Decades ago, Frank Kaufmann got his first, bulky camera while working the soda fountain at his father's Towson pharmacy.
The cameras have gotten smaller, Kaufmann has gotten older, but he's still shooting the same sights he always has.
The 81-year-old—with the looks and vitality of someone much younger—is a common sight around Towson, often with his camera (now digital) in hand.
And his photos are for more than a personal album or a casual hobby. Kaufmann has contributed his talents to community organizations for more than 20 years.
And for hours of shooting, watching and printing, Kaufmann has taken nary a cent, aside from a dinner here and there. He does it for fun and for posterity.
As a teen, the lifelong Towson resident worked in the family pharmacy, Kaufmann's, at the corner of York Road and Chesapeake Avenue (think where Ruby Tuesday was). He worked the soda fountain, among other tasks. He started taking shots for fun on an early Kodak camera, and later a customer sold him a gently-used Argus C3, a now-classic camera.
"He sold me the whole kit and kaboodle, with the filters, lenses, camera case and everything else for a small fee and I started taking some pictures and enjoyed it," he said. "Dad and I built a darkroom in our house so I could do my work there."
Kaufmann didn't pursue photography as a career, however. After graduation, he became a teacher and then a principal in Baltimore County Public Schools, never working too far from his home on the north side of Towson. He spent most of his career at Carroll Manor and Fifth District elementary schools in northern Baltimore County.
He retired in 1990 and started to pass the time with photos. He had Orioles season tickets and would sometimes take pictures of old Memorial Stadium from across Lake Montebello. That shot won Kaufmann second place at a photo contest during the Towsontown Spring Festival in the early 1990s.
"That was the only time I had ever entered a contest and I won second place," Kaufmann said.
There, Carol Allen, with the now-defunct Historic Towson, asked him to take photos for the group.
"He obviously has a very good eye and so I knew we needed some help with Historic Towson. He helped us for only about 20 years," Allen recalled. "All his volunteering keeps him young and he's such a great person to work with. He's so upbeat. He's one of those people, you feel good to be around him."
Kaufmann shot photos of local landmarks for the organization, including Hampton Mansion and the historic courthouse. Several years ago, he looked at photos in the Baltimore County Public Library archives and set out to match them to show how the Towson skyline changed over the last century, or how the view down York Road from Towson Circle (nee Hutzler's) has changed since he was a child.
One photo "shows the old movie theater where Recher is now and I thought, 'Gee, it would be nice to duplicate that now,' because it looks different now but it still looks the same," he said. "Then I realized there are other pictures to take."
Kaufmann also has shot photos of events such as the Towsontown Spring Festival and Towson Gardens Day for the Towson Chamber of Commerce. He had been shooting for the chamber long before current executive director Nancy Hafford came aboard, and Hafford was quickly taken by Kaufmann's vitality and work ethic. Her office is decorated with his pictures.
"He shows what a real 80-year-old could be like," Hafford said. "He has such a passion for life and when I'm in my 80s, I want to be just like Frank."
Kaufmann has shot many people and events over the years, but his favorite subject is, of course, buildings.
"They don't move," he said with a laugh. Kaufmann prefers to sit and wait for better lighting or find a better angle. People can be a hair more unpredictable, for better or worse.
And he's done it all simply to preserve parts of Towson for history.
"I've never sold a picture, I've given some away," Kaufmann said. "Maybe someday I'll have to, but now I just take pictures for my own self. And if someone appreciates them, if I can do something for them to enjoy, I'm doubly blessed."