Photographer Shows Our Best Side.
From the moment you walk into Gene Burch’s photography studio in the McClure building downtown you know you’re somewhere special. Everywhere you look there’s beauty courtesy of an amazing array of photographs. Some of them are nature photos and some are of buildings but they all have one thing in common. They’re the product of a man with a gift for seeing and artfully recording something that’s worthy of our attention.
If you live in Frankfort you’ve seen Gene Burch’s work. He’s taken thousands upon thousands of photographs capturing the uniqueness and beauty of Frankfort. They have filled the pages of books and calendars. They hang on the walls of several buildings in town including the Judicial Center and downtown Farmers Bank as well as in many private homes throughout Frankfort.
Several people have talked to me about Gene Burch and his photos since I moved here so imagine my surprise when I sat down with him only to find out he was a prominent Frankfort dentist for 38 years! Before his beautiful photographs came beautiful smiles! His pathway to becoming Frankfort’s preeminent photographer was certainly not the story I expected.
When Burch was growing up in Louisville his family couldn’t afford to go to the dentist. He wound up going to the UL Dental School for treatment and that’s where his interest in dentistry began. Later Burch found himself studying molecular biology at Washington University in St. Louis. While there he was drafted and due to developing excellent typing skills at Fort Dix eventually wound up working as a secretary in the Field Artillery Officer Assignment Section at the Pentagon.
It was in 1969, while in Washington DC, that a friend bought him a 35-millimeter camera. Where he was stationed there was a lab and a darkroom and Burch would go in and make prints. He described the process fondly saying, “A little part of history shows up in front of you. It fascinated me from the very beginning.”
After leaving the military Burch went to the University of Kentucky on the GI bill and completed his dental degree. It was then that he heard from uncles and aunts who were living in Frankfort. “They said ‘Frankfort needs a dentist.’ ”
Burch describes his first view of downtown. “I came down the hill on Main Street and saw Frankfort. It looked like a little German village.” He was hooked. That was in 1975. He and his wife Mary Ann, a dental hygienist, have been in Frankfort ever since.
Even though his dental practice grew to be successful Burch remained committed to photography. “When I moved to Frankfort I promised myself I would buy a roll of film per month.”
In 1991 Pat Badgett, who at that time was serving as the Director of Tourism and the Chamber of Commerce, asked Burch to create a calendar with photographs of Frankfort. It was the first of many that Burch would create over the next several years, each showcasing the charming character of downtown and the surrounding environs.
Later Burch, in a partnership with local historians Russ Hatter and Nicky Hughes, embarked on an ambitious series of books under the name Frankfort Heritage Press. Among the several books in this series were two volumes including historic images of Frankfort and an exquisite volume entitled Frankfort Cemetery: The Westminster Abbey of Kentucky.
Over the years Burch estimates that he’s taken over 100,000 photographs. Many of them are available as prints, notepads, framed pieces, and postcards. In addition to taking pictures Burch is now also doing work in art reproduction and restoration of old photos.
From our time together it is clear that Burch loves his work. It’s also clear to me that we as a community are fortunate to have someone documenting our city with such a loving eye.