As a kid, Gene Page IV often spent weekends at the Bradenton Herald, the local newspaper. He was, after all, the grandson of the publisher, Gene Page II, and son of Gene Page III, one of the paper’s photographers and assistant to the publisher. He is the fourth William Eugene Page in a long line of newspapermen.
“I can remember playing around the presses when I was 3 or 4,” says Gene, 59, who spent some of his childhood in Bradenton. “It was like my own personal jungle gym when the presses weren’t running. As I got older, say around 9, I had learned to make photographic prints in the darkroom, so I was allowed to make a lot of the newsroom’s reprint orders. It was quite a life for a kid who got to learn the business from the ground up.”
Around age 10, Gene found a 1930s Bell & Howell movie camera at his grandparents’ house.
It was another way to immerse himself in the world of photography, this time with motion.
“My dad got it repaired,” he says. “I’d take it to school and make funny movies of my friends. Then I’d come home and spend hours in my room cutting and splicing the film, then invite my friends over to see the movies.”
By age 12, Gene’s first photo was published in the paper, and photography has been his life’s calling ever since—first in newspapers and now as an on-set still photographer for the motion picture industry.
As a teenager, Gene recalls riding around with his father as they listened to police scanners—a pretty reliable source for spot news.
“I’d go with him to photograph car accidents, crime scenes and fires, seeing some pretty bad stuff, but I learned to deal with it,” he says.
As Gene relays a story from decades ago, he flashes forward for a moment to his nine seasons as the unit still photographer for “The Walking Dead.”
“A journalist came on set one day after I’d been working for TWD for a couple of years and asked me—with a completely straight face—if the gore of the production got to me,” Gene says. “I just looked at him and said, ‘At least this is just makeup and pretend. It’s so different from what happens in real life, all the horror and tragedy.’”
Gene discovered his passion after a stint in the Air Force, freelancing and working as a staff photographer at newspapers from New York to Miami, and earning a Master of Fine Arts in photography from Long Island University.
“Taking a motion picture and television still photography class at the Maine Photographic Workshops in 1993 was a turning point,” he says.
Gene’s production still photography took off when he and his wife, Kim Bauldree, moved back to Florida.
“I got into the film union and began working on films and television shows,” Gene says.
To date, he has been involved with more than 100 films and television shows. Thanks to nine seasons with “The Walking Dead” and “The Talking Dead”—plus “Dopesick,” “The Right Stuff” and “Graceland”—he has worked across many genres with a range of actors and directors.
Gene spends workdays on movie and television sets, unobtrusively documenting actors engaged in their craft. Many of his photos are used for publicity. Others languish at studios for years, eventually forgotten as the newest-greatest-trendiest rise to the forefront.
“Sometimes I’ll have a studio call me for reprints because they can’t find a particular shot, and I can usually get it for them pretty quickly,” Gene says. “I have a great cataloging system. I go through every single shot and only delete those that I think the actor won’t like or that I’m not happy with for some technical reason. But there are very few that I delete.”
The studios don’t pay him to edit or archive his work. That’s on his own time.
“The only time I was ever compensated for editing was when I did a job for National Geographic,” he says. “Most of the time, the studios know what they want, and I deliver it to them. Then my digital images—all but the ones I’ve deleted—reside in my archives.
“I’ll make JPEGs of my favorites. Sometimes I’ll make hundreds of JPEGs a week that I save. So often I’m asked to provide additional images, I can guarantee that somewhere along the line my original shots delivered to the studio have been misplaced.”
Gene hopes to do a book project on “The Walking Dead” because he says there are so many shots that will interest people for a long time to come—and he really likes the actors and crew from that show.
“I keep my favorites from every production I’ve shot in a separate archive,” he says. “It’s fun to go back and transport myself to a particular set or an actor’s scene.”
Early in the pandemic, things were slow. Gene spent much of his time at home in Micanopy waiting for a call that productions were resuming. He spent time cave diving and taking underwater photos.
The movie business started rolling again in early 2021. Since February, Gene has worked on several sets, including four months in Virginia on Hulu’s show “Dopesick,” about the opioid crisis; the Florida portion of Warner Bros.’ movie “Father of the Bride” in Miami; and for an independent film shot in Leesburg called “No Vacancy,” based on a true story about drug and alcohol abuse and homelessness.
“In a way, it feels like things are back to normal—well, as normal as they can be,” Gene says with a smile.
Reflecting on the good old days of print journalism and newspapering elicits an “Oh, my lord” from Gene.
“It is such an incredibly sad situation,” he says. “It makes me sad not only for my family and me personally, but also for the citizens of this country.
“There’s this tradition of families sitting around the breakfast table, parents with cups of coffee reading the newspaper. On Sundays, that was the day that the biggest paper of the week arrived. The parents would read the sports and arts sections after they finished the news, and the kids would spread out the full-color comics on the floor and just laugh out loud.
“That doesn’t happen anymore. A good press keeps people informed, shining the spotlight on good old investigative journalism. Our Founding Fathers knew the value of a free press.”
As the fifth generation in a newspaper family, Gene has witnessed changes come in rapid succession. Mostly gone are muckraking newspaper reporters such as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and daily papers published on giant presses delivered by kids on bicycles or adults driving paper routes.
“I miss the smells of the ink, the sounds of the presses humming and all the sights and action of a print newsroom,” Gene says.
Occasionally, a journalist will come up to Gene on a movie set and ask him how he knew all those years ago to get out of the newspaper business.
“I tell them that I was just following my other love of television and movie production,” he says. “But I don’t stop talking until I tell them that I didn’t know it would change so drastically.
“I wonder what my great-grandfather Gene would have said all those years ago if he had foreseen what it’s like today.”
Origins of the Page Newspaper Family
In the newspaper business, the name William Eugene Page has a long history.
As an 18-year-old, the first William Eugene Page, known as Gene Sr., worked for the Columbus (Georgia) Ledger—the newspaper his father, Rinaldo, worked at in 1886 and bought in 1888. He worked his way up to publisher in 1920 and expanded the family’s newspaper holdings in 1925, purchasing the Bradenton Herald. Two years later, Gene Sr. formed R.W. Page Corp., named for his father.
Purchase of North Carolina’s Durham Sun in 1928 and Wilmington Star in 1929 solidified the corporation’s media position in the South. The Columbus Ledger was added in 1930, creating a three-state network. Gene Sr. remained publisher until 1936, when brother-in-law Maynard Richard Ashworth took over. Gene Sr. died in an automobile accident the next year.
William Eugene Page Jr., sometimes known as Gene II, went to work in the family business after graduating from college. He became business manager of the Ledger, serving until 1946. He then became business manager of the Bradenton Herald before becoming publisher in 1953.
William Eugene Page III, Gene IV’s father, spent the bulk of his life in Bradenton. A Florida State University grad, he spent three years in the Carolinas learning the management side of running a paper at The Charlotte Observer, The Charlotte News, The Columbia State, The Columbia Record, The Greenville News and The Greenville Piedmont before returning to Bradenton as comptroller and then assistant to the publisher of the Herald.
When Knight Newspapers purchased all of the Page family holdings in 1973, Gene II retired and Gene III stepped down as assistant to the publisher, but remained with the paper for two years, pursuing his photography. After he left, he freelanced for media outlets across Florida and began a real estate career, living to age 82. He died August 15, 2021, in Bradenton.
A Page cousin, Alvah Chapman Jr., became an executive with Knight Newspapers, which was bought out by McClatchy Co. in 2006.