New Hampshire’s seventh Artist Laureate, Gary Samson is a fine art photographer and photo educator who has received numerous awards, grants and fellowships for his work during the past 40 years. Currently serving as the Chair of the Photography Department at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, Samson has taught both digital and traditional film based photography courses and workshops regionally and internationally since 1981. His career in photography started in 1971 at the University of New Hampshire where he served as the University Filmmaker and Manager of Photography.
In 1984 he received his second fellowship from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts for his environmental portraits of New Hampshire artists and writers. Gary’s photographs are included in the permanent collections of the Currier Museum of Art, the New Hampshire Institute of Art, the state of New Hampshire, the University of New Hampshire Art Museum and the National Archives in Washington, DC as well as in private collections.
Gary’s approach to portrait work is to create extended portraits over several months or years. “I see the process of creating a portrait as a collaboration between myself and the subject in the subject's familiar environment. That environment is an instrumental part of the portrait, revealing facets of the subject's character. While I am setting up my camera, I draw the subject out in conversation and the ensuing dialogue will shape my portrayal of the individual. And like portrait photographers Arnold Newman, Lotte Jacobi and Richard Alvedon, I often prefer to use a view camera and black-and-white film to make these portraits.”
Cultural photography and documentary filmmaking assignments over the past four decades have taken him to Russia, Ghana, Guatemala, Peru, Ireland, France, Labrador, Belize, Cape Breton, New Orleans as well as the White House. At UNH, Gary produced ten films exploring the history and culture of the state of New Hampshire and these documentary films have been aired locally, regionally and nationally.
After producing a film on the life of internationally acclaimed portrait photographer Lotte Jacobi, Gary spent six years working with Jacobi cataloging her archive of 47,000 negatives which were donated to the University of New Hampshire in 1981. Jacobi’s archive which is housed at the Dimond Library includes portraits of Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Mann, J. D. Salinger, Marc Chagall, and Kathe Kollwitz. Gary has extensively utilized 19th and 20th century photographic collections in the production of films and exhibitions about New Hampshire's rich industrial history. His best known films, A World Within A World: The Amoskeag Manufacturing Company and Milltown, are sensitive portrayals of Manchester's textile mills and the immigrant people who labored in them.
In 1982 he organized and curated an exhibition on the Franco-American experience in New Hampshire which traveled to Canada and France as well as throughout museums in New England. Samson has also written several books on New Hampshire history including A World Within a World: Manchester, The Mills, and the Immigrant Experience and in collaboration with Elizabeth Hengen, Capitol Views: A Photographic History of Concord, New Hampshire 1850-1930.
Collaborating with UNH Professor Burt Feintuch, Gary photographically illustrated the book In the Blood: Conversations on Culture, published in the fall of 2010 by Utah State University Press and Cape Breton University Press. Gary spent two months in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia photographing the people, culture and landscape of this ruggedly beautiful island in the North Atlantic. An exhibition of this work was showcased at the Cape Breton University Art Gallery in the fall of 2010. Two more books have followed from this initial collaboration, Talking New Orleans Music: Crescent City Musicians Talk about Their Lives, Their Music and Their City, published in the fall of 2015 by the University Press of Mississippi. They are currently working on a book about Zydeco music also to be published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2018.
All photos by Gary Samson