Let’s start this show with the lights low, the screen still dark. Just the sound of John Barnhardt beginning the acceptance speech for his Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Single Camera Photography.
A few camera flashes light up the darkness and there he is, onstage. The moment is surreal. He speaks slowly, with confidence, but a deep sense of gratitude and humility fills his voice as well.
Another flash and then we zoom out, panning across scenes from all around the world: the sizzle of expertly spiced food cooking in an open air market in Morocco, a misty early morning on Mount Kilimanjaro, the quiet beauty of a seaside village in Chile. This is John at work, as cinematographer for the award-winning travel show Born to Explore, hosted by explorer Richard Wiese.
All of those images would have to be there on the big screen, of course. They’re beautiful, lush moments, bursting with color and sound. But for John, the true roots of the story are in his childhood in Colorado, where his father first placed a camera in his hands, and in the home he’s made for himself here in Charleston.
This is where he invented himself, learning the business from the bottom up, teaching the art at Trident Tech, always working toward the next goal. It’s fair to say that pretty much everyone who’s studied or worked in film in Charleston in recent years has brushed shoulders with John.
“Charleston has allowed me to become the person I wanted to be,” he says. “There are so many people doing so many creative things here that you have to keep moving forward. Charleston pushes me to become better at whatever I do. That’s why I love this place.”
Words by Jason A. Zwiker
Photo by Gately Williams