Monday, October 20, 2014

Photographer’s lens finds focus in his hometown

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 3/17/2014

Among the empty rooms and sounds of a banging hammer, awards for excellence in photography glimmer in the sunlight in John Gladman’s recently purchased and still-under-renovation studio space in Ottawa.

“It’s kind of small for me,” Gladman said the space at 203 W. Third St., “but the way how photography industry has changed, I’m not up for big overhead and expense.”

Among the empty rooms and sounds of a banging hammer, awards for excellence in photography glimmer in the sunlight in John Gladman’s recently purchased and still-under-renovation studio space in Ottawa.

“It’s kind of small for me,” Gladman said the space at 203 W. Third St., “but the way how photography industry has changed, I’m not up for big overhead and expense.”

Gladman was named one of the Top Ten Photographers for 2014 in February at the Kansas Professional Photographers Association’s (KPPA) Winter Seminar in Manhattan.

John LaBarge, president of KPPA, said Gladman also was the winner of the Honorary Life Member award at the seminar in 2013. Along with the awards he’s won the past two years, Gladman has won the Excellence in Imaging award from Professional Photographers of America in 2010, which he said he considers his most prestigious honor. Only about 50 photographers out of about 28,000 in the association have earned the award, he said.

He also has been awarded several honorary master’s degrees — including master’s of photography, artist and photographic craftsman degrees. He said he’s the only one in the state with the degrees and the Excellence in Imaging award.

His most recent accolades came in response to a collection of his photos, including two portraits, a landscape and an illustration for domestic violence awareness. He said the images are compared by a group of judges from other states and then issued a 1-100 rating, with which his collection scored high enough to be ranked in the top 10.

After spending about 20 years away from Ottawa and making a name for himself in the photography industry, Gladman said, he and his wife, Carol Ann, are back in their hometown to focus on subjects that might be a little more important than photography — family.

From a young age

It all started when he was young and in Boy Scouts, Gladman said. Although he didn’t stick with the youth organization for long, he found the passion that would carry him through his career. Gladman’s first photography honor was from Boy Scouts.

“My first and only Boy Scout merit badge was in photography,” Gladman said. “I used to build little cameras and stuff at home and take pictures of stupid stuff in the yard.”

The Boy Scouts visited a photography studio in Ottawa where Gladman first experienced dark rooms, chemical photographic processing and printing.

“The field trip was to go observe the dark room,” Gladman said. “Seeing an image develop was fascinating and cool. I knew I wanted to do it.”

From there, Gladman began working for Bill Wright, owner of Wright Studio, when he was in junior high. His tenure with Wright began with menial tasks. Eventually, however, Gladman’s role advanced to the point that he bought the business from Wright, he said.

“I went over and knocked on Wright’s door for a job in junior high school. So I’d go in and empty their trash and stuff, and then he’d teach me,” Gladman said. “After school, I was taking out his trash, cleaning up dark rooms.

“When I was 22, I ended up buying him out. So I ran that studio here in town for seven years.”

The purchase of the studio began Gladman’s career in Ottawa as a photographer and business owner, and set him on a path of practicing several different types of photography.

A career based on passion

It’s crazy his passion has come this far, Gladman said.

“It’s pretty much all I’ve ever done,” he said, noting he only worked at two other jobs outside the photography industry — at power plants. “I haven’t really done anything else.”

Gladman has photographed Margaret Thatcher, former British prime minister, Maya Angelou, American poet, novelist and civil rights activist, and even astronauts, he said.

After high school, Gladman spent some time at the University of Kansas in Lawrence majoring in photographic journalism, but the classes he took weren’t focusing on the practices that interested him, and he returned to work for Wright.

“I tried going to KU for three semesters for photojournalism,” Gladman said. “But that wasn’t touching on anything I wanted to do, especially back then, so I just jumped ship.”

He later relocated to Kansas City, where Gladman and his partner focused on commercial photography, including taking photos that would be used for Applebee’s menus and working with grocery stores. In Lawrence, he said, he later focused on the same practice of landscape and portrait photography for 15 years.

Gladman eventually picked up the trade of pin-up photography, which allowed him to move part of his photography operation to Las Vegas with his wife, Carol Ann.

It’s strange that his passion for photography turned into a business, he said, and that he became a businessman rather than an artist. That’s why his wife is important to the operation, he said, because he serves as the creative side of the business, while she focuses on the logistics.

“She kind of keeps track of all the stuff,” Gladman said. “I’m the creative end of it, developing ideas and all that. She takes care of everything else.”

What’s next?

Gladman and his wife returned to Ottawa, where they both graduated from high school in 1982, because of health issues with Carol Ann’s parents. While living in Las Vegas, they were returning to Kansas often, he said, and had no other option than to come home for good.

“Both sets of parents live here,” Gladman said. “We find ourselves needing to come back from Vegas a lot more than we anticipated. We just decided, when this came available, to buy this.”

But coming home doesn’t mean he’s giving up on his business in Las Vegas — Bombshell — nor its sister studio in Lawrence. Gladman said he and his wife will keep the larger projects in Las Vegas, including working on a calendar for “American Restoration,” a TV show on the History Channel, and a calendar for model Claire Sinclair, who was the 2011 Playmate of the Year and has a show on the Las Vegas strip called “Pin Up.”

“We’ll go out to Vegas as the big jobs are happening,” Gladman said. “We do some pretty good jobs out there, but family comes first.”

Gladman said coming home is kind of strange, especially after spending time in much larger cities. He purchased the studio space, which used to be a salon, he said, and plans to set up shop to serve the people of Ottawa — just like he did in his early days. The business will focus on family and personal portraits.

Back in Las Vegas, he’ll still focus on pin-up photography and promotional photography, he said, but Ottawa is home again and he’s making the best of it.

“It’s kind of strange coming back to such a small town,” Gladman said. “For the most part we’re trying to stay low-key.”

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