CONWAY — In this day and age of cellphones, a long-running joke in the newsroom between award-winning Conway Daily Sun photographer Jamie Gemmiti and the reporting staff has been, “Hey, Jamie — talent’s one thing, but anyone can take a picture, right?”
Not really. There are photos — and then there are works of art.
And day in and week out, that is what has separated Gemmiti’s work from the photographic pack.
He has worked at the Sun for nearly 20 years, first from 1996-2000, then returning after Bruce Bedford’s tenure ended in 2007 and all the years since, covering everything from house fires to accidents; major crime stories, such as the Dittmeyer murder and Hernandez kidnapping, to sports, town meetings and voting; and of local life, whether it be the school dance recital or concert, always getting not just the shot but capturing something of the soul as well.
For Gemmiti, a 1990 graduate of the Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine, with a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography, it’s always about the magic. (It’s no surprise that his faithful canine companion’s name is Magic.)
“I first got into photography, I guess, back when I was 14 or 15,” Gemmiti recalled recently. “A friend bought a camera and darkroom, and we used to hang out, taking photographs of Mount Jasper and stuff.
“I guess what attracted me to it is the same thing that draws me to Zen — of being present in the moment when I look through the lens at a beautiful sunset; the beauty kind of overwhelms the sense of individual self,” he said.
Armed with his Nikon D5, he has ventured forth into the Mount Washington Valley at all times of the day and night, coming back with emotive photographs that not only capture the beauty of the region but also the character of its people. He also puts a special part of himself in each photo — the artist’s eye.
We are going to miss all of that here at the Sun.
Gemmiti announced two weeks ago that while he plans to stay in the valley, he will be pursuing new directions in his art as well as in his role as a human being.
When he first told me the news in a text, my first response was like anyone’s when they are told that a breakup is imminent: “No way, Jamie, c’mon, Jamie.”
But that did not shake his resolve.
“I have been feeling a really strong pull for several months, since before the pandemic — it has to do with my cameras as well as my Zen practice,” said Gemmiti, who is also a devoted father to his daughter Sophia, 18.
“Financially, I also have an opportunity as I have my rental income (he uses part of his Intervale property as a short-term rental) — so with this pull and this opportunity, I felt that if I ignored this feeling of being headed somewhere else (emotionally and spiritually) with my work, I would have betrayed that,” Gemmiti said in his trademark soft, self-reflective manner.
“I plan on continuing to take pictures every day — but more artistic-style art pictures, not on deadline but with the same urgency and the same passion that has always been part of my work for the paper,” he said.
“I will continue my gallery and have other community/business ventures in mind, some having to do with working with seniors as a handyman,” he said, noting that “as a son of elderly parents myself, I know and understand the challenges that many of our senior citizens face and I’d like to help,” said Gemmiti, whose website is jamiegemmiti.com, where he will continue to display his art.
He said the reaction from his many friends since announcing his decision on Facebook at the beginning of January has been very moving.
“It is so overwhelmingly flattering that people feel that way. The best part of my job has been all the people I have worked with and the community,” said Gemmiti.
Asked to name his favorite photos, he said that’s a bit like asking a parent to name their favorite child: he loves them all. But there are a few muses of which his many longtime fans are aware — particularly Mount Washington, known to Native Americans as Agiocochook (“Dwelling place of the Great Spirit”): Gemmiti’s many compelling portraits capture the many moods of the tallest mountain in the Northeast that serves as the focal point and True North of all who call the valley home.
Gemmiti admits he and Ol’ Agiocochook are, well, “like this (connected at the soul).”
His dramatic shots of the steep chutes and gullies of Tuckerman Ravine are among his most awe-inspiring — as a climber, he has been able to scale the heights to get those death-defying shots, covering events such as Friends of Tuckerman Ravine’s Inferno Pentathlon.
“Having grown up in Berlin, Mount Washington has always been in my life and has been part of my world in a concrete way. It’s almost like a neighbor — it brightens first when the sun comes up (casting an alpenglow of pink) and it is the last orange when the sun goes down,” he said.
“I even talk to it when I walk my dog in the morning in the Abenaki Village forest (near his house), and I see it beckoning down the railroad tracks, saying, ‘Oh, good morning’ — you know?”
He has favorite vantage points from which to take photos of the mountain, including from Green Hill Road in Jackson as well as the Scenic Vista. Dark clouds roiling across its brow; brilliant pink morning alpenglow; snowcapped against the foliage in the foreground … the mountain never looks the same, and never disappoints.
The Conway Scenic’s 1874-built train station is another favorite subject of Gemmiti’s, along with North Conway’s Schouler Park and Mount Chocorua and Chocorua Lake in Tamworth.
His timeless photos of dance recitals or prom or events such as the Jen’s Friends Climb Against Cancer or the MWV Skating Club holiday skating shows at the Ham Arena — more than feature shots, they reveal something about humanity.
One of his favorite political campaign shots was covering Michelle Obama’s visit to the crowded Met Coffeehouse in 2007. A young boy was making a bit of a fuss as the future first lady was about to begin her remarks. Without missing a beat, Obama reached down into the lectern, pulled out a bottle of water and with a big smile presented it to the boy, in an instant changing his cantankerous behavior into docile compliance. “I am a mother, too, you know!” she told the delighted crowd — and Gemmiti’s photo perfectly reflected that moment.
“It was just so cool how she handled that — the photo captured that with her touching the boy’s head and the look in his eye,” said Gemmiti.
After having a few weeks to process his departure, a few members of The Conway Daily Sun’s editorial staff shared their thoughts about Gemmiti’s talents and his warmth as a human being and colleague.
“Beyond his photo skills, which are on display every day we publish, I am particularly proud of the way Jamie represents the Sun in public,” said Sun Publisher Mark Guerringue. “He deals with a lot of touchy situations that require some diplomacy, and he’s always professional and respectful.”
Added Managing Editor Margaret McKenzie, “As a photographer, Jamie is a triple threat behind the lens: Whether it is sports photos, beautiful nature shots or insightful portraits, he does it all. Working on deadline every day can be stressful, and Jamie took away a lot of that stress for me. Knowing he would be covering an event meant I wouldn’t have to worry about pictures for the paper. Plus, he is a fine person: dependable and kind. I will miss working with him very much.”
Health Editor Terry Leavitt said: “He has a great heart, and I think that shows in his photos as much as his artistic skill and news sense. I feel lucky to have gotten to know him outside the office, too, through our shared interest in Zen. I will miss him, and I’m sure the valley will miss seeing his photos every day.”
Sports/Political/Education Editor Lloyd Jones summed up his friend and colleague by saluting his art and talent as well as his dedication and humility.
“I knew Jamie was the right guy for the Sun when he first came into the office and was so enthusiastic more than 20 years ago. He went down the street to Gunther’s Restaurant, got some great photos of people eating breakfast, came back, developed the film and made prints, all within 90 minutes. I immediately told Mark, ‘This is the guy I want to work with.’
“Jamie is like family to me,” added Jones, noting, “For the last 18 years, we’ve shared the same cubicle here at the paper. We’ve laughed a lot, grieved together and loved working together.
“The highlight of a lot of my weeks was when the two of us would head out to do a story together. I knew photos were covered and that I could focus on the story. I will miss him big time, but am also incredibly lucky to have him as a good friend.”
So, in these pages of this, Jamie’s last issue with the newspaper, we celebrate the Eye on the Valley’s “parting shots,” so to speak and also share some of his thoughts, as well as letting some of his favorite photos “speak a thousand words.”