his talent as a photographer and master black and white printer is put front and center, and I can’t wait for everyone to witness it.”
At a Glance:
The Exhibit: A Father & Son’s B&W Film Series” by John and Kurt Gardner
Timeframe: July 22 through Aug. 21
Location: View’s ECO Gallery. View is located at 3273 State Route 28, in Old Forge, NY
Opening Reception: July 22 from 4 – 8 p.m.
About the opening: Open to the public, cash bar, hors d’oeuvres, and outdoor mingling area. A 13-minute mini documentary created by filmmaker Andre Costantini offers a glimpse into the process of creating the exhibit. It will be shown in Gould Hall at 5, 6 and 7 p.m. during the opening reception.
After the opening, the documentary will play in the ECO Gallery for visitors to view while browsing the exhibit through Aug. 21.