Who knew they could take photographs in the 1840s? Not me, that’s for sure!
Maine Photography gives us a fascinating look – literally, with lots of photos – of the evolution of picture taking. No selfies back then! Lucky them!
Published by Down East Books and written by Libby Bichof, an associate professor of history at USM, Susan Danley, a curator of art exhibits, and Earle Shettleworth, our state historian, the book gets deep into the history of photography, featuring short biographies of outstanding photographers through the ages.
But it’s the photos that captivated me and I lingered over many, starting with the cover photo, a haunting image of a Maine forest in the fog, by Eliot Porter. As Steve Bromage, Executive Director of the Maine Historical Society, noted in his introduction, “When Louis Daguerre demonstrated his new invention in 1839, it changed the nature of visual representation forever. Ever since, photography has captivated audiences and transformed how we see, experience, explore, and imagine our world.” Indeed.
“Over the past two centuries,” wrote Bromage, “this state had produced vibrant and varied communities of photographers – mean and women, local and ‘from away,’ professionally trained and self-taught – all working to make a living and working to make art.”
Each of the authors present separate and significant parts of this story. I especially enjoyed Shettleworth’s examination of Maine’s role in the Civil War, and the growth of coastal and mountain resorts. Bischof focuses on the emergency of women photographers, and I particularly enjoyed the photos of farm and industrial workers. Danley, who once worked as art historian at the Portland Museum of Art, one of my favorite places, takes us from the establishment of the Portland Camera Club to more recent activities at the Maine Photographic Workshops.
This week, I took Maine Photography up to our town library to share with friends and neighbors. Really, that’s what photography has been – and is – all about. So I send a special thank you to the publisher and authors – and all those great photographers – for sharing their artistry with us.