Napa photographer Christophe Genty has spent the past quarter of a century fine-tuning both his photographic talents and his love of people in ways that benefit his adopted town.
Believing that it is important to “give back,” the French-born Genty has found many ways to help people through his pictorial storytelling.
Genty, whose work exudes a quality reminiscent of early Life magazine photojournalists, has created slide shows, free of charge, for a number of local organizations whose causes he champions and continues to accept proposals from nonprofit organizations “who are forward-thinking and doing wonderful work.”
His 15-piece “Bebe Collection,” on permanent exhibit along the walls of the maternity ward at Queen of the Valley Medical Center, is a tribute to the joy of newborn life and an inspiration to the mothers giving birth there.
In photographing people of any age, Genty said he wants to capture a truth about them that will transcend time. “My goal is taking pictures to uplift people,” Genty said. “When I was 3 years old, my uncle took pictures of me. They reflected something of me that was so pure. That is what, day after day, I’m going for. I want people to be able to see that purity in themselves.”
The same year Genty’s uncle first photographed him, his aunt went to work at a museum and began giving her nephew pictures from Asia. He was captivated with them and began dreaming of taking photos in faraway places.
As a teenager, he laid the groundwork for realizing those dreams by working with black and white photography and exhibiting his work in Chartres, France. By age 17, Genty was working on weekends as a laboratory photographer at the Albert Kahn Museum in Boulogne, a suburb of Paris. During the week, he went to school for optical engineering.
His connection to the museum led to freelance opportunities, so Genty continued to use his camera and to exhibit his photography in France.
In 2000, Genty’s childhood dreams came true when he was invited to photographically document Mission Peace, a humanitarian project in Vietnam.
The goal of Mission Peace was designed to bring medical help and hope to Vietnamese children with deformities. It was conceived and largely funded by Steve Warren, a Vietnam War veteran who fell in love with the Vietnamese people when he was stationed there during the war.
Operations performed by the three doctors on the team enabled children to walk again. The medical intervention also opened the door for these previously shunned children to be assimilated into their society.
“In Vietnam, children who are born with congenital deformities or illness such as polio are ostracized. They are not allowed to attend school. They are condemned,” Genty said
Genty documented the doctors’ work. When he had the opportunity for his second trip to Vietnam with the team in 2002, Genty found time to also focus on the culture and the villagers.
A French-speaking Vietnamese nun took him to a remote area deep into the Mekong Delta where people lived in primitive huts on land as well as huts on stilts in the water. “It was a fantastic journey through an area of the world where time seems to stand still,” Genty said. “People there had never had their picture taken before.”
Using a Crown Graphic 4 x 5 field camera with a film magazine and a Polaroid back (this type of Polaroid has a print and negative together), Genty gave each person a copy of their photo while keeping the negative.
“They were thrilled to get their pictures,” Genty said. “Working with Mission Peace changed my life. This is exactly the type of work that originally drove me to become a photographer.”
Although Genty enjoys trekking around the world with his camera in the photojournalist tradition, he is also happy to be a family man and a photographer in Napa Valley with his wife, Nancy Kaplan and their 11-year old son, Raphael. Their son’s birth was the inspiration for Genty’s series of baby photographs on exhibit at the Queen.
Genty met and fell in love with Kaplan, an American doctor, in the late 1990s while visiting family friends in upstate New York. He went back to France and the couple maintained a two-year relationship “a third of the planet away from each other” before their marriage.
Genty and his son form a musical duo, Raphael on drums and Genty on bass.
Genty’s photo business includes fine art photography, family, and wedding, high school senior and commercial photography. His commercial clients include Sutter Medical Center. The medical setting is different than in Vietnam, he noted, but documenting what doctors do remains the same.
Genty does some location work, but much of his photography is done at his indoor and outdoor Browns Valley studios.