Gary Samson: Chairperson Photography

Gary Samson

Emeritus Professor of Photography


BFA Photography - New Hampshire Institute of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
Certificate Photography - Franklin Institute, Boston, Massachusetts


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On May 3, 2017, New Hampshire’s Executive Council confirmed Gary Samson (nominated by Governor Chris Sununu) as New Hampshire Artist Laureate.

On May 20th NHIA bestowed the title of Emeritus Professor of Photography on retiring Chair of Photography Gary Samson.

Gary Samson is an award-winning filmmaker and photographer. His work is in private and public collections including the Currier Gallery of Art, the University of New Hampshire and the National Archives, Washington, D.C. He is the author of three books on New Hampshire history and has photographically illustrated other books on Ghana, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and New Orleans.

He traces his appreciation for and love of photography to a summer job he had 48 years ago at the Manchester Historic Association. One of his responsibilities was to make contact prints from the glass-negative collection documenting the city of Manchester and the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. This extensive archive of prints and negatives impressed upon him the importance of photography as a tool for sharing history and culture with a wide audience. 

After graduating from Franklin Institute in Boston in 1971, he came to UNH as the photo lab technician under John Bardwell. In 1974, he began producing films and exhibitions on New Hampshire history and culture. It was during this period that he came to appreciate the importance of creating and preserving photographic collections for future generations. He later worked with German photographer Lotte Jacobi creating a film biography and establishing an archive of her work at Dimond Library, UNH.

His personal approach to photography is to create a comprehensive pictorial history and to document people and culture. “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 a facet of the subject's character. While I am setting up my camera, I try to draw the subject out in conversation and the ensuing dialogue will shape my portrayal of the individual. And like the portrait photographer Arnold Newman, I prefer using a view camera and black-and-white film to capture subtle nuances of tone and character.

Samson’s work at the Institute of Art and Design has had a profound impact on a generation of young photography students. Over the past thirty years Samson has created an undergraduate photography program that teaches students traditional darkroom and film techniques while exposing them to the latest new technologies: from the daguerreotype to the digital. Students create photographs as they were created over 100 years ago, but also learn advanced digital image-making and editing techniques—skills that few in the industry possess but many in this highly competitive field desire.