For nearly 80 years, Bradford Smith’s life has been about photography.
In the early 1930s, when he was a young boy, he worked in his grandfather’s darkroom in Ballston Spa. When he was 12, one of his photos was published in Better Homes & Gardens magazine.
And that was just the beginning of a long, illustrious career. Smith was a newspaper photographer. He worked for Walter Cronkite. He became a fashion photographer in New York City, first with Harper’s Bazaar and then in his own studio. Returning to the Capital Region, he became the largest independent photography contractor for General Electric in Schenectady. After 21 years of working with GE, he retired in 1986, but didn’t put down his camera. At age 86, the Schenectady resident and father of four is always hunting for the perfect landscape wherever he travels.
‘Five Generations of Art’
WHERE: Broadway Art Center, Arcade Building, 488 Broadway, Albany
WHEN: Through Monday, April 30. Reception from 2 to 5 p.m. today. Gallery open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment.
HOW MUCH: Free
Smith’s grandfather was Joseph K. Dunlop, a photographer who set up a studio in Sacandaga Park, one of the nation’s first amusement parks. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, thousands of tourists from New York City would ride the train from Grand Central to the southern Adirondacks, and Dunlop would capture their images in portraits and souvenir postcards.
In the late 1930s, when Smith was a teen, he would watch David Lithgow, one of Albany’s most prominent artists, paint in his studio. Lithgow, who died in 1958 at age 88, created famous murals of Indians and Dutch explorers for the old New York State Museum and many of the Capital Region’s stately old banks. Lithgow was Smith’s uncle.
Dunlop, Lithgow and Smith aren’t the only creative souls in the family tree.
Smith had a grandmother, Minnie Jansen of South Galway, who was a painter and graduate of Vermont’s Green Mountain Academy. Smith’s niece, Kelly Waters Allen, who lives in Jupiter, Fla., is a jewelry artist.
This month, Smith is proudly celebrating his artistic heritage with “Five Generations of Art: From 1859 to 2012” at the Broadway Art Center in Albany.
It’s a big exhibit, with 36 of Smith’s landscape photos of the Capital Region, New England, Adirondacks and California; about 50 of Dunlop’s Sacandaga photographs; four prints of original paintings by Lithgow, including “Outside the Stockade” and “Henry Hudson Sails the Half Moon”; three reproductions of Jansen’s paintings; and three dozen pendants, earrings and other jewelry pieces designed by Allen.
Smith has shown his photos at the Stockade Villagers Outdoor Art Show, Art on Lark, Albany’s Tulip Festival, the Hagaman Art Show, and Art in the Park in Saratoga Springs.
Three books of his photography have been published: “The Nude,” 1958; “Modern Dance, 1959; and “Faces of Man: A Look Through the Lens of Bradford Smith,” 2011.
In 2010, Ellen Kostroff authored “The Photographs of Joseph K. Dunlop: Life in Sacandaga Park 1880 to 1935.”
In the 1950s, Smith and his family lived in the Brookside Mansion in Ballston Spa, which was one of the first hotels in the United States when it opened in 1772. The mansion is now the Brookside Museum.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: My father owned a farm in Galway. I lived there for perhaps the first six or seven years. Because there was no high school in Galway, my father had eight kids, so he bought a house in Ballston Spa. He went into the retail dairy business in Ballston Spa. He bought milk from farmers.
Q: How did you become a fashion photographer?
A: After I got out of high school, I went to New York. I wanted to be a big newspaper photographer. I went to work for the [New York Herald] Tribune. But I soon found out I couldn’t eat lunch. I decided I had to eat lunch. I decided to go into the fashion work. I became a fashion photographer and I worked for Harper’s Bazaar.
Q: What was it like to work with Walter Cronkite at CBS?
A: He was a nice guy. Two of my friends were working there. They had to handle the film that came in from all over the world and edit it and pick out what he was going to talk about. My two friends wanted me to come in and work with them and I did. It was an interesting job.
Q: You worked at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City.
A: I was in Scouting, and I was 14 years old. In the World’s Fair, they had a Scout camp, and they selected Scouts from around the world to come to the Fair for [a] two-weeks’ stay at no cost. In Saratoga County, they chose two guys. I was one of them.
We had to work three or four hours a day. The rest of the time we were on our own. I had to escort people, dignitaries mostly, from around the world. When I went to the New York State Pavilion, they had a big rotunda. In the rotunda, they had these paintings of what it was like in early New York state, and they were made by my Uncle Dave [David Lithgow]. I had been in the studio in Albany when he was painting them.
Q: What do you remember about your Uncle Dave?
A: He specialized in Indians. To do the statues, the images at the New York State Museum, he had to know quite a bit about Indians. So he went and lived with them for two years. With the Mohawks, someplace. He was very famous for his murals.
Q: Where can you see his work today?
A: There are several banks that you can go to. He did the State Bank of Albany. That’s now the Bank of America on lower State Street. He did the Cohoes Savings Bank.
Q: Who came up with the “Five Generations” exhibit?
A: It was my idea. It was very time-consuming. This is the first and only exhibit. I’m moving it up to Gloversville, to the Chambers of Commerce, for July and August because he [Joseph K. Dunlop] had a studio in Gloversville.
Q: What kind of photography do you do now?
A: I’m doing it for fun. In the wintertime, I like to go back to California, to the ghost towns. The best one is called Bodie. And it’s owned by the state of California.
Q: One of your recent projects was the old ALCO plant in Schenectady.
A: Before they tore the building down, I did a series of photographs with Carol. I took her around the building, inside and out, and photographed her. She’s a mannikin.
Q: What kind of camera do you use?
A: I use a Hasselblad primarily. I still shoot film and then I digitize the film.
Q: You are the keeper of your grandfather’s Sacandaga Park collection.
A: I have about 500 glass plates of his. I don’t know of any photographers, even today, that have 100,000 customers per year. He wasn’t a regular photographer: put them in a chair and shoot, bang, smile, bang. He set them up on the river, lake, in canoes on bridges, up trees. He was a creative photographer.
Q: What was Sacandaga Park like?
A: They had a dance pavilion. They had a playhouse, they had one of the first movie houses in the area. They had a skating rink, boating, baseball. There was a train that went to Sport Island, a miniature train. They had one of the first baseball teams in the world up in Sacandaga Park.
Q: And the Brookside Mansion?
A: I liked living in the house. But it was too big. When I first bought the house, I did my photography business there. My wife went into the antiques business, so we used some space for antiques. I only lived there for 10 or 15 years. I arranged for the [Saratoga County] Historical Society to take it over.