I have worked with KD Kidder and Neil Steinberg of photoworks for a number of years. When KD shared her story with me about how, through small business, she was able to learn “the rest of the story” about her pilot dad’s emergency forced-landing in 1945, the history of the plane since that time, and the family’s mutual love of photography, I knew we had to publish it here on our small business blog. I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did. Thank you, KD! ~ Robin Suomi, Principal, Startup to Growth, LLC
Upon opening the Leesburg School of Photography at photoworks in Leesburg, VA in 2014, my co-founder Tom Ramsey and I discovered we had unknowingly been connected through history since 1975, a span of almost 40 years!! Unbelievable odds!!!
This remarkable journey begins in 1945 when my father, Air Force Captain Art Kidder, experienced a mechanical emergency while flying over the oceans near Alaska. He was in cloudy and snowy skies, and had to quickly land his plane. This journey ends with the establishment of a new photography school in Leesburg, VA, when my new friend Tom and I discovered not only a love of photography but also a cosmic connection to the crash-landing of my Dad’s fighter plane in 1945.
The Journey, in the words of KD Kidder….
In 1945 Air Force Captain Art Kidder, my dad, on a testflight for special high-altitude missions to intercept Japanese balloon bombs, had to force land his P38 plane in a snow storm on the only flat surface on dry land he could see as the clouds parted. Five U.S. Army soldiers stationed at a tiny weather outpost on the otherwise uninhabited island heard the crash-landing and ran to help the pilot. They informed him he had landed on Buldir Island in the Aleutians off the Alaskan coast.
He had his camera with him as always and took a photo of the plane as a record of the crash and its location. Many years later, in 1994, the Air Force would fly Kidder to the location to retrieve the wreckage and restore it for display at the Hill Air Force Base Air Museum in Utah (see picture below)
In 1956 Dad gave me a Brownie Camera for my fifth birthday and he was always photographing or filming with me. I was hooked. Because of this I have always noticed my surroundings as if I am capturing the moment. To this day, I want everyone to notice their surroundings and enjoy.
In 1975, producer and photographer Tom Ramsey was filming wildlife for a biology project on the remote island of Buldir in the Aleutians. He pitched his tent on the only flat piece of land he could find, next to the wreckage of a P38 plane that had crashed there during World War II, using it as a windbreak.
In 1973 I was supposed to meet my father in Tahiti and sail to China. Instead I got a telegram saying his boat hit an uncharted reef north of Tahiti and he would be coming back to the US. So instead of going to Tahiti, I decided to start my 3rd year of college at Virginia Tech where I met husband and partner Neil Steinberg. In 1975, we moved to Leesburg, Virginia after having traveled around the country trying to decide where they wanted be and what they wanted to do.
In 1977 I got my husband interested in photography when I was working for Leesburg Photography Center, and we needed help building and setting up a darkroom. He was a theatre major when I met him at Virginia Tech, so he was always dealing with lighting, set design, and directing. After working in the darkroom he fell in love all over again. Working with Light …there is nothing like it.
In 1978 Leesburg Photography Center suddenly goes out of business!
In 1979 We began photoworks against all odds and despite almost everyone telling us we were crazy. We thought …. we could always go get real jobs, let’s try this.
Fast forward 35 years. Having survived a tough recession and a total transition of photography industry from film to digital, photoworks has sustained a reputation at the national level for all aspects of photography and copy and restoration of antique or damaged photos and paintings.
Every first Friday of the month, photoworks joins other downtown merchants to celebrate the arts by providing a venue for exhibiting artists and photographers.
In 2010 Enter Tom Ramsey and Nancy Goetzinger, acclaimed photographers and cinematographers for a First Friday show at Photoworks. Neil and I hit it off immediately with Tom and Nancy. I told them about my dream to establish a photography school at photoworks.
23 September 2013 I come home after discussions about changes at photoworks and possibly starting a school, “Photo Central“…….and what comes on TV but ‘Field of Dreams’. And what is the first line I hear but….“build it and they will come.” ; ) Okay, here we go……!!
11 January 2014 I write a message to myself, “It’s time. Time to stop thinking and considering and start trying and doing….Watching the rain on the rooftops from my desk….a grey cold day….puurrfect for thinking and considering. So much to do, so little time, take a breath, concentrate….. spark Photo Central…”
In 2014 My father passed on during this year. As I sort though photographs and memories, I am acknowledging how time flies before we realize it. I think, “If I really want to create a photography school, what better time than now!
Let’s see what happens ….”
18 January 2014 Tom walks into photoworks and asks me if I still want to start the school.
24 January 2014 Tom and Nancy and Neil and I have a founders dinner meeting using a gift certificate a client had given us.
Notice the angel cards I picked all week!
7 February 2014 Tom and I are sitting and relaxing in photoworks and Tom mentions a film project he did on the Island of Buldir in the Aleutians. I said, did you say Buldir Island? Just a minute, I want to show you something. I went in the back and brought out a photograph and several pieces of my Dad’s crashed plane on the island. Tom was dumbfounded when he realized it was the same plane he had camped next to! We laughed and hugged in disbelief! Neither of us had ever met anyone else who knew where Buldir was! The next day he brought in a photo he took in 1975 from his tent next to the crashed plane.
In closing, let me say that Tom’s photo of Buldir Island is exactly what I imagined when Dad described to me what is was like to have the clouds part and know you have a place to land. Tom’s photo was a priceless gift to me, delivered 40 years later. This entire journey can only be described as a cosmic connection that culminated into an amazing new partnership. It is carrying us all into the future to create a foundation and a commitment to the art of photography, to history and to the community .
7 March 2014 The Leesburg School of Photography at photoworks had its Grand Opening
March 2016 – We’re still here!
We teach anyone with an interest.