Very sadly, for us all, Sam passed away on November 21, 2007. To read more about his unconditional love and who he was for others click on REMEMBERING SAM.


A visit with San Marco Photographer,
Sam Finkelstein

It gives me great pleasure to introduce Sam Finkelstein to you this month. Some people got the opportunity to discuss his wonderful black and white photography with him at our San Marco Art Show in January. On the whole, though, very few people in our community know Sam. What has kept him apart, is the difficulty he has in communicating. Because of his love of people, for him, this is the most devastating effect of the Parkinson’s Disease with which he was diagnosed 8 1/2 years ago.

Sam’s love of people can be seen as one looks through some of his collection of several hundred 8 X 10 black and white photos, all printed by him in his basement darkroom (an enlarger on the laundry table) in his and Sheila’s home of 37 years in Central New Jersey. During our interview Sam stated that he first started taking pictures when he was 9 years old, adopting the family camera, a Brownie Reflex. He recounted some of the incidents and things that he photographed that ultimately led to his first picture being published in a local newspaper when he was 11 years old.

He smiled as he said that whenever he heard sirens, he would hop on his bike to check out what was going on, often calling the newspaper to report. As we talked even further, he said the most dramatic of his early picture-taking career was seeing, then photographing, the Hindenburg dirigible the day before it caught fire and was destroyed.

At the age of 17, Sam started doing darkroom work, developing the negatives and printing his own pictures . He said that he most enjoyed finding models and scenery and blending the two into fine prints. He went on to Philadelphia Textile Institute where he was quite involved in many groups, including the newspaper and yearbook. Between his junior and senior years, Sam toured approximately 25 states as he went cross country with two friends. He likes recounting that he wore 3 cameras around his neck on that trip which resulted in an exhibit at PTI later in the year.

Shortly after college Sam was drafted into the Army where he ultimately had the good fortune to be stationed in an Army hospital in Heidelberg Germany in 1954. The good fortune was that the hospital had quite a fine darkroom supervised by a topnotch European photographer, from whom Sam said he learned everything that has made his own print work so special.

Spending time in the darkroom actually became one of his biggest passions. He often worked in it from 7 PM to 3 AM to get the exact tones and shadows for which he strove in producing a “perfect” print, carefully cropped to best frame the subject matter. His ultimate pride came in seeing the finished product.

Europe provided quite an adventure for Sam, his roving eye and his camera. Models were abundant and the stirring quality of what he was able to capture in people in special moments is extraordinary. Candid pictures were his strong point. Toward the end of his Army career he had a one-man photo exhibit in Heidelberg featuring 70 photos from 12 countries.

Though photography remained one of his passions, when Sam was discharged from the Army, he moved to NY to work in his chosen field of textiles. Going back to Philadelphia for blind dates he and Sheila met 45 years ago. They were married within 4 1/2 months. Sam’s camera became quite active as his love for her was expressed in so many of the portraits he took. Naturally the coming of their 2 sons, that love and all the resultant activities and trips made for quite a collection of photos which ultimately made their way into the over 40 albums which Sam put together. His wonderful sense of humor often came out in those albums, as he created captions and stories for the photos. One photo of his two sons with a Wright Brothers model airplane is still being bought, on occasion, from a photo stock house for use by companies in advertising.

In addition to photography and family, Sam’s activities included community and synagogue leadership roles, Scouts, coin collecting from boyhood through adult years and baseball card collecting with his sons. Thank you, Sam, for being so open with us.

You can see a small sampling of Sam’s black and white photography on the web at by clicking on the B_W link in the menu. Sam also states that you are also certainly welcome to call him to come see his work firsthand.

Sheila Finkelstein, Artist/Roving Reporter

Author’s Note - Writing this article was an opportunity for me to honor and share Sam and actually learn some things I never knew. In PICTURE TO PONDER, a daily e-mail photo newsletter that I publish, I often leave readers with a thought or two to ponder. In doing the same here, “What if you were sit down with your spouse, your significant other, a family member, or even yourself to look at your past to explore your passions past and present, what might you discover?”

(This article was written for the ART MATTERS column in the June 2005 edition of SAN MARCO MATTERS.)

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Last Updated 12/07/07