Focused: Photographer of the rich, famous...and everyone else

Photography and history buffs no doubt consider Rufus Holsinger a hard act to follow. His photographs of celebrities, the University– and especially everyday life in late 19th- and early 20th-century Charlottesville– have almost iconic status hereabouts.

But those same darkroom devotees would be quick to agree that long-time Charlottesville shutterbug Jim Carpenter is a worthy contender for the successor's crown. Carpenter– who moved from news to portrait photography when he bought Billy Gitchell's studio 17 years ago– has an archive of pictures that may one day be as valuable a resource as the Holsinger Collection at UVA.

"I've photographed six presidents, the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and the Queen," Carpenter recalls proudly, adding the interesting tidbit that he was able to snap Her Majesty and Jerry Ford in the same week in 1976.

"I got into some trouble with the Queen," he laughs, describing the panic of her secret service detail on finding him close on the monarch's heels. But when she turned around to investigate, "She saw me and flashed this wonderful smile"– which Carpenter dutifully captured for history.

His lucky positioning during Ford's visit to Monticello resulted in a shot that was picked up by UPI. "I took two pictures of the president that day," he says, "and sent them to him. One came back to me signed, and the other went to the National Archives." UPI flashed it around the world on their wire service.

Carpenter's illustrious career had a modest start. He was sitting with life-long friend John Atkins (then a Daily Progress photographer) in the fourth-floor art room at old Lane High School (now the County Office Building). "You want to take some pictures of the class of '66?" Adkins asked. "I'll show you everything you need to know."

"Once you get that hooked on photography," Carpenter says, "it's forever in your blood. The mystery of watching those chemicals fix time in that subdued light... You can almost stop time."

As a member of the Lane class of '68, Carpenter lived through some important Charlottesville history: "It was the middle of Lane's 53-game winning streak in football," he laughs.

Carpenter isn't just a local treasure. In addition to having his portrait of Jerry Ford in the National Archives, he has won prizes in many national competitions. One he's particularly proud of is taking second place out of 10,000 entries in the most recent Kodak Gallery Elite competition. The thrill for him is that entries in such contests are judged solely on their own merits, not in comparison to other photos.

"They judge you for what you've done in that picture," he says. "Hearing their critique always makes you a better photographer."

Young women planning weddings in the next few years and other folks just interested in seeing Charlottesville's history captured through a loving lens will be happy to know that Carpenter has no plans to retire.

"I'd like to be able to stay in business 50 years," he says. That would push retirement to 2018. Will that be a chore?

"I love my work," he says. "After 36 years, I still love getting up and coming to work each morning."

With that attitude, sounds like hitting the half-century mark will be a snap.

Age: 54

Why here? I was born and raised here.

Worst thing about living here? Inconsiderate drivers

Favorite hangout? Outback Steakhouse

Most overrated virtue? [blank]

People would be surprised to know? I love to clown for hospitalized children.

What would you change about yourself? I'd be a better public speaker.

Proudest accomplishment? Marrying my wife, Joan, 27 years ago

People find most annoying about you? I punch too many buttons on my computer.

Favorite book? The Bible

Causes you to rant? Smoking in public places

Biggest 21st century thrill? Emerging into digital technology

Biggest 21st century creep-out? Identify theft

What do you drive? 2000 Toyota Landcruiser

In your car CD player right now? Shrek soundtrack

Next journey? Atlanta to give a photography seminar at SEPPA

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? I got a crew-cut to save 25 cents of the barber's fee to buy candy.

Regret? My red hair has turned silver.

Favorite comfort food? Spoon bread

Always in your refrigerator? Film and damson preserves

Must-see TV? The Apprentice

Favorite cartoon? Foghorn Leghorn

Describe a perfect day. Having both my feet on the ground

Walter Mitty fantasy? To be a good singer! Or how about, just to carry a tune!

Who'd play you in the movie? David Letterman

Most embarrassing moment? I really try to forget those!

Best advice you ever got? Never volunteer for anything in the U.S. Army.

Favorite bumper sticker? Following the Son too close may keep you from burning.

Jim Carpenter on the other side on the lens