People come from around the country to have their photograph taken by master photographer Gary Box. And after more than 2 million photographs of over 16,000 clients in thirty-one years, he is nowhere near finished.
A Sapulpan born and bred, Box graduated from SHS in 1983. He showed an early aptitude for both art and math and began to learn photography while working on the high school newspaper and yearbook. He did not initially take his artistic side seriously. Instead, he planned to use his mathematical skills to become an engineer. But after high school and while working in restaurants and retail, he made the decision to go into photography full time. He worked as an associate photographer at several Tulsa studios, and then for himself, before opening his own studio in Sapulpa on November 1, 1989.
Speaking of his “time in the trenches” while learning the business, he says, “I started at the bottom and clawed my way to the top.” He photographed everything and everyone from fraternity “Party Pics,” to class reunions, to “Glamour Shots,” to pets and babies on Santa’s lap at Christmas.
This grunt work trained him well for his busy career at Box Portrait Gallery, where, in his peak year, he photographed 567 seniors, 42 weddings, 500 various other sessions, and had 5 full- time and 4 part-time employees.
He has shot portraits (senior, family, and bridal), weddings, corporate work, products, head shots, sports photos, team and group photos, boudoir, fashion, and fine art photography. He has written 6 books, done a multitude of consultant work, taught workshops all over the world, and even invented a special light called a “soft ring” for a company with whom he consulted. (It could be said that he is a “workaholic.”)
Locally, the least known contribution Box has made is in the form of tax revenue to the City. Approximately $18 million dollars in sales comes out to about $1.6 million dollars in sales tax revenue over the last 31 years. (And, it should be noted that 95 percent of his business is from customers who do not live in Sapulpa.)
When he began his career, each shot of film cost $1.25 apiece and you didn’t know whether it would come out good or bad. “I literally paid for every mistake I made, so I learned not to make many mistakes,” he says. “There were these rigid sets of rules we had to follow or the film literally wouldn’t turn out.” Now there are things like Photoshop and digital photography to fall back on. Box expresses, “I have worked very hard to be more modern but to still maintain some discipline. I think that’s been a big boost to my business.”
When asked if he regrets choosing photography over a more traditional career path like engineering, he says, “No, I love my career—I love the creativity, I love the connection to people.” His favorite clients are the long-term ones, whose lives and offspring he can see through the eye of his lens. He appreciates doing “senior pictures now for kids whose parents I did twenty years ago.”
Box’s success comes from a blend of business acumen, creative vision, and technical skill. He says that photography is both “an art and a science” and that one must be able to control both sides. The key to his longevity is to defer from following too many trends and instead holding on to the discipline of the classic rules of art while embracing fresh ideas. Much like our decades-old senior pictures, Box says, “foundationally-solid art does not go out of style.”