The question seemed simple: How many photographers does the start-up Maine Museum of Photographic Arts plan to feature?

But the answer wasn’t as straightforward.

During last week’s Black & White Party in support of this exciting cultural development, I found myself chatting with two of the museum founders, Elizabeth Moss and Denise Froehlich. And when I asked this question, it launched the pair into a lighthearted debate.

Froehlich, who is a fine-art photographer and professor, argued for 300. But Moss, a gallerist with a business owner’s grasp of time and fiscal constraints, appealed for 200.

“The idea is there are so many photographers doing incredible contemporary work,” Froehlich said. “Right now, it’s an explosion of photography in Maine.”

Not only are more photographers actively working in the Pine Tree State – as evidenced by the “Capture” exhibition featuring 50 photographers with Maine ties, which was on view at the party – there’s no question that photography is gaining attention from collectors and cultural institutions, both locally and on the national stage.

But here in Maine, the places where you can regularly view photography are few and far between. To fill this void, the museum plans to launch a virtual exhibition space with bios and images from each of the site’s artists. The online museum would be supplemented by three or four shows each year in locations around the state.

For the scholarly community, the museum will present a much-needed resource. It will offer a museum-by-mail program, allowing schools to request museum-quality photographs sent out on loan.

“Right now, I can’t assign a paper on a living (photographer) because there’s no way to research it,” Froehlich said.

After a few more years of fundraising, the museum will hopefully have a bricks-and-mortar home. However, right now the focus is on raising enough money to get the virtual museum off the ground – $17,955, to be exact.

The other museum founder is Anne Zill, who is the director of the University of New England’s Art Gallery and was also at the party.

Whenever I’m out on the social circuit snapping photos, I frequently cross paths with Arthur Fink, who’s doing the same thing I’m doing, only with much better results. While I know how to point and click while people smile and pose, Fink is the real deal. He’s been working as a professional photographer for years and is known for his images of dancers; a couple of these works are included in “Capture.”

Because of the party’s theme, most guests dressed in black and white. Fink added some humor to his attire by pinning paper step wedges to his black pants and shirt, which he called “an inside joke.” A relic from the days of film photography, these gradients between black and white helped photographers calibrate exposure before tools such as Photoshop arrived on the scene.

“We really need to build an interested audience for photography,” Fink told me, and added that he feels the museum will help build that audience while educating the public about fine art photography.

“Photography needs this museum,” said photographer Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest, whose work is included in the show. “As an art form, it’s under-represented.”

My friend and neighbor Jay York (who’s been in the news lately due to his concern about jaywalking on the superhighway known as Franklin Street) also has work in the show.

“The overall quality of the photography here is phenomenal,” he said.

Photographers weren’t the only ones at the show. I also had the chance to chat with John Ryan, one of the owners of Wright-Ryan Construction, and his wife, Jenny Scheu, an architect. The two collect photography, and were at the party scoping out the work. They told me they were particularly fond of the pieces by Tonee Harbert and Marcie Bronstein, who is already represented in their own collection.

Moss didn’t hesitate to recruit her family members to help with the soiree. Her dad, Charles Smith, manned the bar, her mom, Kay Smith, greeted guests at the door, and her aunt Nancy Arnold, who owns the West End Deli in Portland, provided half of the catering, with the other half coming from Queena Lo and Emily Pruden of Dandelion Catering.

Other notables at the party included protocol expert Dorothea Johnson, Maine Sunday Telegram art critic Dan Kany and photographers Juris Ubans, Scott Peterman, Kate Philbrick and Melonie Bennett.

“I want to see the museum take off,” said Kevin Morris, who is a commercial photographer based in Brunswick. “Photography is finally getting its due as an art form.”

Morris was at the party with Diana Norwood, who works as a location scout for photo shoots. She said it’s obvious why Maine is so attractive to artists, including photographers.

“It’s the light, you know,” Norwood said.

Before the party ended, Moss, Froehlich and Zill reminded guests to visit the websitemainemuseumofphotographicarts.org, where you can pledge your support. And if you’re hoping the museum launches with 300 rather than 200 photographers, the best advice I can offer is to be extra generous when you open your wallet.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:
[email protected]