Bradford Smith, an 86-year-old from Schenectady, has been behind a camera since he was 12 years old. Ellen Kostroff worked with Smith to produce the latest book, “Faces of Man,” featuring his photographs.
Peering back into history through one man’s collection of portrait photographs provides a glimpse of the state’s culture and history.
Bradford Smith, an 86-year-old Ballston Spa native and current Schenectady resident, recently had his collection of male portraits from personal, advertising, fashion and theatrical shoots published in “Faces of Man: A Look Through the Lens of Bradford Smith.” The author and book designer, Ellen Kostroff, worked with Smith to compile his collection spanning 70 years. On Friday, Aug. 5, a book signing and discussion will be held at the Broadway Art Center in Albany from 5 to 8 p.m. with Kostroff.
Despite the advancements in photographic technology, Smith said he prefers traditional film over digital.
“The digital world of course changed a lot of things in the world,” said Smith. “I don’t shoot with a digital camera. I still shoot with film. I need the high quality that film produces to make the enlargements.”
He has mostly stuck to black and white photography, which he has used for most of his life. Growing up, he helped his grandfather take pictures and bought his own camera while in high school and started to snap pictures for local newspapers.
After going to school in Boston, he shot fashion photography for Harper’s Bazaar in the 1950s and then got into photography for advertising. Eventually he decided to leave New York City and move back to upstate New York when he had three children.
The book, “Faces of Man,” helps to chronicle his journey and varying photographs from throughout the years, including candid shots of area men and returning military veterans or those about to be shipped off.
“I had all these photographs that I had taken, and I didn’t know what do with them,” said Smith.
He acknowledges it is a unique book and isn’t sure about the marketability of it, but he decided to publish the book to help others understand a little more of what the photographic world is about.
The challenge of getting a great photo and the creative process behind an image is what has kept Smith behind the camera all the years.
“Everybody has a digital camera and can shoot a photograph, but artistically they don’t take the time to create something … good, different or better,” he said. “When I was in NYC as a photographer, there was 3,000 competitors … so if you were not good, or not challenging, or not on the ball you don’t get anyplace.”
Since he has retired, he’s enjoyed taking photos for his own pleasure at his own pace.
“Just photographing for the fun of it is more interesting than photographing for the dollar,” he said.
One memory that stuck out to Smith was years ago when he was driving to work on the Long Island parkway and there was a four-car accident in front of him. Being a photographer, he grabbed his camera and snapped some pictures.
The scene was a rather gruesome one, with a women’s head smashed through her car windshield, and the only thing he knew for sure was the insurance companies would probably want the prints. Sure enough, some newspapers also expressed interest in the photos and his less gruesome pictures appeared on the front page of a newspaper with a big spread.
Although, he didn’t actually get paid for the photographs printed in the paper.
“They called me back and asked me do I want to get paid for photographs or did I want to enter the contest,” he said.
At the time Paramount Pictures was running a photography contest and submitted photos could be entered into it if the photographer chose not to get paid. The contest had a photo of the day, week, month and overall best, and Smith claimed all four spots.
“The contest was better than five dollars,” he said. “It was just an intriguing photograph that I took on my way to work.”
One day, he said he got a call to bring a can of gasoline with him the next morning, because he had just won the contest and a new car. When he arrived at the studio the car was pushed off the set, he filled it with gas, and then drove it off.
Smith’s photography interest started in 1938 at 12 years old, but he is still shooting pictures today.
Additional author events are scheduled for Aug. 19 at the Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady from 5 to 8 p.m. and Sept. 15 at The Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany from 7 to 9 p.m. His book can be found on Amazon.com for purchase.