SARANAC LAKE — Jack LaDuke’s photographic odyssey began as a 12-year-old wanting to earn a Boy Scout Merit Badge in photography.
“I saw my first print developing in the darkroom; a white sheet of paper and magically a picture appeared on it, a picture you took,” said LaDuke, who was born in Keeseville and lives in Saranac Lake.
“It was captivating for me, and I kept on doing it. I set up my own darkroom in a family bathroom.”
His mother was not happy with the chemical stains all over the bathtub.
“My father and I built a darkroom down in the basement. It gave me better access and not ruined the bathroom,” he said.
In the intervening years, LaDuke pumped out still photography and video for a variety of media outlets.
DIGGING INTO PAST
His wife, Marina, thought it would be a good idea for him to have an exhibition. Artist Patricia Reynolds of Willsboro agreed as did Carol Marie Vossler of BluSeed Studios in Saranac Lake.
“Sun & Shadow: The Photography of Jack LaDuke” opens today with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. The show features 30 11-by-14-inch nature prints of the Adirondacks and the Southwest. The show runs through Sept. 16.
“Marina, she really dug back into my archives of stuff,” LaDuke said. “She pulled out some stuff I had almost forgotten about. She was a staff photographer for the Montreal Gazette. We met at Whiteface skiing a long time ago. She has an excellent eye. She’s had a couple of one-woman shows herself. She knows a lot more about gallery work than I do and had a big hand in putting this together as well as Carol Vossler.”
Images of the Adirondacks comprise 60 to 70 percent of “Sun & Shadow.” For the remainder, he turns his digital Nikon lenses on the Southwest.
“My sister lives in Phoenix,” LaDuke said. “We go out there and visit her once or twice a year. Last year, we spent a month in the Southwest.”
He spent a lot of time in Monument Valley.
“Where John Ford shot all those great old movies. It’s almost spiritual moving around that area, lots of wild horses. The sandstone monuments that nature has carved in that desert are breathtaking,” LaDuke said. “Last February, I shot a lot there and really enjoyed it and spent some time also in Antelope Canyon. Rivers ran through the sandstone rock, and the colors inside that canyon seem to change constantly. It’s also part of the Navajo reservation.”
EVOLUTION OF EQUIPMENT
LaDuke is fully entrenched in the digital age, but he started with an Argus C-33.
“That was, for its time, a pretty nice camera. I made enough money shooting school pictures, athletic events and dances to buy a 4x5 Speed Graphic camera. That was one of the work horses of the day for the press industry. I was able to do some good work with that,” he said.
As a teen, he photographed the John Brown Farm in Lake Placid and sent prints to the Albany Times Union.
“I got a call back from the editor, Barney Fowler. I took pictures for the Albany Times Union. Then The New York Times saw my stuff in the Albany Times Union, and they got ahold of me. I was The New York Times photographer up here,” he said.
At the time, LaDuke was 15.
“My mother would drive me to assignments,” he said.
During Franco-era Spain, he attended the University of Madrid and was photo editor for “Guidepost,” a Spanish travel and history magazine.
When he returned to the North Country, he worked at Denton Publications and a new start-up magazine “Adirondack Lake.”
The U.S. State Department called in the late ’60s, and he embarked on a three-year stint training young Salvadorians to shoots stills and motion-picture film for a new educational television network in El Salvador.
“Fifty percent of the population was under 14 years of age. They couldn’t build schools fast enough to educate them. The quickest way to educate them while building schools was to install educational television in all the schools in the country,” LaDuke said.
El Salvador’s best and brightest teachers of math, language and science were beamed into every classroom.
“The class and teacher had workbooks that went along with the program. After the program ended, they took out their workbooks and the teachers went through the workbooks with them. It’s the first time it had been done in Central America,” he said.
When he returned to the United States, he freelanced for a motion-picture company in Montreal.
“We went all over the world making films,” he said.
The Lake Placid Olympic Committee called in 1978. He was hired as the official audio-visual director for the 1980 Olympics.
“London did an outstanding job. Lake Placid did an outstanding job. They pulled off a first-class Olympics,” LaDuke said. “A lot of records were broken at Lake Placid, and that speaks well for the facilities they performed on and the organization to get the people to the event and not have the facilities break down.”
Post-Olympics, LaDuke began his 30-year career as New York Bureau chief with WCAX-TV. It’s been three years since his retirement.
“Two hours after I left Channel 3, Channel 57 (Mountain Lake PBS, which is located in the same building), their news director, Thom Hallock, stopped me in the hallway. He said, ‘Boy, have I got a job for you.’ Then, I was talking to Lois Clermont (then Press-Republican news editor). She said, ‘Boy, do I have a job for you,’” LaDuke said.
The Adirondacks are the subject of his “Mountain Lake Journal” videos. He frequently shoots stills for the Press-Republican.
“It’s still a lot of fun,” LaDuke said. “It’s still a challenge.”
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IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Sun & Shadow: The Photography of Jack LaDuke.”
WHEN: The opening reception is from 6 to 8 p.m. today. Show runs through Sept. 16.
WHERE: BluSeed Studios, 24 Cedar St., Saranac Lake.