In the frigid weeks of January 2013, Mallory Samson bundled up in a winter coat and embarked on a physically demanding but artistically satisfying endeavor: preserving Southampton history through photography.
In her new photo exhibit at the Southampton Historical Museum, “Extraordinarily Ordinary!” Ms. Samson has taken on the task of breathing new life into the very old buildings and items at the museum. Her finest example of that, and perhaps the most important, are the photos she took inside the old Sayre Barn, which since has been torn down.
“I wanted to show how fragile it was but how beautiful it was,” Ms. Samson said of the Colonial-era barn. After she finished shooting over the winter, the barn was taken down for extensive renovations, but the photographs were sold to raise money for the project. That photo shoot spurred the idea for the exhibit and Ms. Samson was given free rein to photograph anything on the property.
“First I fell in love with the barn, then I fell in love with the museum,” she explained.
“Extraordinarily Ordinary!” takes up one room of the Southampton Village-based museum. There, the walls are papered with vibrant, gritty photographs of toys, clothes, tools and dolls of a past era.
According to Ms. Samson, after months of shooting photographs, the show took a week to install and two miles of fastening material.
“I bought all the Velcro in a 30-mile radius,” Ms. Samson said while laughing.
But the results were worth it, she said.
A point of interest for the show is that visitors can go upstairs and see all of the items from the photographs, she explained. Upon seeing the items, it really becomes apparent how big a role perspective and light plays in photography.
Ms. Samson—whose photography has appeared in numerous magazines and is the former fashion editor at J.Crew, photography editor at Nike and a member of the fashion staff at GQ magazine—is also one of the most sought-after wedding photographers in the country. Her background in fashion and magazines served her well in putting together the exhibit at the museum, she said, adding that what could have been a collection of boring pictures of old stuff is a vibrant, magazine-style layout of vintage art.
“Vintage is so in,” the photographer said. “People’s view of museums is dusty, musty, but really it’s all about vintage.”
Using her fashion photography knowledge, Ms. Samson was able to create a relevant and beautiful portrayal of history, might otherwise have been overlooked.
“I don’t like distortion, I wanted to bring all of these objects to life, out of the attic,” she explained. “That’s my background as fashion editor, going through all this stuff and picking out what’s cool.”
Prior to hanging the show, Ms. Samson made a scaled model of the gallery. She then meticulously planned out the placement of each picture, which took five months to complete.
All of the photos in the exhibit were taken using natural light and a Canon 2D Mark III digital camera. None of the prints were retouched. For mounting, red felt and burlap backgrounds were used to add depth and texture to the photos.
“I’m really celebrating imperfection,” the photographer said. “With historical and vintage subject matter there is dust, rips, tears and cracks … That’s just the way it is.”
The composition of the pictures was geared with families in mind, she continued. Old dolls, for instance, could either be really creepy or highlighted for what they were: pieces of craftsmanship, made with love to make a child happy. Ms. Samson opted for the latter in the way she shot them.
As big 0f a role her past played in the technical aspects of the shoot, the star of the show was and is the history of Southampton.
“I see it as the heart of the town, the history is the heart of the town,” Ms. Samson said. “This is a beautiful place because of the history.”
“Extraordinarily Ordinary!” is on view through August 2. Admission is $4 for adults, and children under 17 and museum members get in free. For more information, visit southamptonhistoricalmuseum.org.