Special Topics in Photography
November 23, 2021
New Hampshire Now
As I walked into the beautifully restored brick church that now houses Plymouth State University’s Museum of the White Mountains, I was greeted by bright white walls, lighting from all directions, including natural light from a central round window, and of course, a friendly student host that introduced me to the “self-guided” exhibit of New Hampshire Now. These photographs are a sort of retrospective look at life in New Hampshire and as a granite stater in the pass few years. The breathtaking images, commemorate current life in our “Live Free or Die” state, while radiating nostalgia from yesteryear. Many images showcase activities that are centuries old, but are still common practice in daily life today, while others are recent events that will be recalled in days to come.
After reading the introduction to the series that included the acknowledgments and list of photographers, I walked into the main part of the gallery and was immediately taken back by the beauty of our mighty little state. I was also taken back by the faces I knew and the places I have seen from the pictures. That is the beauty of living in the small state of New Hampshire where the places and faces are well known. When I looked around, one photo in particular stood out to me.
This masterpiece by Susan Lirakis, a photographer out of Sandwich, NH operating in the Lakes Region, has no title. Regardless, the photograph speaks for itself as it paints a scene of a New Hampshire tradition. The caption reads, “Rockywold Deephaven Camps in Holderness harvest ice cakes from Squam Lake to distribute to ice boxes in their guest cabins.” The tradition of harvesting ice in the Lakes Region is not too common by any means today, but it is a century old and has been a staple in the area. Predominantly when ice boxes became popular, being able to harvest ice on the lake was very important so people were able to keep their ice boxes cold. The tradition still holding on today on Squam Lake needs no extra reasoning to be photographed.
The picture depicts at least six individuals on the ice of the lake working on their ice harvesting. The lake looks on for miles in the background with trees and a cabin to the left, and mountains following right. The sky is practically full gray with clouds showing the gloomy and blustery day. There are even signs in the background that might be signifying a snowmobile trail, but that is entirely a guess. In the foreground you can see where the lake has been cut out and some sheets of the ice remain. You can imagine that the younger person who is shielded by the man in the front, was most likely cutting the ice with a chainsaw since he is wearing the personal protective equipment for the job. The two men in the back right corner are standing with shovels, “state worker style”, as if they have been helping shovel snow from the ice, while the two the left look to be using a snow blowing contraption. The machine is closer to the ice and doesn’t exactly look like a snowblower. The two main subjects look to be using these old school poles with hooks on the ends to pull the ice sheets closer to them.
The photograph is filled with cool tones and shows the action, or lack thereof, the subjects collecting the ice. The framing masterfully uses the rule of thirds with the subjects to the right, while keeping the main ice sheet in the center of the picture. It is also filled with eye catching leading lines from the ice. The busy picture does not feel overwhelming to the eye. It begs all the questions about the history, life, and process of harvesting ice on Squam Lake.
When thinking about how this photograph represents New Hampshire Now, the state of the state, is unique. Unlike other pictures that showed current events of political candidates and marches, dilapidated buildings, or refugees, this scene depicted a centuries old tradition that is hanging on by single threats in our mighty state. There is almost nothing I would say is more New Hampshire than that, holding our traditions near and dear to us. Others think we are frugal, stubborn, stuck in our ways, while being stuck in the past. This photograph represents that in all the right ways. It shows that somedays, regardless of the hustle and bustle of modern life, being busier than ever, around constant technology, in New Hampshire we know how to take a step back from that through our long-standing traditions. Yes, these traditions like maple sugaring, hunting, fishing, and taking care of our neighbors costs us our time and hard work, but we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Somewhat bizarrely, this image reminds me of a famous saying that I hold dear to me. Daniel Webster once said, “"Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoemakers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men." This quote is about the rugged perseverance of New Hampshirites. That is something I still see every day in NH. In spite of ourselves and against all odds, we are going to do things the New Hampshire way. I believe that is what this fantastic picture represents. NH Now is not far from what it used to be and maybe it is worth keeping that way. For better or worse, many aspects of NH and life in it as changed, but by holding on to these little traditions we will not forget where it started and how far we have come.