Juror’s Choice winner Gail Samuelson’s love of photography arose from unexpected and non-artistic beginnings. In the 1970’s Samuelson landed her first post-graduate job as an electron microscopist. Photographing the cellular structures as 50,000 times magnification quickly became her favorite part of her job. It was not until she was studying at Massachusetts College of Art after work hours and immersing herself in the darkroom environment that she became hooked on photography. This was a natural shift, as photography was first a science, then an art form. Scientific imagery was abandoned for the lively scene of Boston’s North End in the 1970’s, full of Italian families going about their daily lives. Photographing in black and white, Samuelson honed her darkroom skills.
Her work evolved into a series of self-portraits, which give her the freedom to try out different expressions, colors, and nuances. “Self-portraits are a way to experiment with dress, gesture, mood, and style, and I often use my mother’s and aunt’s antique hats and costume jewelry as inspiration. It’s my own laboratory to experiment and to see what comes of it.” A different laboratory from the first, Samuelson continues to experiment.
Like many photographers, Samuelson finds the practice of picture making a cathartic experience, working through difficult moments in her life, whether it was a surgery or her father’s Alzheimer’s disease.
Life isn’t fair. Like everyone, I’ve had some rough patches. I made a book of photographs of my father’s decline with Alzheimer’s disease: my father counting and recounting his pills, my mother visiting friends on the phone rather than in person, her mattress lying on the floor when she could no longer be in bed with him but needed to be close. I never showed the book to my mother; I thought it might upset her. Now she also suffers from Alzheimer’s, so I probably never will.
Juror's Choice image, Mink Stole
When using self-portraiture as a means to cope or become someone else temporarily, Samuelson’s goal is not to capture the most flattering image of herself, as evidenced in her winning image, Mink Stole. Despite these trials, she finds plenty of joy in life, whether from her new grandson Jonah (a “toothless riot”), or her portrait and event photography business where she is often hired to capture smiles and happiness at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. These big production shoots are the complete opposite from her personal work, but she enjoys them in their own right.
Samuelson is delighted that Mink Stole was selected as the Juror’s Choice for Alter Ego, but her idea of success is much more tied to her own work than to exhibiting in galleries. “I feel successful when I see something new: I make a photograph that I get a bang out of. More important, since words are not particularly my thing, a successful photograph does a more effective job communicating my thoughts and feelings.”
Alter Ego is on view through August 31, 2013.