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Generation of Germantown images debuts online


GERMANTOWN—With this new year, a huge digital album of the work of Howard Gibson, more than 2,100 photos taken from 1947 to 1978, went live. The website is a labor of love and respect created by Bruce Bohnsack.

Mr. Gibson was a professional photographer. In 1947, he and his family moved to Germantown, and there he took photos of “all facets of community life,” primarily in Columbia and Dutchess counties, Mr. Bohnsack writes on the site.

In a phone interview earlier this month he described Mr. Gibson as a sort of “country doctor” of community photography. “When you needed a photographer, Howie was on call, 24/7,” he said. Weddings, proms, sports, the Lions Club and midget racing are among the many categories on the site.

Howard Gibson. Courtesy Photo by Gibson

“This was in the days when not everyone had a camera,” Mr. Bohnsack pointed out, let alone a camera in their phones. “He did a great job for community, and I wanted to create a fitting tribute to him.”

After Mr. Gibson died, Mr. Bohnsack spoke with Robert Gibson, his son. “I told him my vision of wanting to keep Howard’s photo library intact, in Germantown. Robert agreed,” and they also agreed on a purchase price. Robert has since died, and Mr. Gibson’s other son, Donald—“he was a grade ahead of me in school” said Mr. Bohnsack—lives in New Orleans.

“My interest in Howard’s photo library was twofold,” Mr. Bohnsack wrote in an email. “As someone born and raised in Germantown, I knew what a historical treasure was contained in his lifetime of work.

“I felt strongly that the library should be maintained in its entirety locally and not parsed out and lost forever.”

Mr. Bohnsack’s interest in the collection also rose from his experience as a photographer in the Navy during a deployment in the Middle East in 1972. “Once discharged from the Navy in 1974, I built a darkroom.

“When Howie passed in 1978 I envisioned working with his collection in my darkroom to make a book of his work, but my work at the Germantown Telephone Company and raising a family got in the way of that endeavor,” Mr. Bohnsack said.

The Germantown Telephone Company, founded in 1905, has been in the Bohnsack family for four generations. In 1986 Mr. Bohnsack became president and CEO of the company. In 2007, the phone company and its subsidiaries were grouped under the moniker GTel.

Mr. Bohnsack, 68, retired from the company in early 2014 and is now chairman and president of the Board of Directors.

“Time passed,” he wrote, “and today, technology in the form of the internet, computers and flatbed scanners, plus the time I have in being retired, made it possible to post Howard’s pictures online for all to enjoy. A book would have been nice, but not as detailed as the website.”

Devin Overington, another Germantown native, now a student at Marist College, designed the site. Mr. Bohnsack had been “playing with it for about a year, loading photos and trying to get it ready.”

He continues to add photos, in the Recent Scans category. Those photos eventually go into categories, and new photos come into Recent Scans. “I’m presently sorting and scanning by year,” Mr. Bohnsack wrote. “So far, I have completed eight of Howard’s thirty-one years of picture taking, so there is plenty of work ahead.”

“It was always my intention from 1978 to somehow share Howard Gibson’s work and by doing so, to share the people, places and events that made growing up and living in that time period so memorable,” said Mr. Bohnsack.

Recognize anyone? From the “G-town Midget Races 1959” category on the Photo by Gibson website created by Bruce Bohnsack. Photo credit: Howard Gibson
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