When one first enters the classroom of Upper School Digital Media Instructor, Owen Riley, it is hard not to immediately notice the large camera in the back corner. Unlike its contemporary counterparts that might fit in one’s pocket, this camera is the size of a small cooler. It is also wooden and sits on a tall tripod, with a large metal lens attached to one end of it.
It’s just one camera in Owen’s extensive personal collection that he has graciously brought to the school to help his students learn. Owen came across the camera in 2010 and traded for it. He says it was likely used up until 1970-1980 and according to the previous owner, belonged to Cox Photography Studio in Greenville, where it photographed many local, historical figures. While the camera is an antique -- made by Kodak in the 1920s -- Owen started using it to illustrate the history of photography as well as a way to teach students the physics of how light focuses through a lens to capture an image.
And then last May, it all came crashing down.
Owen, who was talking to another faculty member, accidently bumped into the tripod, sending the camera to collide with the classroom floor. The wooden base was broken into countless pieces and the lens was dented. After assessing the damage, Owen tried his best to fix it. Not only because it was essentially irreplaceable, but also because of everything that the camera has meant to him, his students, and the creative inspiration he hopes to instill in each of them. After several attempts, he realized that the camera was probably too damaged to repair, but before giving up completely, he thought of his friend and co-worker, Grady McEvoy, the Harness Performing Arts Center Facility Manager and someone who just has a knack for fixing things.
Sure enough, Grady was intrigued by the project, so Owen wheeled a cart with all the camera pieces up to his workshop in the PAC. Over the course of about three weeks during the summer of 2022, Grady worked on it whenever he had the time. He had to order special parts, a specialty stain, and microscopic screws to get the job done, but as the new school year was upon us, Owen got a call from Grady saying that the camera was fixed. When Owen got it back, he discovered that the camera was not only functional, but there were some areas that were improved. Grady had upgraded a piece of hardwood to which the lens connects, and, depending on where you look, it’s hard to tell it was ever even broken.
Katie Leckenbusch, who joined CCES as our new Director of the Arts last summer, first met Owen when he was pulling his cart of pieces to Grady’s office. She was immediately struck by the level of collaboration and trust, which she finds rare. She says, “Grady has an incredible ability to breathe new life into things that need to be rescued. There aren’t a lot of people who would go to such great lengths to find the right pieces and spend the time bring those broken pieces back to life.”
Lisa Allen, CCES Theatre Costumer and Production Assistant, says “Grady fixes everything,” and anyone involved in the arts at CCES would agree with her. Lisa and Grady work closely together, and they are the dream team responsible for making everything behind the scenes in the PAC run smoothly. While Grady can fix anything and everything for the stage, Lisa shares he can even help fix things from afar. When her AC stopped working last Labor Day weekend, she called Grady, and he talked her through how to fix it. And, to no one’s surprise, it worked.
Everyone who knows Grady describes him as both generous and humble, quietly working out of view of the spotlight. He will go above and beyond what is needed to help people, whether it’s bringing in a personal power tool to fix something, helping you on a holiday weekend with a broken AC unit, or putting small pieces back together to fix an old camera.
Grady says he’s always loved tearing things apart and learning to put them back together, even as a kid. This was his inaugural experience working on a camera and he really enjoyed the intricate detail of it all. When asked why he takes on all these projects, working on them even during his free time, he said simply, “Building and fixing things and helping people is what I love to do.”
Owen decided to name his beloved camera “The Grady” after the man who dedicated summer hours to restore it to its former glory. It’s just one gesture that symbolizes the countless hours and projects Grady McEvoy has dedicated to CCES, the steady presence behind the scenes who is always ready to help, to fix whatever might be broken.