When a group of 12 men, all realtors from New York City, walked into Jackson Hole’s Old Time Photos to get a group photo, they were not expecting a 4-foot-2-inch, blonde-haired, blue-eyed 8-year-old to be asking if they wanted to be good guys or bad guys, bank robbers or cowboys.
“You’re a bank robber—you need dynamite!” Kaia Tondro-Smith advised one of the men. As she “managed” the photo shoot, her parents, Dondi and Joe Tondro-Smith, the new owners of the photo studio, smiled at her eagerness to emulate the Wild West in modern-day Jackson.
Dondi and Joe Tondro-Smith first stumbled across each other in 2004, long before their photo studio days. It was Dondi’s last week teaching yoga and doing massage work at a resort in Alaska when she was assigned to take a photographer, Joe, on all the adventures. They spent the week kayaking at dawn, hiking to petroglyphs in the rain, biking over hillsides, and visiting the nearby caves. “It was a cosmic setup,” Dondi says. Her plan to make her way to Brazil at the end of the season was diverted when Joe convinced her to come to Jackson instead.
The pair balances each other organically. Joe studied photography and graphic design in college and began working as a photographer in Yellowstone in 1996. Dondi has spent her career freelance writing, teaching yoga, and doing massage work.
“When the studio came up it just seemed like the perfect pairing,” she says. “Joe could be the creative driving force behind the imagery, and I could step in to do content strategy, marketing, and coordinating the events side of the business.”
Since the business was established in 1978, they have had a lot to work with. “We walked into a business that has a well-established treasure trove of memories from the people who come back here year after year, locals, or people who come back every five or 10 years,” Dondi says. The Tondro-Smiths plan to add their own unique spin to the business.
The family is on a mission to immerse themselves in the culture and lifestyle of the era spanning from the mid-1800s to the 1920s. They have been dabbling with the music of the time period and educating themselves about Jackson’s historical figures and events to extend their costume selections and scenes they’ll offer to customers—including old time ski and mountaineering photos.
“We want to expand this studio into so many versions of Old Time Photos,” Joe says. The pair has partnered with Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum to educate tourists and locals alike on the history of Jackson and the figures who transformed Jackson into the town it is today.
Each member of the family will play a part in recreating the past in the modern downtown studio. Kaia will continue making customers feel welcome, Joe will get the lighting just right, and Dondi will partner with the community to make Jackson Hole’s Old Time Photos even more legendary.