Two Longtime N.H. Photographers Set Out to Take a Portrait of Their Home State

Nov 14, 2018

Gary Samson and David Putnam first came together over their shared love of photography about 40 years ago.

In some ways, their relationship is professional, a relationship between artists. They critique each other’s work, toss around technical questions. But in other ways, they are more like brothers, taking every opportunity to poke fun, to crack up at a shared joke.

“I always remind him to respect his elders,” Putnam says of Samson, two weeks his junior.

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At 67 years old, they’ve both lead distinguished careers. Putnam runs a successful picture framing and photography business in Claremont. Samson, now New Hampshire’s Artist Laureate, led the photography department at the New Hampshire Institute of Art for many years.

Now, for the first time, they’re looking to collaborate closely on a project together. Their inspiration is a collection published about 70 years ago by the renowned photographer Paul Strand. The work, titled “Time in New England,” documents a moment in this region’s history that feels at once long-gone and ever-present – white wooden houses, lone church steeples and weather-worn faces.

An image from Paul Strand's "Time in New England," published in 1950

Now, Putnam and Samson are looking to employ a similar approach to the modern people and landscape of their home state.

That will mean, in part, looking beyond the stereotypical historic imagery “New England” may call to mind. “New Hampshire is a much more complex place than most people really think it is on the surface,” Samson said, pointing to the diversity in our largest cities, and the variation in culture and landscape across the state.  

What’s powerful about Strand’s images is not just what they depict on face value, but also the more ephemeral feeling they inspire. In some cases, Samson points out, that’s a darker, more ominous tone. Strand was able to freeze that feeling, that historical moment, to the page so we can still access it today.

Putnam and Samson are hoping to make a similarly timeless record, a historical document that resonates decades into the future.

They will be using view cameras, holding themselves to the highest technical standards in shooting and printing the images. These cameras, first developed in the 19th century, may seem like an old fashioned-choice. But they are still being produced today, and are capable of capturing images with incredible depth and quality.

The project, Putnam predicts, will take two-to-three years to complete.