Remembering Jim Bradley: An Artist Who ‘Used A Camera Rather Than A Brush’
Jim Bradley focused on central Pennsylvania.
Armed with his camera, a deep interest in history and his bomber jacket, Bradley has spent more than three decades capturing, with obvious love, what is now the region’s past in stunning black and white images.
Many of his photos graced the pages of The Patriot-News in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s as he worked as a photojournalist alongside generations of journalists.
Bradley’s camera shutter closed for the last time. He died on December 31 at the age of 84. His funeral service is on Friday.
Still, the images left by the Harrisburg resident and the Cumberland County native endure.
A group of Mennonite children playing in a snow covered cornfield on a winter’s day. A station long gone as it was in 1961. Things that would have been forgotten if Bradley hadn’t pointed his goal in their direction.
“Jim was an artist,” said Nick Turo, retired editor and former Patriot-News reporter who worked with Bradley for many years. “He used a camera rather than a brush.”
Bradley, who was born in South Middleton Township in the middle of a snowstorm in 1936, learned the craft of photography while in the Navy. In the mid-1950s he was working for Allied Pix, an entrepreneur who supplied photographers for The Patriot-News. He spent 30 years with the company, filming scenes from all over the state, particularly in his beloved “Mother Cumberland”.
His particular interest was trains, perhaps because a railroad track ran right past the house where he grew up. His wife, former Patriot-News reporter Mary Bradley and a passionate historian in her own right, was his partner in his adventures until his death in 2009.
These adventures are recorded by the Jim Bradley Photograph Collection, the Mary O. Bradley, Journalist, History Collection, and the Mary and Jim Bradley Library Collection now in the care of the Cumberland County Historical Society.
“Jim’s photos on subjects related to railways in the Mid-Atlantic region document the history and importance of the rail industry,” the company’s description of the collection reads. “His photos of activities and life in Cumberland and the surrounding counties add immensely to the documentation of our local and regional history.”
The company estimates that the collection includes more than a million black and white and color photos.
Thanks to Bradley, you can still see a football kick from 1987, swans swimming on a cold misty lake in Boiling Springs one morning in 1978, and passengers lounging in a car on Pennsylvania Rail Road’s Manhattan Limited in Harrisburg. station on Christmas Eve in 1964.
Bradley could have a crisp exterior at times. The center was soft, however, and his laughter erupted with great frequency. It was obvious that he cared about his house and its people.
“He seemed to have a hard nose. But, in fact, he was a kitty, ”said fellow photographer Pete Rekus, who worked with Bradley for nearly four decades. “I can’t believe he left us so soon.”
“I worked with Jim 60 years ago when we worked at Allied Pix, the photo arm of the Patriot-News at the time. He was always upbeat and helpful with a 14 year old! I will never forget his kindness, ”wrote a friend, Paul Wambach, in memory.
Bradley’s suite of friends and acquaintances was vast. Every Christmas, he made sure that each of them received a Christmas card with one of his favorite shots from years past.
“Jim was a good guy. A caring guy, ”said Bill Blando, another friend and former editor of The Patriot-News. “He was the kind of photographer who looked behind the scenes, behind the obvious, and tried to take a picture of what was really the essence of any event going on.”
As a photojournalist Jim was old school. He believed in the boots approach to the field and loved telling a reporter to get into his SUV for a drive around the country on a story-hunting trip. He always found something worth writing and photographing.
“Jim was an exceptional photographer,” said Jerry Gleason, another retired Patriot-News reporter who worked with Bradley for years and joined him on numerous photo-taking tours. He met Bradley in 1967. At the time, Gleason was working as a photographer for the now defunct New York Sunday News.
“He had a very good eye for composition. His black and white stuff was really stunning, ”Gleason said.
So was his memory. He seemed to know everyone and every place in central Pennsylvania. “We spent a day photographing all the covered bridges in Cumberland and Perry counties,” Gleason recalls. “Jim knew where they all were. And their names.
The consensus is that Bradley valued his time and was a diligent, engaged and talented columnist. Thanks to him, we can all still see what he saw.