OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) - While seeking a foxhole in 2006-07 to keep from being another economic casualty of the Great Recession, photographer John Gladman stumbled across an explosive business idea.
Gladman, who before the economic downturn had established himself as one of the Midwest’s most successful professional photographers, began, at his spouse Carol Ann Zuk’s urging, taking photographs of women and, through hours of computer-assisted artistry, turning them into illustrations reminiscent of the sort of pin-up art that reminded World War II veterans of what they were fighting for so far from home.
“I thought it would be a few girls, but it exploded,” Gladman recalled in his downtown Ottawa studio, which is the new home of his Bombshell Pin Up Photography business.
Gladman’s modern interpretation of traditional pin-ups, which reminds viewers of both Alberto Vargas and Gil Elvgren, has become so well-known and respected that Atglen, Pennsylvania-based Schiffer Publishing on Jan. 12 released “Bombshell: The Pin-Up Art of John Gladman,” a 144-page hardcover edition of the award-winning photographer’s work. Gladman and Schiffer are working on a deal for a second volume, he said.
Gladman has been a photographer since his youth.
“I’ve always been interested in photography since Boy Scouts,” he said. “My first merit badge was the photography merit badge. It may have been my only merit badge. I wasn’t that interested in Boy Scouts.”
The Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/1URyAu9 ) reports that in trade for darkroom time and more instruction, Gladman landed a job in a local photo studio, where he worked until he graduated from Ottawa High School in 1982. After three semesters of college, Gladman decided to return to Ottawa and buy the studio. He later would relocate, first to the Kansas City area and then to Lawrence, building an ever-increasing client base for his portraits and other commercial photos.
“In 2007, the economy crashed,” Gladman said. “I went from being one of the highest-end portrait businesses in the state, in the Midwest, really, to just completely tanking.”
To make things worse, road construction for a new East Lawrence exchange on the Kansas Turnpike led to detours that made his and other North Lawrence businesses difficult to reach.
“To get from downtown Lawrence to me, which was just across the river, was a 20-minute detour,” he said.
That is when Zuk insisted Gladman try her pin-up idea, saying if he didn’t do it, she would find another photographer.
Gladman acquiesced, creating pin-ups using Zuk and his daughter, Becky, as models and a Facebook page to launch the business. Zuk helped promote the new concept by hosting “pin-up parties,” which Gladman compared to Mary Kay home parties where instead of cosmetics, attendees were encouraged to book pin-up sessions.
“When we were getting started, our biggest client base was out of Topeka,” Gladman said.
A couple of Topeka photographers, Kristi Ditmer and Megan Rogers, were early supporters, and “Bombshell” includes pin-ups for which they posed.
Gladman moved to a larger studio, trademarked Bombshell, licensed it to another photographer and he and Zuk relocated to Las Vegas, where they based the franchise. Although clients used to fly to Lawrence from all around the country, Las Vegas did allow Gladman access to such models as former Playboy playmates Claire Sinclair and Ana Braga, whose pin-ups are included in “Bombshell.”
However, many of Gladman’s models were just everyday women who wanted to “play dress-up” and create something “fun and flirty” but not as overt as some boudoir photography in lingerie or less.
The illustrations’ “retro, vintage, mid-century feel” was appealing, said Gladman, who more recently has been using his technique to create Americana art that has a Norman Rockwell feel to it.
The pin-up process starts with a consultation during which Gladman and the client choose poses and outfits that enhance the woman’s body type and taste. The poses aren’t necessarily natural ones.
“Some of the poses yoga instructors have trouble with because they’re not realistic,” said Gladman, who added that sometimes “Carol will be in the picture holding their legs in a certain position.”
“We warn them to take Advil when you go home because tomorrow you’re going to be sore, even the athletic girls,” he said.
The woman’s image - and Zuk’s hands - are cut out using Photoshop before Gladman begins the process of using software to create what looks like a hand-painted illustration.
“My end product is an art piece,” he said.
Although the couple enjoyed Las Vegas, they returned last year to Ottawa to be closer to their aging parents.
In addition to continuing their Bombshell pin-up and Americana photography, the couple has started a new venture. After acquiring a coffee kiosk last fall in the Kansas City Kansas Community College’s Jewell Building, Gladman and Zuk acquired a downtown Ottawa storefront that will open in a couple of weeks as Mug Shot Coffee.
“We’re both avid coffee drinkers,” said Gladman, who said he and Zuk have spent time working on their barista skills at the KCKCC kiosk.
Not only will the new coffee shop feature furnishings reminiscent of Gladman’s photographic career, it also will provide a place to showcase his work.
Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com
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