His iconic Frankfort photography books grace coffee tables across the Bluegrass. “The Triple Towers,” his most famous piece, features the tops of the courthouse, old Good Shepherd Catholic Church and old Paul Sawyier Public Library, and it adorns the kiosk at the Capitol Overlook on Louisville Road. If it’s a breathtaking local image, odds are he captured the shot.
Meet the man behind the lens — Gene Burch.
Although his photos are synonymous with Frankfort, Burch grew up in Louisville, where he attended St. Xavier High School and Bellarmine College, before heading to Washington University in St. Louis to major in molecular biology in graduate school. It was during college that he was drafted into the service — a detour that jumpstarted a love of photography.
“Fortunately, because I could type, I didn’t have to go overseas,” he said with a chuckle. “I was stationed in Washington, D.C.”
It was during his time in the nation’s capital that Burch found a darkroom and began to dabble in photography. A fellow serviceman friend was on R and R (rest and recuperation) in Japan and sent him a Canon 35 mm single lens reflex camera, one of the very first.
“I would develop film in my bathroom then take it to the darkroom to make prints,” he explained. “I learned photography from the bottom up.”
It was during this time that he decided dental school was in his future.
“When I was young, we couldn’t afford a dentist, so from fourth grade until I graduated from college, I went to the University of Louisville dental school to have all my work done,” he added. “That got me interested in dentistry.”
After graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry in 1975, Burch was looking for a place to set up his practice when two of his aunts and uncles told him Frankfort needed a dentist.
“I drove down the East Main Street hill into the city and I thought, ‘Boy, what a pretty place,’” he said. “I’ve been here ever since.”
In June of ’75, he opened his practice on Shelby Street. Unfortunately, that office location was short-lived.
A little more than three years later, in the “Great Winter Flood” of December 1978, the Kentucky River crested at 48.47 feet — nearly 10 feet over flood stage. The river basin and more than half of downtown Frankfort was under water, forcing nearly 1,000 residents to be evacuated from their homes. Burch’s office took on water above the ceiling for five days straight.
It was then that he moved his practice into the Fountain Place Shops, which were new at the time. For the next three decades, Burch and his wife of nearly 50 years and dental hygienist/office manager, Mary Ann, kept patients smiling.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my wife,” the retired dentist said. “Our 38 years (in business) went by in about four.”
In fact, it was two of Burch’s longtime patients — Bob Hicks and Margie Gatewood, who were instrumental in helping the photographer capture his most famous shot — “The Triple Towers.”
“They worked on the sixth floor of the McClure building and they both said, ‘You have got to see the view from our window,’” Burch explained. “So one day, as a storm was rolling in, I took them up on their offer and was lucky enough to get that shot.”
Ironically, Burch’s photography gallery is now located in the McClure building — on the sixth floor.
Burch has published seven coffee table photography books of the Capital City, including “A Walking Tour of Historic Frankfort;” “A Photographic Journey; Frankfort Cemetery, the Westminster Abbey of Kentucky;” “Frankfort, Yesterday and Today” and “Frankfort and Beyond.” He also put out an annual calendar for 17 years.
“The difficult thing about the calendar was that I would have to go out each month and find a ‘calendar-quality’ photograph,” he said.
His passion for his craft has taken him around the world to places like Iceland, where he captured the Northern Lights, and Yellowstone National Park, where on a frigid -26 degree-morning he got a shot of Old Faithful erupting larger than usual.
On Feb. 27, Burch will share many of his “otherworldly photos” at the Paul Sawyier Public Library.
However, his heart and his camera reside in Frankfort.
“It’s a very picturesque town with beautiful historic buildings,” he added.
From their perch overlooking the city on Crown Point, the Burches will have a picture-perfect panoramic view of the demolition of the Capital Plaza Tower, something the humble photographer plans to catch on film.
In his spare time, Burch is quite the tennis star, having played his whole life. Paired with Franklin County Judge-Executive Huston Wells, the two have won the United States Tennis Association state championship age group title five times.
“We’ve come close to making it to the national tournament, but haven’t made it yet,” Burch said, adding that after having his knee replaced four months ago, he is anxious to get back on the court.
In addition to his prints and books, Burch is also an expert at restoring historical and old photographs.
To check out his collection and services, visit www.geneburchphoto.com.