Artists learn their discipline in many ways, but there is no more valuable a learning experience for an emerging artist than pairing up with a pro.
This summer, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport celebrates the act of mentoring in a photography exhibition that pairs 20 photographers who had an important impact on 20 students who have themselves become important photographers and teachers.
The exhibition also celebrates the shared vision and mutual respect between two Rockport art institutions, the CMCA and Maine Media Workshops & College, the latter of which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. (They were christened Maine Photographic Workshops in 1973.)
“Mentor: 40 Photographers/40 Years” is on view through Sept. 22. The exhibition fills two floors of gallery space at CMCA, and features the work of some of Maine Media’s best-known teachers and their students.
The show goes to the crux of the work ethic embodied at Maine Media, said Brenton Hamilton, a Rockport resident, photographer and Maine Media instructor who helped curate the show with CMCA curator emeritus Bruce Brown.
The workshops have fostered relationships between emerging and established artists through course work, which is intensive and immersive, he said. The process builds bonds between teachers and students that outlast the length of the course. They often become lifelong friends, sharing knowledge, techniques and tips back and forth.
Hamilton has been both mentor and mentee. He took his first course at the workshops while in high school, and teaches there today. This is his 22nd year with the workshops in one capacity or another. His mentor was Craig Stevens, who has work in the show.
Stevens became much more than a teacher, Hamilton said. He offered advice and criticism about Hamilton’s work, and also invested in his life.
“When you take the time to really get to know a person, it becomes something different,” Hamilton said. “You get to know all sides of that person, and you stay in touch. You are part of that person’s life and career for a long time to come.
“That relationship happens here a lot at the workshops. You become a part of a person’s life for a long period of time.”
Hamilton has mentored Matt Thorne for four years. He met Thorne not as a student, but as an employee at the workshops. “He’s very talented. I took an interest in his work,” he said.
The exhibition serves as a who’s who of Maine photography history, with work by Paul Caponigro and his son, John Paul, Joyce Tenneson, Tillman Crane, John Goodman, Cig Harvey and others.
CMCA hosted its first serious photography exhibition in 1988, Brown’s first year as curator. That also happened to be the 15th anniversary of the photographic workshops.
Brown partnered with the workshops then because “its importance and influence in the Maine photography world was absolutely so well-established, I couldn’t think of a more important way to introduce photography to new audiences,” he said. “Now 25 years later, that history has grown deeper. There’s hardly any American photographer of great note who has not taught there, given lectures there or been connected one way or another.”
Brown encourages visitors to take time to view this work. They should note its complexities and technical proficiencies, but mostly they should simply appreciate its beauty.
More than any other art medium, photography in black and white or color has the ability to connect us with a sense of place, feeling or mood, he said.
Elizabeth Greenberg came to the workshops as an intern in 1990. Her mentor was Arnold Newman.
“I looked at a catalog and saw all the names of my heroes. I said, ‘If they’re there, that’s where I’m going to be,’ ” she said.
“Mentor” demonstrates the influence of one generation of photographers on the next, and so on, and links generations who have passed through Rockport. Many, like Greenberg and Hamilton, have stayed and helped make the workshops the hub of photography locally, regionally and nationally.
At the same time, CMCA has demonstrated leadership in promoting and encouraging fine-art photography. This exhibition strengthens its leadership role.
“This is unquestionably a gorgeous location, and people come from away to enjoy the natural wonders of the place,” Greenberg said. “But I think the remoteness has contributed to its popularity. This is also a great place to come to work.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: