Photographer’s images reflect town image

Published 3:24 pm Thursday, January 29, 2009

Day by day, the face and landscape of our town changes ––sometimes in a dramatic can’t-help-but-notice way, as when heavy rains turn Buck Creek into a swelling rush of turbulent waters.

Sometimes, though, the ravages of time creep subtly and gradually out of the view of our immediate daily path and it takes the eye of a keen observer to note them.

Paul Samson has that kind of eye and he has found that photography is the best tool for capturing such portraits in time. Willing to step off the beaten path, he has explored many of Helena’s more hidden bits of history as well as, he estimates, more than 1,000 photos of the dam and waterfall.

Between 2000 and 2007, Paul documented four sites that no longer exist and among those are some of his more striking, even haunting images.

His sepia photograph of the Hinds house, circa 1850, shows a weathered faade with wild trumpet vines now the only remaining inhabitants.

An interior shot at a Coalmont House, a turn-of-the-century timber structure from the mining community of that day, offers only pieces of a ragged mattress framed by shredded curtains. Both these sites offer expressive views of the theme of abandonment, which speaks to Samson.

Other photos taken include the barns and silos of Bearden Farm off Highway 261 before a portion of that land was sold to Vulcan Materials and the now-demolished Buck Creek Cotton Mill.

Samson also did the photo restoration work on many of the early historical photographs frequently seen around town, including a portrait of Helen Lee Leonard (for whom Helena is named) that hangs in Mayor Penhale’s office.

Though some people are surprised to find Paul often works with a wide-angle Nikon Coolpix camera, this has not prevented winning kudos for his work.

Last year Paul’s photographs placed in two divisions of the Nature Conservancy’s Outdoor Alabama photo contest. The publication featured both his winning photo of a Pondhawk dragonfly on a blackberry branch and a close-up Zen-like arrangement of leaves floating in duckweed.

Paul’s first photography passion was butterflies and he has photographed more than 90 species with exotic names like Red-banded Hairstreak, Hackberry Emperor and Phaon Crescent. One can, in fact, get a visual education in Lepidoptera as well as see many species alighting for their portraits on Paul’s fingers in his gallery: Close Encounters of the Butterfly Kind that is posted at: