Movies and television programs often start with an “establishing shot” – an aerial view of the city in which the story takes place. The best known of these involve Manhattan. But shots including the World Trade Center towers are now dated, and any without them still remind us of that infamy.

The towers – there or not – are still an open wound.

The New York moment that transformed the American preservation movement, however, was the destruction of McKim, Mead & White’s glorious 1910 Penn Station in 1963.

Unfortunately, the Dirigo state led the way on this front as well. In 1961, Portland’s Union Station (1888, Bradlee, Winslow and Wetherill) was demolished before a largely stunned crowd. Among the witnesses was the 13-year-old Earle Shettleworth Jr., who grabbed a pink granite memento of this life-changing moment. While it might sound like corny hyperbole, it’s not: Shettleworth keeps the stone in his Augusta office where he has served as director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission since 1976.

Featuring 72 pictures by 44 photographers, “Images of Change: Greater Portland’s Cityscape Since 1960” marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Greater Portland Landmarks in 1964.

As an exhibition, “Images” fascinates right out of the gate since it bills itself as a “juried exhibition of 72 photographs by 44 artists.” But it includes many kinds of photographs. Don Johnson’s 1961 image taken on assignment for the Press Herald, for example, shows Union Station crashing to the ground: Are we so sure it’s “art”? To be sure, it’s journalism honed by artistry, but if we assume it’s art, aren’t we perhaps forgetting the accomplishment of great photographers like Edward Weston, Lewis Hine and Maine’s own Berenice Abbott? After all, just because they took the photographic documentary movement into the realm of art, it didn’t suddenly mean that every documentary photograph was a work of art.

While they are the intellectual bread and butter of the three extremely accomplished jurors – Shettleworth, CMCA curator emeritus Bruce Brown and former senior curator at the Portland Museum of Art Susan Danly – such social and philosophical questions are left to succulently simmer just under the surface of “Images of Change.” What greets us is a rich and varied stew of the Portland cityscape. We are left to recognize the work of dozens of local artists and scores of the city’s critical vistas.

The survey also happens to match seasons of sea change within photography itself as it shifted from a black-and-white professionally technical activity to a cheap color popular obsession to the currently wide open digital realm. To see Heath Paley’s large-scale 2013 inkjet print with its golden arches lurking over wizened masonry passages in comparison to, say Mason Philip Smith’s gorgeously somber-toned 1968 silver print “Mariner’s Church” is to look at two completely different worlds. Both are beautiful photography, but differently so.

A particularly interesting ghost of art past is the aptly-named “Global Warming Protest: A Warning of Things That Came to Pass.” It is a view down on Boothby Square before Shauna Killes-Smith’s controversial “Tracing the Fore” (a sculpture ironically about recalling the lost Portland landscape) was removed by a comprehensive and democratic process defined by public involvement and transparency.

One of the most effective aspects of “Images” is the way it allows us to see certain places in a new light. Matthew Robbins, for example, finds subtle beauty in “Kennedy Park Row Apartments,” and you are left to wonder if the beauty is only in the photo or if it’s something you can find there for yourself. This is a common phenomenon throughout the show, and it varies between two strengths: the impressively excellent photography and the vernacular visual interest of Portland. The dialogue between these two qualities is what makes this a rare photography show.

One point on which the historic element falls short is the Middle Street Maelstrom. “Images” has sufficient purchase on Union Station (although Zachary Barowitz’s “Come Down to Union Station” is my only complaint here – a complaint repeated from December’s Photo-a-go-go: It’s Johnson’s 1961 iconic image with some awkward marketing messaging on it – completely missing the point of slick marketing floss). But upper Middle Street is arguably a more important loss to the city’s landscape, and it is left out of “Images.” The closest we get is C.C. Church’s brilliant 1981 photo of the remnants of the Libby Building as it was being cleared away for Henry Cobb’s Portland Museum of Art; the only thing standing is the Libby Building’s arched entry way – (ironically?) the single element that Cobb kept in his design: the classically proportioned brick-domed entry to Portland’s architectural captain.

But we must remember this is a juried show – not curated – and an ethically juried show means working with the submissions you get. The flip side is that instead of filling a curator’s pre-ordained narrative, we get the strongest art submitted; and while this is an interesting historical exercise, “Images” is an excellent photography exhibition.

Particularly notable works include: Judy Glickman’s gorgeously grainy infrared silver print of Fort McKinley, Brendon Bullock’s organically warm phalanx of East End pilings, Mary Woodman’s crème-brûlée-wobbly “Grand Funk,” Michael Heiko’s spare and subtly swanky round-cornered presentation of the Swing Bridge, David Wade’s impressively claustrophobic “Lobsterman & City” and, among many others, Tim Byrne’s image of Colucci’s in the shadow of the 1807 Portland Observatory from which the photo was taken.

“Images” is a big show. There is a lot to like and even more to think about.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:

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