nh now portsmouth african burying ground
The Portsmouth African Burying Ground. photo by Peter Randall

New Hampshire Now

Art, Lifestyle
NH Society of Photographic Artists aims to capture every region of the state

Editor’s Note: PortsmouthNH.com will be sharing weekly “featured photos” taken by NHSPA members as part of the New Hampshire Now project. To see all the featured photos published so far, click here.

The photographic work created by the Farm Security Administration to document the impact of the Great Depression of the 1930s is the inspiration for the New Hampshire Now Project, an 18-month project documenting the people, culture and landscape of the state. The New Hampshire Society of Photographic Artists is sponsoring this work with the help of 60 members and the project will continue through the end of January 2020 when the thousands of photographs created will be edited to create regional and statewide exhibits, an archive, and a publication. With the great assistance of the NHSPA board, I am serving as the curator for the project.

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Owner Christopher McMahon outside Architectural Salvage in Exeter. photo by Charles Walla

As a teenager, seeing the extraordinary work of Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein, and especially Dorothea Lange documenting the Depression for the government made a huge impression on me and helped to reinforce and to visualize the stories my mother told me about living as a young adult through that difficult time period. I came to understand how powerful photography could be as a tool for communication and change. Most of the photographers working for the FSA were using view cameras as large as 8×10 inches (Walker Evans), but many used smaller press cameras and roll film cameras to record the daily life of the nation. Carl Mydans and others were assigned to New Hampshire to cover the impact of the closing of the great Amoskeag Manufacturing Company on the populace of Manchester, a farm auction in Hancock, and daily rural life across the Granite State. The FSA photographers, working under the direction of Roy Stryker, created an exhaustive documentation of the time, and the resulting negatives and photographs are now housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

In late October 2016, I organized a small documentary project in Peterborough, N.H., based on the FSA model. Sixteen local photographers and I photographed the Monadnock region for one year, generating 1,600 images. A year later, we mounted an exhibit of 120 photographs at the Sharon Arts Center, New Hampshire Institute of Art, in Peterborough. With prints ranging in size from 16×20 inches to 44×70 inches, the people, events, architecture, and landscape of the region were shared with visitors to the gallery for a two-month period. The participating photographers recorded farm life, Halloween and Memorial Day parades, candy and barber shops, and schoolhouse activities, as well as many environmental portraits of people conducting their daily chores. Images from this body of work were published in book form by my NHIA student intern Jessica Evans, a BFA photography senior at the college.

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Employee Merrill Aharonian at Ceres Bakery in Portsmouth. photo by Michael Sterling

The success of this project led NHSPA board member David Murray to propose that the organization undertake a statewide project mirrored after Peterborough. Michael Sterling and Dan Gingras led several months of board meetings and much discussion on how to scale up and manage the project to cover the seven regions of the state. The project was officially launched in August of 2018. Approximately every two months, the images generated by 60 photographers are reviewed to measure the progress of the work and to provide feedback about topics and themes that should be explored or expanded upon. One of the photographers, Becky Fields, is documenting the lives of refugees and immigrants scattered across the state. Participants are encouraged to follow their own personal interests in creating narratives that reveal the diverse culture, economy, and landscape of the seven regions of New Hampshire.

The resulting work will be archived in several institutions around the state and regional exhibits are being planned now with the University Museum, Dimond Library, UNH hosting one of the shows and acting as a depository for the digital images and prints. There is a great deal of work ahead of us to photograph the state from Colebrook to Nashua, but I am very encouraged by the efforts thus far of the NHSPA members who have created over 700 images of the Seacoast region in the first two months of the project.

For more information on participating in the project, please follow this link: https://nhspa.wildapricot.org/Statewide-Photography-Project