Kathy Baldridge, co-owner of Photo Gym with her husband, Dan, spent about 30 years in different roles in the information technology field before making the switch to the photo organization business where she converts analog media such as photo slides, negatives and VHS tapes into digital media such as CDs and flash drives.
Baldridge first considered photo organization as a career path after she heard the president of the Association of Professional Photo Organizers speak at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas about 10 years ago.
She returned home from the show and thought, “This is such a great idea.”
“The idea that there are people who can help you with all of those things in your life where maybe you’ve inherited them. ... Even at that point I was like, ‘We have to get in this’ because it was so similar to what I was doing in web services,” Baldridge said. “It’s the same stuff. You’re taking photos, documents, audio files and videos and you’re putting them together in a way that makes sense for families rather than corporations. I guess it’s just more warm and fuzzy when you’re doing it for a person, like a grandmother or even grandchildren.”
Baldridge has operated Photo Gym for over a year, helping to re-format customers’ pictures and film as well as offer classes to instruct people how to complete the process on their own.
“People are very eager to get help with their photos, but it’s really not the photos and videos they’re concerned about, it’s the stories,” Baldridge said. “They want you to hear what they’re saying to you. They want you to then take that and interpret it and mold what they’ve given you so they can tell that story. I think that’s a huge skill that if you didn’t have it, then all of the technology and knowledge in the world would not help you because they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving it to you.”
What would surprise people most to learn about your job?
“I think most people would be surprised to learn that it’s not very glamorous sometimes. What we do is a lot of conversion of old media and the end project is really appreciated, but the work itself is sometimes a little bit long and technical. I think the technical aspect of it would really surprise most people, with what we have to do with computers to transfer old, analog things into digital things. We use a lot of software and high-powered computers, and people don’t really equate that to printed photos, slides and negatives. You have to be really comfortable working with technology to do what we do.”
What’s the most common question you get about what you do?
“The most common question I get is, ‘What do you do?’ The name Photo Gym I think sometimes is intriguing because they aren’t really sure if we’re a photo place or a gym. We’ve heard everything from, ‘So what do you do? Take pictures of me working out?’ and no, that’s not exactly what we’re going for. Most people are interested either in old slides, negatives or video transfer when they don’t have a way to do that themselves. Those are things where we fill that gap where they really don’t have those tools on the consumer market that make that easy for them to do.”
What is the most challenging aspect for your job?
“Everything is a little bit of a challenge, you know? Just in being able to meet the expectations of people and be sure that you’re really doing the very best job you can do every single time you touch someone’s memories. That’s always the foremost thing in our mind: that no matter how busy we are, we don’t rush, that we’re really taking the time that each individual piece deserves. Sometimes, like right now, when we’re really busy, it can be a challenge to remember that this isn’t just a job. This is someone’s life. That’s probably the most challenging thing for anyone who works here, to just slow down and do a good job.”
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job or career?
“Giving people their memories back. That’s amazing every single time it happens. We kind of joke that if we make someone cry, then we’ve done a good job. They’re just so moved by the things we produce for them that they may never have seen in their life. It could be their childhood slides or negatives or video tape that they themselves have never seen. So they’ve gotten it out of someone’s basement or attic and when they see it with us, that’s the first time they’ve ever seen it. So that’s always rewarding.”
Would 10-year-old you be surprised that you are in this position or field?
“I don’t think I would have been surprised at 10. I was always interested in photography. At 10 years old, I had a vintage camera collection and that was always my show-and-tell. I thought I was going to grow up and be a landscape photographer. I was going to travel the world and take photos of landscapes, but life had other plans for me. I did work in photography and I have worked in design areas that relate to photos. I think 10-year-old me would be like, ‘Well, you got really close.’ It’s not photography, but it’s working with photos, it’s leaving an impression with photos. So I think that was 10-year-old me’s unspoken desire.”
What advice would you give someone starting a job similar to yours?
“I actually am a member of the Association of Professional Photo Organizers, and we meet with a group in Kansas City with other people who most of the time are trying to start this business. I think the best piece of advice I give them and would give to anyone who wants to do this job is not to be intimidated. It’s a scary thing, it’s people’s lives ,and that prevents people from taking the leap of being able to feel comfortable and say, ‘I know what I’m doing.’ Learn and grow with people in an association like ours or another education institution and feel confident and take your time and do the best job you can do.”