ROCKPORT — The woman modeling for Skip Klein removed a glass pipe from her bag, put a small bud in the bowl and lit up. “Do you mind if I smoke?” she asked.

“No,” Klein answered. “Do you mind if I take your picture?”

After working with the model to relax and find a natural pose for the better part of an hour on a farm outside of town, Klein arrived at that moment of “odd vibration” when magic happens – when he gets just the right photo at just the right time, under unexpected circumstances. Klein, a photographer from Maryland, was in Maine to improve his skills in portrait photography, one among dozens of students who traveled to the small Rockport campus of Maine Media Workshops + College this summer to learn how to take better pictures of friends and family.

As digital media make portraits ubiquitous, Klein wants to distinguish his work from the 350 million or so photographs that are uploaded to Facebook every day. “What is Facebook all about? It’s about faces,” he said.

He wants his faces to stand out.

The interest in portrait photography is evidenced on the surface by a surge in cell phone snapshots and on a deeper level by more serious photographers like Klein, who are using portraits to tell stories and connect people in meaningful ways. Images are the currency of the new visual culture, seamlessly delivered and exchanged to tell stories and describe experiences. The portrait is, and always has been, the primary object of that exchange, said Brenton Hamilton, who chairs the photography department at Maine Media Workshops.

How we present ourselves and how we identify others remains the essence of the portrait, and those qualities are especially important to young photographers today, said Justin Kirchoff, chairman of the photography department at Maine College of Art.

“When I was in school in the ’80s, there was a strong interest in documentary photography. This generation of students has a little mistrust of documentary photography,” Kirchoff said. “But they have a huge interest in their identity and their friends’ identities, and their own sexuality and sensuality and everything in between.”

Over two weeks in August, Maine Media Workshops offered six different portrait classes, and all were filled with students who came to Rockport to study with Cig Harvey, Joyce Tenneson, Sean Kernan and other photographers. Elizabeth Greenberg, vice president of academic affairs at the Rockport school, said the sold-out summer classes continue a recent trend, with students signing up for portrait workshops across all specialties, from environmental portraits to using a portrait as a doorway to wider creativity. Another class taught students how to take pictures of strangers.

“Our media is changing so much, but one thing that will never change is the use of the medium to share someone’s identity and story through a single image,” Greenberg said. “As long as we have new people, we will have new portraits.”

CAMDEN, ME - AUGUST 11: Pattie Rowe makes a photo of model Carol Fritsche in Camden on Thursday, August 11, 2016. Rowe was a student in a Maine Media Workshops portraiture class taught by Joyce Tenneson. (Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer)

Pattie Rowe makes a photo of model Carol Fritsche in Camden on Aug. 11. Rowe was a student in a Maine Media Workshops portraiture class taught by Joyce Tenneson. Gregory Rec/Staff photographer

The interest in portraits coincides with Maine Media Workshops assuming the administration of the Arnold Newman Prize for New Directions in Portraiture, named in honor of the New York photographer who taught at Rockport for 30 years. The $20,000 prize is the second-largest photography prize in the country.

Last week, Maine Media Workshops president Meg Weston announced that the Newman winner will be named during The Photography Show, opening March 29, 2017, in New York. The show is presented by the Association of International Photography Art Dealers, and will include an exhibition of Newman prize finalists.

Joe Lavine, an instructor at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Colorado, attributes the spike in portraiture to what he calls the destructive nature of social media. Social media are supposed to connect us, he said, but they often disconnect people by reinforcing boundaries along political and social divisions. Discussions on Facebook sometimes end in angry discourse, because people say things on Facebook they would not say to someone in person, Lavine said.

A portrait represents the bond between the photographer and the subject, and conveys trust and confidence, Lavine said. It also reflects “a re-emergence of personal will to connect people back together. We are disconnected as a society, and this helps make us whole again,” he said. “I think people are trying to make stronger and more meaningful connections.”

As part of his work, Lavine travels to photography schools across the country. The interest in portraiture at Maine Media Workshops is happening at schools coast to coast, he said.

Tenneson, a Maine-based photographer who shows her work internationally, agrees with Lavine’s assessment, and points to the opportunity that photography offers to deeply expose someone and tell a story. “People really do want to see each other more in depth. We yearn for that as a society right now,” she said.

Models Kiera McDonnell, top, and Bailey Dale pose for Sasha Laurita in Camden. Laurita was a student in a Maine Media Workshops portraiture class taught by Joyce Tenneson.

Models Kiera McDonnell, top, and Bailey Dale pose for Sasha Laurita in Camden. Laurita was a student in a Maine Media Workshops portraiture class taught by Joyce Tenneson. Gregory Rec/Staff photographer Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Photography is the ideal medium, because it allows the viewer to talk to people they haven’t met, she said. “It gives you an opening to get to know people and uncover things about the human condition you might not see otherwise,” Tenneson said.

Through practice and the examples of others, Tenneson teaches her students to find the essence of their subjects by portraying them as naturally as circumstances allow. Tenneson’s subjects have included famous actors, musicians and athletes, including Robert De Niro, the late B.B. King and baseball’s Joe Torre.

For her class, Tenneson brought her students to a farm outside of town and arranged for several paid models – men and women, from their teens to their 60s – to accompany them for the afternoon.

Karen Bobotas enrolled in Tenneson’s class to develop her artistic instincts and expand her commercial photography practice in New Hampshire, which she called “standard.”

“This is different and unique,” Bobotas said. “I want to broaden my horizons, professionally and artistically.”

A recent retiree, Frank Bitetto traveled from New Jersey for Tenneson’s class because he wants to make a book about his ballroom dance partners – “women I’ve known through movement and music, revealed in silence and stillness.” He likes Tenneson’s work, and wants to learn how to take photos like she does.

Klein has begun taking photographs of people in recovery from addiction. His son, who lives in Portland, is 56 months sober. The photography project is a way for Klein to connect with his son and his son’s community of friends.

He spent several weeks in Maine this summer working on the project. “I am learning that documenting people in recovery is a bit of a challenge,” he said after Tenneson’s class. “Unlike telling the story of addiction, where there are pills and needles and other signs of addiction, images of people in recovery could be any of us. And, part of AA and the 12 steps is anonymity, so that poses its own set of challenges.”

He’s working with a recovery center in Portland and a family in Rockland. The first step is earning the trust of his subjects. He is building long-term relationships “so they are comfortable with me, and eventually I can blend into the background as a member of the family.”

That process of earning trust began with the model on the farm outside of Rockport. The photo shoot was going OK until that point, but it was hot, and the model, who was naked under a see-through dress, couldn’t get comfortable.

The smoke break helped everyone relax. Klein sat next to the woman on the back steps of the farmhouse. He declined a hit on the bowl, but shared small talk – about the weather, about her work as a model, about why he signed up for this class.

Before they got back to work, they were both laughing. They found common ground.