We live in a image-saturated culture. If you have a phone, you have a camera. Chances are you’ve posted an image on social media in the past 18 hours. As a cultural critic, I hope it was not your lunch or your feet. I mean, I’m fond of cats, too, but I have my own, I don’t need to see daily documentation of yours. Please shoot something more interesting.
This summer, Maine’s art institutions and galleries have done that. They offer numerous opportunities to broaden your perspectives regarding image-making.
Anyone who has paid much attention to art in Maine over the past several decades might be forgiven for thinking that they have been over-Homered, but curators Dana Byrd and Frank Goodyear have a new angle on Winslow for Bowdoin College’s “Winslow Homer and the Camera” exhibition through October 28. Homer’s life (1836-1910) and work spanned the time from when newspaper illustrations were handmade engravings through the transition to photojournalism and into the early days of motion pictures. Early in his career, around 1860 when he worked as a newspaper illustrator, Homer used photographs as source material. When a job required an image of, say, a president or supreme court justice, he could walk from his studio in Washington to Matthew Brady’s shop and look at a photo in order to get it right. Later on, Homer owned two early cameras: those are in the show, along with a handful of photographs he made. The premise of this exhibition is that his familiarity with photography, rather than the traditional European academic training that he lacked, was important to his development as to proto-modern painter. It’s a subtly different yet significant way of seeing the Maine artist.
The Portland Museum of Art meets us a little further along in the development of photography as an art form in “Clarence H. White and His World: The Art and Craft of Photography 1895-1925,” on view through September 16. White began as an ambitious amateur in his Ohio hometown. After his work garnered some attention, he moved to New York where he became a peer of major figures such as Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. He worked in the Pictorialist style: soft focus, moody diffused light, perhaps a bit of manipulation in the darkroom. White was making art, not documentation. Later photographers reacted against these mannerisms, preferring the sharp focus and high contrast typified by Ansel Adams, but all of these varied approaches make up the toolkit of contemporary photographers. White was also an important teacher, emphasizing artistic vision more that technical facility. The Maine connection was his summer place in Georgetown, where he taught summer classes for several years. His students, including a significant number of women, were prominent in the next generation of commercial and fine art photographers.
With this art historical information packed away, let’s look at what’s happening now. The Maine Museum of Photographic Arts, which inhabits the fifth floor of the University of Southern Maine’s Glickman Library in Portland, presents an impressive exhibition titled “Contemporary Portraiture 2018” through September 30. Denise Froehlich and Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest rounded up 28 additional Maine-connected photographers for this exhibition, a group that use a wide array of methods and styles. Expect color, black and white, straight shooting, highly processed, street snaps, studio poses, social commentary, and humor. This show will inspire you to take your selfies to the next level.
Besides the institutions above, Portland is graced by a couple of art venues of a hybrid nature. PhoPa Gallery, on the corner of Washington Ave. and Fox St., is a labor of love by Jon Edwards and Bruce Brown, both photographers themselves, that has a connection to the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport. Those thinking about a career in photography find MMW on their short list. PhoPa will be closing on September 1, but it’s going out with a flourish. The current exhibit, “Comos,” on view through July 28, consists of images that Jim Nickelson has pulled from nature and science and pushed toward the abstract, while the final show, through August, is titled “Liminal” and presents the work of seven emerging Maine photographers: Henry Austin, Michael Harris, Dylan Hausthor, Chanel Lewis, Hans Nielsen, Probably Joel, and Izabella Provan. Say goodbye and thank you to a room that has hosted many lovely and thought-provoking shows.
Up the coast in Rockland, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art has filled one of its galleries with over four dozen photographs by Jocelyn Lee (who also features in the “Contemporary Portraiture 2018” show), on view through October 14. “The Appearance of Things” is a dramatic installation of saturated color, focused primarily on women in all stages of life, often nude.
Lee also operates SPEEDWELL Projects, which leans up against the venerable Bakery Photo Collective. SPEEDWELL will be presenting Tabitha Barnard’s Cult of Womanhood July 19 through 31, followed by work by Peaks Island-based photographer Dylan Hausthor (who runs the photo mag Wilt Press) later in the summer. Both Barnard and Hausthor studied photo at the Maine College of Art.
After absorbing all this visual knowledge, you’ll probably continue taking pics of your friends, meals and footwear, but perhaps with more consideration of composition, light, and color. We can’t stem the flood of images, but we can make our own contributions richer.