COOPERSTOWN — On the wall behind the counter at the Cooperstown Diner hang photos of iconic scenes in and around the village. They look like they have been there forever, but it has only been about a week.
“It took long enough,” said photographer Sam Ross, joking during a socially distant interview with The Daily Star at the diner Thursday, July 2.
A 1990 graduate of Cooperstown Central School, Ross said he grew up a couple of years behind Scott Hayford, son and business partner of diner owner Earl Hayford.
“He’s a friend of mine and he’s a fan and he’s bought of couple of the pieces, so he finally said ... why don’t we hang some of your photos.”
In a week, Ross said he has already sold one reprint, of lightning over Otsego Lake. Taken May 22, 2014, the day President Barack Obama visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it is one of his best sellers, along with a close up of Kingfisher Tower, Ross said.
A New Jersey native, Ross said his family summered in Cooperstown when he was younger, and moved here full-time when he was about 8. He grew up on Main Street, on the Middlefield side of the Susquehanna River, in the Mohican Lodge.
“I always felt a connection with the Indian characters in the James Fenimore Cooper novels,” Ross said. “And I grew up with actual Coopers in my class.”
Ross left Cooperstown for college at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and he said he still has a winter home in Georgia. He majored in historical preservation and furniture design, but he said he abandoned plans to be a photography major when a professor told him he did not have the skills to be a professional. He did minor in photography, but he did not become a professional until more than a decade later, he said.
“My photography professor my junior year said I shouldn’t major in photography because I wasn’t good enough at developing photos,” he said. “I didn’t really take photos again for 14 years, until the digital cameras started coming out.”
His photos often look like paintings, but Ross said he prefers not to use filters and he shoots mostly with his iPhone 10. He said his aesthetic is influenced by the Hudson Valley painters of the mid-19th century.
Ross said his improvement and success as a photographer is linked to his personal journey, getting sober, coming out as gay in a small-town and overcoming childhood traumas. He said he considers himself recovered from several things: drugs/alcohol, family, youth and Cooperstown.
It was when he entered the phase of rehab where he had to be honest with himself that Ross said he found his art mixing with his comfort spots.
“That’s when I started picking up my camera and taking pictures of memories of my youth that brought me serenity,” he said.
The photos are more popular with locals than tourists, Ross said, especially with Cooperstown expatriates.
“It is mostly people that grew up here, including a lot who have moved away, some as many as 50 years ago,” he said. “They buy my photos because I have touched their inner child, too.”
Ross said he started selling photos in 2008, and a 2011 best photo award from Otsego Land Trust in the professional category helped him gain confidence in his abilities. The photo, “Evening Inspiration,” is taken from Three Mile Point, where Ross used to lifeguard.
“To win that award was really unbelievable to me,” Ross said. “It was a huge accomplishment to win that award, and to do it in the professional category.”
Although he is doing well now professionally, as a photographer and doing furniture restorations, Ross said he takes a casual approach to selling his work, being careful not to force it. He said he is happy and honored his work has touched so many people.
“I am doing this for my spiritual condition,” he said. “I do sell some photos and I share a lot of my work for free on the Celebrate Cooperstown group on Facebook, because I know how it speaks to other people.”
Go to Cooperstown Photography on Facebook to see more of Ross’ work.
Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.