As he walks onto the court of the University of Richmond's Robins Center, sophomore Kyle Gardner stands alone with only a camera in hand. His blue sweater and white hat worn backwards contrast the shiny wood flooring. His fellow staffers rush up and down the sidelines preparing for the impending game, and sports reporters take their seats to adjust their microphones. Gardner remains at center court. He isn’t flustered by the commotion around him. He stands amid a nearly packed stadium and takes in his surroundings.
A UR student yells out his name. Gardner, known as "KG" to some UR students, doesn’t react. He is acutely focused on his task and excited fans do not draw his attention away from the court.
When the game begins, each player leaves the bench while Gardner is there recording every second. He doesn’t interact with them. He stands as a passive onlooker that doesn’t get in the way. He’s a ghost on the court.
That is Gardner. An ordinary student at UR by day, a photographic magician grinding alongside the UR men’s basketball team at night. He labels himself as a content creator when filming the team and a freelance photographer and videographer in professional environments. Gardner publishes his work on his website and Instagram, @kgmadeit1, which has more than 4,000 followers and includes a full gallery of people he has photographed.
Hailing from Rye, a small town in Westchester County, New York, Gardner didn’t start using a camera until his senior year of high school.
“It really started in December of 2017,” Gardner said. “I had a camera but I had never learned how to shoot or anything. We had a good basketball team and they really wanted a good social media program for the seniors.
Gardner learned how to make a good social media account through YouTube and the internet, he said.
"I just decided that I was going to start a social media account for them called Rye Basketball, but I didn’t really know how to do anything," Gardner said.
After a successful season with the Rye Garnets, Gardner had plenty of photos and video footage in his hard drive. He took his best videos and photos and compiled a portfolio.
Gardner polished his portfolio after creating content for an Excel Sports Management trainer at the NBA draft training New York City in 2018, before reaching out to Jason Vida, associate director of athletic public relations at UR, Gardner said.
“I didn’t really pay much mind to him, kind of like ‘hey, thanks for reaching out,'” Vida said. “But I was really impressed because he just kept following up. He was really great at communication. Even before he had stepped on campus, he kind of had done a couple of things to promote our program. We exchanged emails basically all that summer before I actually met him in person in August.”
After coming to UR in 2018, Gardner's passion for photography blossomed. Gardner’s distinct style in both his videos and photos made him stand out, Vida said.
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“When it comes to athletics and basketball specifically, there is this kind of genre of aspiring creatives out there who tell you they love to take photos and love to take video, and there are lots of them,” Vida said. “A lot of their stuff kind of looks the same. For someone coming out of high school, I was kind of expecting [Gardner] to have the interest but maybe not the skills or abilities, but I thought we could develop them over time.
"Then, he started sending me some of his stuff, and it looked unbelievable. It was professional level. He kind of met anyone’s highest expectations and certainly surpassed them for being a high school senior/college freshman especially at the time.”
Noah Goldberg, a sophomore and Gardner's roommate during the 2019-2020 academic year, witnessed what Gardner’s passion looked like behind closed doors, Goldberg said.
“Something I think only I’ve really seen after living with him for a year — I don’t even know if people he works with can truly grasp this honestly — is his work ethic,” Goldberg said. “People he works with for sure know he’s a hard worker, but this kid would honestly stay up until three in the morning on, like, a Tuesday just grinding out videos. He seriously loves what he does.”
Gardner’s photography career isn’t isolated to UR. He interned for VaynerMedia, a multi-media company that promotes a variety of cultural topics, such as advertisements for the SuperBowl, E-commerce strategies and building brands, in the summer of 2019.
Gardner has also worked and photographed some of the biggest names in professional sports. These athletes include Joe Burrow, Louisiana State University quarterback and recent Heisman Trophy winner; Sam Darnold, quarterback for the New York Jets; Josh Allen, quarterback for the Buffalo Bills; Sterling Shepard, a wide receiver for the New York Giants; Deshaun Watson, quarterback for the Houston Texans and Saquon Barkley, a running back for the New York Giants, Gardner said.
Gardner has also been hired to photograph some of the biggest artists in popular music at a variety of events.
“I got hired to shoot the Billboard Music Festival [in 2018],” Gardner said. “I shot Rich the Kid, Future and Halsey. Then I filmed MEMPHO Music Festival last year, which is where I shot Post Malone and a bunch of other artists like Janelle Monáe. I got the opportunity to shoot J. Cole at his NBA All-Star post-game show last year, which was awesome because he’s my favorite artist.”
Despite his impressive rap sheet of celebrity photos and contacts, Gardner said he preferred working with sports. Although he doesn’t have a professional title at UR, Gardner enjoys the creative freedom he's given when publishing content for the men's basketball team, he said. Over the past two years, Gardner has proven himself as a top content creator at UR, Vida said.
“[Gardner's] technical proficiency is unmatched," Vida said. "He never misses a shot, all of his stuff always looks great, and it is so much more than just holding a camera and pointing it at a basketball. You need to make sure you master your tools, and he has really done that to a level that I’ve never seen from a college student.”
Contact features writer Quinn Humphrey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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