By John-John Williams IV, The Baltimore Sun
11:15 AM EDT, April 28, 2014
Sam Holden, a Baltimore-based photographer whose work appeared throughout the country, died Saturday after collapsing suddenly while doing yard work on his father's farm in Bel Air. He was 44.
Mr. Holden operated a studio in Little Italy and worked as a freelance photographer for both national and local publications such as Baltimore City Paper and Baltimore Magazine. He also taught Lighting Techniques for Photography at Towson University.
Born in Havre de Grace, Mr. Holden matriculated through the Harford County school system before graduating from C. Milton Wright High School. He received a bachelor's degree in photography at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, according to his father, Todd.
Mr. Holden's father, also a photographer, remembers his then-5-year-old son gravitating to a Mickey Mouse camera and later a Kodak 35 mm camera, which he gave him.
"He used to come into my dark room and stood on a milk crate with me as I processed film. He loved it," Todd Holden recalled. "He loved seeing a white piece of paper turn into an image. He also took some neat pictures as a little guy in grammar school."
It wasn't until he was a freshman in high school that Mr. Holden's father knew that his son was destined to become a photographer. It started with a conversation he had with his son's high school principal.
"He [son] didn't like high school a whole lot. The faculty didn't care too much for him," his father said. "He was a talented kid, but he was bored. So I went to the principal and asked if my son could take pictures for the school newspaper or yearbook, which was a privilege that was reserved for juniors and seniors."
His father convinced the principal to give him a tryout. The images were so good, they were published in both of the school's publications, and the young Mr. Holden was on staff.
"When he started seeing his work published, the fire was lit," his father said. "He was rolling. He was off and running. I knew then this is what he was destined to do."
From there, Mr. Holden's work grew. He particularly enjoyed working with traditional dark room techniques.
"He just became a tremendous shooter," he said. "Lord have mercy, he came up with some incredible images.
"It sure made him happy," his father said. "His life was photography. He just lived and breathed it."
Donna Sherman, Mr. Holden's girlfriend of 15 years, fondly remembers first meeting him on the set of "Angels in America" at Axis Theater. The two ran into each other a few weeks later.
"It was love at first sight," she recalled. "He was truly the most passionate, life-loving, intelligent, crazy, visionary artist and man I've ever met."
Sherman said Mr. Holden loved to photograph people.
"From the hottest fetish model to the most wrinkled grandmother on the street corner, he loved faces and gestures," she said.
Mr. Holden particularly excelled photographing musicians—capturing images of local up and coming bands to established international acts such as Iggy Pop, Neil Diamond and Ani DiFranco, according to Ms. Sherman. He also photographed a number of Baltimore Ravens players and Hollywood stars including Emmy winner Jane Lynch of "Glee."
"He had a very unique relationship with a lot of rock musicians," she said. "It was the way he cultivated relationships with them. He wanted a personal connection and got in and impressed these guys."
Rosemary Thompson called Mr. Holden a "treasured" part of her life. Mrs. Thompson, and her husband, Tom, owned the Coffee Mill in Hampden and Belvedere Square. Mr. Holden worked for the couple for about 13 years until her husband died of cancer in 2003.
"Let me tell you about the light force that was Sam Holden," Mrs. Thompson said Sunday evening. "He had this [unbelievable] sense of life. It is a loss for us. He loved all of us really, really deeply."
Mrs. Thompson said she would never forget the way Mr. Holden helped her while her husband received chemotherapy and radiation.
"Sam was big enough to lift Tom and helped me with those days," she recalled.
By Sunday morning, Mr. Holden's Facebook page was flooded with condolences and images of his work.
"Sam is one of the photographers that has been crucial to City Paper for many, many years," said City Paper editor, Evan Serpick. "This comes as such a huge shock to all of us. We'll miss him not only for his pictures, but his friendship and spirit."
Serpick recalled one of his favorite Holden images—a cover of the Best of Baltimore issue last year featuring John Waters and Rodney Henry.
"His loss is felt a lot by everyone at City Paper," Serpick said. "He's done so many iconic pictures over the years."
In addition to his father, Mr. Holden is survived by his older sister, Mina, who lives in Hunt Valley, and a daughter, who lives in South Carolina.
Mr. Holden's father said that he planned to cremate his son and scatter his ashes on the grave of his beloved rescue dog Koda, which is located on his 24-acre farm.
"That's what he'd like," he said.
An earlier version of this obituary gave an incorrect name for Mr. Holden's sister. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun