Fine Art Photography Daily

The Samantha E. Johnston Mixtape

Johnston headshot

The wonderful Samantha Johnston ©photo courtesy of Grant Leighton

I had the great pleasure of connecting with Samantha E. Johnston at PhotoNOLA where she was attending the reviews and presenting her work. She shared the exciting news that she recently assumed the position of Executive Director of the Colorado Photographic Arts Center, following the stewardship of Rupert Jenkins. Samantha brings a host of qualities to CPAC that will surely enrich this unique photography community and center–a center that has a long history and legacy of supporting artists. CPAC offers workshops, lectures, exhibitions, a wet darkroom, and a host of opportunities and inspirations for photographers. In addition to the good work that CPAC provides, every other year, the city of Denver celebrates all things photography in March and April (2017) in the Month of Photography Denver and CPAC is a vital part of that celebration.

Samantha joined CPAC as Executive Director in September of 2015. A photographer, arts administrator, and educator, she made the move west to Denver from the East Coast in 2010. Samantha holds a certificate in Arts Development and Program Management from the University of Denver, an MFA from Lesley University College of Art & Design, and her BFA from Alfred University. A committed educator, she taught photography and visual arts for twelve years before joining CPAC. She is a longtime member of the Society for Photographic Education, and in 2013 became the treasurer for the Southwest region of SPE. She co-chaired a Southwest regional conference (Letters to an Emerging Artist) in 2013 in Denver. Her work has been shown in numerous exhibitions nationally, and she continues to be an active artist in the community.

And now…the Samantha E. Johnston Mixtape!

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Colorado Photographic Arts Center


Colorado Photographic Arts Center gallery

Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography.

I’ve always loved photography. I was born in Manhattan and grew up traveling back and forth between the suburbs of Connecticut and New York City. My parents often took me to museums, and I think that really inspired my love of the arts.


Young Samantha

My first camera was a disk camera (see image below), but I really came to appreciate my love for photography in high school. The darkroom was my escape, and I spent hours printing, developing and learning about new ways to manipulate images. I had a great photography teacher who gave me the freedom to be creative and discover the medium at my own pace. After taking that first photography class, I was hooked! I attended the Maine Photographic Workshops the following summer and decided to pursue photography as a career. I attended Alfred University for undergrad and explored everything from photography to ceramics. I had been so inspired by my high school teacher that I minored in Education. After college, I taught high school and middle school photography and art for twelve years. It was very rewarding; during that time I pursued an MFA through a low-residency program at Lesley College of Art & Design.

disk camera 1

The Disk Camera

What is your title and job description and tell us about a typical day?

I am the Executive Director at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center, the only nonprofit organization in Denver dedicated exclusively to photography. A typical day always looks different, but usually involves grant writing, artist introductions, exhibition planning, and coordinating classes and workshops. Right now I’m planning our annual Hal Gould Award Dinner and Auction, an event designed to honor an individual who has made a significant contribution to photography in the Western region. We’re also gearing up for Month of Photography 2017, an event that is really putting Denver on the map as a destination for the photographic arts with the help of Mark Sink. In 2015, we had a very successful Portfolio Review weekend, and I’m hoping to repeat and expand that in 2017.

johnston members show

CPAC members show, image Meg O’Neill

What are some of your proudest achievements?

One of my proudest achievements is completing a low-residency MFA program while teaching high school full time. It was a constant balancing act and pushed me to the edge. However, it made me realize how important a role balance plays in making time for new work. I loved being in the classroom, but I was overworked and I had to accept that I wasn’t happy and needed to make a change. I’d been an active member and supporter of CPAC for many years and had long admired the organization’s 50-year legacy of serving photographers in Denver and Colorado. When the director position became available, I jumped on it. I feel incredibly proud and fortunate for the opportunity to lead CPAC into its next phase. And, I am surrounded by talented, professional, and wonderful photographers all day long – although I can’t say my schedule is any less demanding!

Johnston_S_glass lamp

©Samantha Johnston, Glass Lamp, courtesy of the artist

What do you look for when attending a portfolio review?

I look for artists that have considered their edit and I love hearing why people make photographs. I am always interested in the story and ideas behind a project. I am generally interested in all types of subject matter and appreciate a well-planned presentation.

Abelardo Morell Portfolio Review

Review with Abelardo Morell image by Michael Furman

Any advice for photographers coming to a review event?

Be prepared and open to constructive feedback. There are always a lot of different opinions to take in at the end of a review. Take notes or use a digital recorder if possible, and capture the most important takeaways. A thoughtful edit of your work is always helpful.

What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you?

I love to cook and bake, finding new recipes, and experimenting in the kitchen. When I’m stressed out, there is nothing better than coming home and cooking dinner. It’s my time to relax and put the stresses of the day aside. When I have time, I head up to the Rocky Mountains for cross-country and downhill skiing in the winter and camping in the summer.

And since this is a Mixtape, what is your favorite song, band, and do you dance?

If I need to accomplish a bunch of tasks such as go through paperwork I love to listen to pop music, but my musical taste is all over the map. I love to put my music on shuffle and see where it takes me from Jurassic 5 to Florence and the Machine to Nina Simone to Nathanial Rateliff & The Night Sweats. As the picture from my wedding can attest, I do love to get down!


Wedding Photograph by Harper Point

And now I hand the headphones over to Samantha…

I just took my position in September 2015 at CPAC and it’s been a whirlwind! We have a fantastic new gallery space in Denver’s RiNo Arts District, a really vibrant community where we’re surrounded by other galleries, arts organizations, and working artists. Our first exhibition features Phil Toledano’s Maybe series, on view until March 12, and we have six other exciting shows planned for 2016.

Phil toledano

©Phil Toledano, Night Clubbing, from Maybe Series courtesy of the artist

Our next show, Grass/Roots, will feature William Sutton and Jon Horvath.

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©William Sutton, Medicine Bow River. Johnson Ranch. Carbon County. Wyoming. May 22, 2013, courtesy of the artist

jon horvath

©Jon Horvath, Frosted Tumbleweeds, from This is Bliss courtesy of the artist

This spring I am excited to be working with Jennifer Schwartz and David Bram, who curated Making Muses: A Collection of Portraits by 27 Photographers from their photographer-focused venture Flash Powder Projects.

Included Artists: Aaron Blum, Allison Welch, Andrew Miller, Annick Sjobakken, Charlotte Strode, Dustin Chambers, Gene Ellenberg, Honey Lazar, Jake Reinhart, Jordan Swartz, Julia Vandenoever, Kurt Simonson, Leon Alesi, Liz Arenberg, Matt Crowther, Matthew Conboy, Nathan Pearce, Rachael Banks, Rod Finacannon, Sara Macel, Sarah Moore, Sarah Pfohl, Sean Carroll, Shannon Leith, Shawn Bush, Steven Ford, and Tristan Spinski.

Later this summer we will have our juried members show, and Tim Wride from the Norton Museum will jury the exhibition. This is a great opportunity for our members to show their work and for new members to join the organization! For the latest updates on events, classes, and exhibitions be sure to sign up for our email list at and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Thank you, Samantha, for all you do for photography and photographers!

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