Long before Portland became a trendy hot spot, Clyde McCulley wandered through town to admire the architecture. Twenty and 30 years ago, he came to Maine with his wife and kids to vacation at Ocean Park, and always made time for a day trip to Portland.

He felt that he was walking in another era. The cobblestone streets and brick buildings reminded him of the early 1900s.

As the Old Port got tidied up and the city became a desirable place with quaint cafes and cozy restaurants, McCulley’s interest in the city soared. He particularly appreciated that most of the buildings retained their charm.

“The city has beautiful storefronts, and most of them have not been ruined – especially along Exchange Street,” said McCulley, a retired art professor.

Soon after he retired in 2003 as director of the School of Art at Munson Williams Proctor Institute in Utica, N.Y., McCulley and his wife bought a condo in downtown Portland. They live most of the year – October to May – at Chestnut Street Lofts, and spend their summers at Grand Manan in New Brunswick, Canada.

These days, McCulley still wanders the streets of downtown, and now he brings his camera with him.

He shoots digital images of Portland street scenes, and is particularly interested in the natural light as it plays on the buildings and reflects off storefront glass.

Beginning Thursday, Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Falmouth will exhibit McCulley’s digital images of landmark Portland buildings and street scenes. The artist is showing 20 dye-infused digital prints on coated metal in a group show that also includes work by John Knight and Annette Kearne.

At first glance, McCulley’s photos appear to be paintings. He digitally enhances his images, and makes no apologies for his technological effects. He brightens his colors and adds textures that appear painterly. But he doesn’t alter the composition of the images themselves.

“What you see is what I shot,” he said. “I do not add people or take people out. And none of my photos are set up.”

McCulley calls this exhibition “A Digital Homage to Edward Hopper.” As the title suggests, it’s a personal tribute to the famous American painter, who spent time in Portland in the 1920s and made several iconic paintings of the city.

“I’m not trying to copy him,” McCulley said. “But he certainly inspires me.”

McCulley looks for similar qualities that Hopper appreciated: Light, subject and composition.

“I work to prevent the light from filling the air in the space, but rather have it adhere to the walls (or) the objects as if it is coming from the combined effect of color with light and dark; in a sense, have the objects and shapes carry the feeling or the sensation of light for the viewer,” he writes in his artist statement.

Moving to Portland enabled McCulley to rekindle his career as an artist. He received his training as a painter, and studied sculpture and photography.

He put his own art aside for many years while he worked as an administrator at the college level.

“Being an administrator takes up a lot of time,” he said. “But I’ve gotten back into it. I found that I was doing a lot of walking through the city and taking a lot of shots of the local cafes and restaurants, sometimes with people in them and sometimes not.” 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

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Twitter: pphkeyes