Flip over almost any traditional postcard of Lake George — the kind with the rounded corners or scalloped edges — and you’ll see the same two words: Dean Color.
Dean was Richard K. Dean, who shot tens of thousands of scenic views of Lake George and the Adirondacks over a photography career that spanned nearly 60 years.
Dean died last Tuesday at the age of 94. He left a loving family, a grateful community and a life work that chronicled the changes in the Adirondack region over half a century.
Dean loved the outdoors and made his living there with his camera, said one of his four daughters, Nancy Paul of Whitehall. In addition to his trademark postcards, Dean produced brochures and other advertising materials for the tourist attractions and accommodations in the region. Local historians say the commercial ventures Dean captured with film and the written word are as important as his shots of nature.
His photos were featured in an exhibit, “The Road to Lake George,” two years ago at the Chapman Historical Museum in Glens Falls.
“Dick’s photographs were very important to that show, especially the shots he had of businesses in the 1950s and ’60s,” said Tim Weidner, the museum’s director. “We had [Seneca Ray] Stoddard photos from the mid-19th century through the beginning of the 20th century and a few photographs of the early 1900s, but Dick’s photos were critical.”
Stoddard is considered one of the first promoters of the Adirondack Mountains as a destination for adventure or relaxation. Thousands of his photographs are at the Chapman and at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake.
At Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, historian Bruce Cole also compared Dean’s work to Stoddard’s.
“Dick was a very important individual in documenting the last 60 years in the Adirondack region. Nobody came close,” Cole said. “He was a wonderful person too, very modest.”
Among businesses that Dean photographed were the Sun Canyon Ranch in Warrensburg and Sunnybrook Acres and Waxlife USA, both in Lake George. None of the three tourist businesses exist anymore.
“Dick has left us an amazing record of region,” Cole said.
Dean’s children reminisced about their father last week in preparation for a memorial service held Saturday.
“Dad had four daughters and one son and we all worked for him as we were growing up,” Paul said. “As children, we were models for him when he would take pictures at resorts or hotels.”
Dean’s photography business was based in Glens Falls until late last year when daughter Wendy Chitty moved the inventory to her new home in Essex County.
Chitty was Dean’s office manager for the past 35 years. She said it was a job she picked up when her mother retired.
“I would say millions of copies have been made of Dad’s photographs over the years,” Chitty said last week. “The most popular have been of Lake George and original Adirondack views.”
Chitty said several file cabinets in her home are filled with negatives and photographs. “We have samples of everything we ever printed,” she said. “We’ve begun scanning the pictures into the computer and it’s a tedious job.”
She said about 1,200 photographs have been scanned and catalogued so far.
Even though Dean had been ill for several years, his work has never been absent from shelves and racks in establishments throughout the Adirondacks. Chitty said she has spent the winter preparing for the upcoming summer tourist season.
“It is a seasonal business and I would say it’s been steady over the decades,” she said.
Grandson Mark Bowie has picked up where his prolific grandfather left off behind the camera. A nature photographer, Bowie recently published a coffee-table book called “Adirondack Waters: Spirit of the Mountains,” and he has two more books in the works.
“He was a huge influence on me. I grew up looking at his great imagery,” Bowie said.
Bowie is the son of Everett Bowie, Dean’s son-in-law and right-hand man in the field and in the darkroom for more than 40 years.
Mark Bowie said his father learned the art and science of photography from Dean and the two men had a special relationship. “Not every man could work for their father-in-law, but Dad and my grandfather got along great,” Bowie said.
He said when he completed his own book, he took a copy to his grandfather and they went through it page by page.
“We sat together and looked at it and when he turned the last page he said, ‘Monumental,’ and it was the best review I’ll ever get,” Bowie said. “My grandfather had been ill for a couple of years and he had a series of small strokes. We knew what was coming, which is why we’re not mourning his death. We’re celebrating his wonderful life.”