Ordinary Days, Extraordinary Moments: Charles County through the Lens of Gary Smith’

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Hungerford Gallery Features Images by Former Photographer; Friends, Family Establish Gary D. Smith Memorial Scholarship

Colleagues, co-workers and friends of the late Gary Smith, longtime photographer for the Maryland Independent, have joined efforts with the newspaper and the College of Southern Maryland to establish a tribute that not only recognizes the talented photojournalist but also creates a legacy in his honor.

Smith captured life through the camera lens for the Maryland Independent for 23 years and for the Newark Advocate in Ohio for 14 years; he sharpened his talents at Ohio University where he earned a master’s degree, and he developed the skill in others at CSM where he was a photography instructor for a number of years.

Thousands of his images have been culled to produce a gallery exhibit that commemorates his talents in capturing the daily life of Charles County, and these images will be donated to the Southern Maryland Studies Center at CSM for the community’s future access. Additionally, a scholarship fund has been established to provide a legacy for students in the field of communications at CSM, including photography, the visual arts and music.

“After Gary’s death, so many people talked about putting together some kind of tribute to him. He’d been around the county for a long time and so many people knew him and so many people had been the subjects of his work. It is a very fitting way to honor him,” said Maryland Independent Editor Angela Breck, who was Smith’s co-worker since his arrival to Charles County.

Smith was the paper’s photographer from 1985 until his death Jan. 8, 2009. “Through the years, Gary entered the homes and lives of numerous community members. He was one of the most respected and recognizable members of the media in Southern Maryland and he became the face of the newspaper to many in the community,” Breck added.

“Gary was always on the sidelines of what was happening in the county. He never wanted to be part of the action, but he was happy to record it for history,” said Carrie Lovejoy, who worked with Smith as a reporter and editor since 2001. “Gary was one of the hardest-working photographers I’ve ever seen, shooting several assignments a day and working on his days off without complaint.”

“I would hope people come away from this show with an appreciation of just how much enthusiasm Gary brought to his job, and how much attention he paid to the details of his craft,” said James Hettinger, who worked with Smith as a reporter in the late 1980s and later as a managing editor at the paper. “Many of his assignments were ordinary events—county fairs, graduations, community picnics—but Gary worked hard at trying to take extraordinary pictures. I think he was driven by both professional pride and a genuine fondness for people; he liked people and wanted to present them well in the paper.”

It was a formidable task that confronted Smith’s friends as they gathered in April to begin shaping the gallery collection. Those working on the effort in addition to Breck, Hettinger and Lovejoy were Jim Brocker, Michelle Brosco Christian, Karen Smith Hupp, Conni Leigh James, Candice Quinn Kelly, Valerie Nyce and Katie O’Malley- Simpson.

“We came together around a conference table stacked with boxes bursting with negatives, contact sheets and prints, representing literally thousands of images. Where to start was our first question, and so we just dug in, stirring up a bit of dust but mostly fond memories as we began the seemingly overwhelming task to come up with the photos that best represented what Gary saw through his lens,” said Hupp, who worked with Smith as the newspaper’s community editor during his early years. “Identifying the name for his gallery was easy for us. We quickly realized the common thread we were seeing in how he took an otherwise ordinary occurrence and created an extraordinary moment for all to enjoy.”

The results of their efforts are about 300 images that have been either framed or combined into a collage of photos that capture the scope and spirit of his work—“Ordinary days, extraordinary moments: Charles County through the Lens of Gary Smith.” Some choices were easy: the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel and the F4 tornado that devastated La Plata, the ceremony honoring Charles County citizens killed in the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon, and the opening of the area’s first minor league baseball stadium. These were key events in Charles County’s history. There were also iconic images—tobacco farmers and watermen—that defined the area’s cultural heritage. And then there were photos that just made everyone smile.

“My favorite images were of children—young through teens. He captured their joy and innocence and as we looked through the pictures, I was reminded that they grow up much too quickly,” said Kelly, who interacted with Smith as a community volunteer through the years and as a county commissioner. “When I saw the children with the Easter bonnets, there was a chuckle, and also … such joy from those simple things. He left us the gift of his photographs like a loving parent.”

“Gary had a knack for capturing the innocence of childhood,” said James, who knew Smith as a fellow photographer. “Working on the show has been very rewarding. This is an exceptionally talented and generous group of people. The fact that so many good people thought so highly of Gary is a wonderful legacy, every bit as impressive as the body of work he left behind. I hope that those who see the show will enjoy revisiting the many great moments in our county’s recent history that Gary recorded, and that they will have a chance to remember Gary through his work.”

Smith’s friends who collaborated in creating the show have also worked with Smith’s wife Linda and children Gabe Smith, Danielle Arbe and Darcy Thomas to ensure a lasting tribute is established in his honor.

The Gary D. Smith Memorial Scholarship has been established through the CSM Foundation for CSM students interested in the field of communications including photography, the visual arts and music. Applicants will be asked to write a 100-word essay describing their interest in communications as part of the criteria, and preference will be given to students who demonstrate financial need.

 “Gary had such a passion for documenting what went on in the community. He loved his work, all hours of the day and night,” said Linda Smith of her husband’s years in Charles County. “He was one of those types of individuals that strived to perfect his work because he didn’t always have the confidence that what he had captured did justice to the moment. Yet, we look back at the sheer volume and quality of work that he produced, and we are awed by his results.”

“What has struck me through this experience is that Gary exemplifies the type of individuals in our lives who walk among us, perhaps on the sidelines as he did in covering the community, but persistently doing their work and we don’t always notice their full value until after they are gone. Then, we are able to fully appreciate the gift they have left us,” she said. “It’s been extremely heartwarming to see the community’s response throughout the past several months, and our family is honored by the efforts of Gary’s friends who want to make sure that Gary and his life are always remembered.”

Images showcasing the talent of the late Gary Smith will be featured throughout the summer in CSM’s Tony Hungerford Memorial Art Gallery at the La Plata Campus, located in the Fine Arts Center, 8730 Mitchell Road, La Plata. The gallery will be available for public viewing June 15 through Aug. 28, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays. For information on the exhibit, visit www.csmd.edu/finearts.

Contributions to the Gary D. Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund may be sent to the CSM Foundation, P.O. Box 910, La Plata, Md., 20646. For information, call 301-934-7636 or visit www.csmd.edu/foundation. Those making a donation of $100 or more during the exhibit’s showing, June 15 through Aug. 28, will receive a print of the commemorative show poster.