Field of Vision, Photographing Maine: Ten Years Later

Novemeber, 2010

In his twenty-year tenure at Maine Coast Artists, which stretched well into the venue’s rebirth as the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, Bruce Brown explored Maine photography from year to year in his travels around the state, in studio visits, and in nearly fifty exhibitions. His passion for the field came to a head ten years ago when he curated Photographing Maine: 1840-2000 at CMCA, a survey so comprehensive it was presented in two installments, a historical show and another covering from 1950 on.
     A lot has happened in Maine photography since 2000. Indeed, Brown was obligated to whittle down an initial list of more than 250 active photographers to the final 150 that make up this invitational. He admits the show “does not do full justice to the burgeoning photo scene in Maine” and wishes it were otherwise. One change affecting the numbers: the size of images has noticeably increased.
     Photographing Maine: Ten Years Later offers a spectrum of subjects and aesthetics, from images of the natural world to black-and-white documentary photographs. Examples of portraiture, architecture and a number of abstract/conceptual pieces are a part of the mix.
     Considering the nature of the state, landscape is well represented by the likes of Margot Balboni, John Paul Caponigro, George DeWolfe, Gifford Ewing, Jim Nickelson, and Peter Ralston.
     Brown has a great eye for the stunning image.  David Brooks Stress’s Tug of War (2001), for example, captures a moment of twisted glee as kids threaten to pull apart a young boy by his hands and feet. Stress has produced several portfolios of Maine subjects, including a remarkable series devoted to the blueberry harvest. Elsewhere, the floating heads in Elizabeth Atterbury’s Joe Bus! (2009) recalls one of those St. John the Baptist paintings-a bit unsettling but riveting.
     Many of the featured photographers lead double lives. Jay York is a sought-after fine art photographer, but his “other” work demonstrates a felicitous eye for the overlooked. Brian Vanden Brink, whose book Rain was chosen as one of Photo District News magazine’s best photography books of 2010, is a master of architecture and interior design photography. Another well-known magazine photographer, Benjamin Magro, offers a memorable portrait of Belfast painter Dennis Pinette.
     Nearly fifty of the featured artists appeared in Brown’s earlier survey. Such masters as Maggie Foskett, Tillman Crane, Jocelyn Lee, Rose Marasco, Todd Watts, Joyce Tenneson and Dee Peppe contribute exceptional Maine work. Images by Claire Seidl, Patricia DuBose Duncan, Madeleine de Sinety, Michael Grillo, Cyndi Prince and Alan Vlach stand out among the general bounty of photography presented.
     Brown returned to the Center for Maine Contemporary Art as a curatorial consultant last winter to help out after the organization underwent drastic restructuring, including the dismissal of most of the staff. He had some trepidation about mounting this show, yet the arrival of two interns, Eleanor West and Camilla Isorno, from Bowdoin College, gave him the support to move forward. With their help, Brown’s reputation as Maine’s preeminent curator of photography continues to grow.

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Claire Seidl