Bill Wade Photography: capturing life’s memories for 65 years

By Blake Schnitker

Chances are the phone in your pocket contains roughly hundreds of pictures, accessible by the click of a button. Chances are you can take more of said pictures in a matter of seconds, if you so desired. Snapchat and Instagram and (place any other form of social media site here) have, inadvertently or not, started what I like to call “the selfie movement.” To the 50 year-old and above population, a selfie – sadly, according to Oxford Dictionary – is “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken on a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” There are even “selfie sticks” now, which, yes, are essentially what they sound like.

With the technological advances of the past twenty years, there’s this omnipresent idea that we need to capture, save, and share every moment of our lives – ultimately the same reasons behind the birth of photography itself. The problem today is that everyone considers themselves a photographer. But real photographers, like the professionals at Bill Wade Photography in Jacksonville, are seemingly unfazed by the profusion of amateur picture-takers operating on free downloadable apps. Having been Jacksonville’s primary studio since 1950, Bill Wade Photography still defines their company on the same principles 65 years later.

“About eight or nine years ago, digital [photography] really came in and took over,” said Kurt Wade, the son of founder Bill Wade, “they say [digital] makes it a lot easier to take pictures, but when you’ve been doing the same thing for 30 or 40 years, what you’re doing is pretty easy, you know how to do it.”

“What digital photography has done is bring a lot more people into the field. At first digital wasn’t as good, people didn’t care a lot about print quality. For us, print quality is very important, we want to give our customers good pictures whether they know it or not.”

Founder Bill Wade attended Illinois College in the early 1940’s before leaving to fight in World War II. Knowing that he wanted to be an artist of some sort, Bill Wade, with financial assistance from the G.I. Bill, went on to attend Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California, eventually graduating in 1949. Upon his graduation, Wade returned to Jacksonville to pursue his professional career.

“At his first job, my father was told he’d never make it in photography, that he didn’t have the personality for it,” Kurt Wade said of his father’s start, “after that he got a $500 loan from his mother and started Bill Wade Photography on April 1, 1950 as a one-man operation.”

As the studio expanded in its first few decades of operation, the company went from a one-man project to a full-fledged family business, with his wife joining around 1954 and later, two of his sons, Kurt and Brett. Kurt Wade, who started working for his father around the age of 11 and shot his first wedding at the age of 13, is now the primary owner and operator of Bill Wade Photography. Like his father, Kurt would also attend and graduate from Brooks Institute of Photography. All three of the Wade family photographers, father Bill and his sons Kurt and Brett, are all Masters of Photography – degrees earned by winning certain print competitions.

Once the business had gotten off the ground and experienced a few years of success, Bill Wade began developing his own style of photography that most people had never seen before.

“Now, this may seem odd, but [my father] started a new concept called ‘candid weddings’,” Wade said of his father’s innovative ideas, “prior to that, people didn’t go to other people’s weddings and take pictures … they might take a few shots at the altar but they

didn’t do the cake photos or pictures of the reception. So he started doing that, and pretty soon he was doing about a hundred weddings a year.”

Bill Wade’s ingenuity did not stop with wedding photos. Shortly after establishing the studio in Jacksonville, Wade started experimenting with high school prom photos, something that most people had never seen before. At his first prom shooting, in the late spring of 1950, Wade took photos of three couples and made six dollars; three years later, as his son Kurt recalls, Wade was driving his first Cadillac, and ever since then, the company has continued to grow, with this year marking 65 years of successful photography.

Locally, in Jacksonville and the surrounding areas, Bill Wade Photography continued to develop and build upon its reputation for high quality work. Within the first couple decades of operation, Bill Wade became associated with the Professional Photographers of America, and eventually earned the status of President of the Associated Professional Photographers of Illinois. Seeing the prolonged success of their family’s business, Bill’s two sons were soon following in their father’s footsteps, gaining recognition of both the state and national level of professional photography.

“We both, Brett and I, also became Presidents of the State Association,” said Kurt Wade, “and all three of us (Bill, Brett and Kurt) eventually served as counselors for the Professional Photographers of America for twenty years each.”

Some of the Wade’s other accomplishments include each of the three earning the National Award, which each state hands out yearly. Also, Kurt Wade, who still works as a photographer today, has been awarded “Best of State” in Illinois six different times.

After their father’s retirement in 1982, brothers Kurt and Brett took over operations along with their mother. Four years later, in 1986, the business opened its second studio in Springfield, Illinois. Over the last 33 years since Bill Wade’s retirement, his photography studio continues to witness success by following the same principles established by its founder 65 years ago. Each year, the studio works at hundreds of weddings, proms, and other events, as well as developing their reputation for providing high quality senior pictures.

“Pictures are important to people,” Wade said, “they’re important to the people being photographed, they’re important for their kids, and they’re important for their families after they’re gone. Pictures are an investment, something that will be around for generations to come.”

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About the author

Sports writer with two and a half years as Jacksonville High School's starting quarterback from '06 to '08. Blake currently volunteers his knowledge as a football coach.

View all articles by Blake Schnitker

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