Lewisburg photographer's career celebrated at Campus Theatre

·3 min read

Nov. 27—LEWISBURG — Thousands of portraits produced by master photographer John Gardner were arranged carefully Friday throughout Campus Theatre in downtown Lewisburg as friends and family celebrated a career drawing to a close.

In a room built for motion pictures, Gardner's still images earned him a happy ending.

"It's not just about John Garner. The Lewisburg Studio has told stories about all of these people and shared them with everybody in the community," Gardner said in between greeting and chatting up every guest in the house. "Because of that, they've gained insight, they've gained compassion, they've gained togetherness. It's made our community more compassionate, happier, healthier and hopefully stronger."

"I'm going to be bawling my eyes out," Gardner said ahead of addressing the crowd.

That would come as no surprise to the many, many people who've come to know Gardner. He's an emotional man. That's part of his charm and it enables perhaps his best talent as a photographer: connecting with his subject.

Gardner bought the former Ross Studio and Camera Store in the 400 block of Market Street in 1980. He formally retires on Dec. 31.

He's a self-taught photographer and businessman, and he learned it all from The Lewisburg Studio. Portraiture became his calling card: weddings, senior photos, professional headshots, family pictures.

His measure as an extraordinary photographer, said longtime friend Gary Sojka, is not in Gardner's ability to shoot a photo but in his gift to capture a moment in time.

"He's just got a very special eye," said Sojka as he and his wife, Sandy, paged through books of Gardner's portraits.

There were more than a dozen such books placed throughout the theater. In the aisles were oversized prints and poster boards with news stories about The Lewisburg Studio. Photos flashed on the big screen and in every other seat for at least half the theater rested an oversized print for guests to walk by and take in.

Brad Rippon and his father, Jason, circled the theater before coming upon a portrait special to their family. In it, Dodie Lovett dressed and acted the part of a pleasantly surprised mime. She held up a picture frame, the same frame ultimately used for the print, as her then 3-year-old grandson, Rippon, sat on her lap.

"He was giving me Smarties," said Rippon, now 24, of Gardner using candy to help him relax and pose.

"He took my senior pictures back in high school," added Jason Rippon.

Susan Wulczyn, of Chicago, has a family portrait shot by Gardner a dozen years or so ago. Like the Sojkas, she paged through books of Gardner's works. And, like many people who came to Campus Theatre on Friday, she spoke of his friendliness and caring.

"I know him most as a friend and he's just a great person," Wulczyn said.

Sabra Karr motioned to the theater screen where her headshot had popped up. Gardner took the professional photo. He shot a portrait of her when she was a kid, too.

"He was always a character," Karr said of his personality. "The sense of humor, it was quick and easy. He had a great way of making you feel relaxed."

Gardner maintained that charm Friday as he worked the room. He shook hands, shared hugs, asked to see behind a few face masks to be certain who he was speaking with.

A pianist plinked the theater's piano. The classic song "What a Wonderful World" was among the selections. As it played, Gardner chatted and smiled, focused only on those in front of him just as he's done the past 41 years, only on this night he did it without a camera in hand.

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