Thursday, December 12, 2013
By PHILIP ISAACSON
"Photography Maine: Ten Years Later at CMCA" is a large handsome show and a pleasure to see. It offers work by 150 Maine photographers and by implication picks up where an earlier CMA show left off. The predecessor, "Photography Maine: 1840-2000" was a comprehensive event that, in two parts, carried the viewer across the decades to what was then the present. It had a conclusion, viz, what accomplished photographers were doing around the year 2000.
“Zoe and Ian, Kennebunkport, Maine” by Denise Froehlich, at CMMC in Rockport
Courtesy Center for Maine Contemporary Art
“Judith,” by Margrethe Mather, 1920, from “Group f/64” at the Portland Museum of Art
Courtesy Portland Museum of Art
PHOTOGRAPHING MAINE: TEN YEARS LATER
WHERE: Center for Maine Contemporary Art, 162 Russell Ave., Rockport, (207) 236-2875
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday
CLOSES: Dec. 5
DAN DOW -- HOW LONG IS YESTERDAY
WHERE: Addison Wooley Gallery, 132 Washington Ave., Portland, (207) 450-8499
HOURS: Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday
CLOSES: Oct. 30
DEBATING MODERN PHOTOGRAPHY: THE TRIUMPH OF GROUP F/64
WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square, Portland, (207) 775-6148
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday; until 9 p.m. Friday
CLOSES: Dec. 5
The current show, somewhat contradictory to its subtitle, does not have a similar ending. It is more retrospective than I anticipated. It is not necessarily about what Maine photographers are doing today, rather it includes work that they have produced at any time over the last 10 years. For the public at large, that's not likely to be an issue. Good images are good whenever they have been made. For those viewers who follow the art, the show is apt to lack edge. They will find it too familiar. It is less interesting to revisit what an artist has done a few years ago than to see what that artist is doing today.
This is not just splitting hairs. The last decade has been tumultuous. Photographers with established aesthetic positions and great techniques have cast much of the past aside in favor of digital innovation. It would be interesting to see what the newfound freedom is doing to their art and, by the same token, their spirit. Thus far, digital has been a leveler. How are the photographers that I have so admired faring? Are they keeping true to the faith? Are they making digital simulations of their past attitudes? Are they reborn?
Selecting images to discuss from so large and diverse a show is almost pointless, but I allow myself the luxury of calling attention to a few. Denise Froehlich's dual portrait "Zoe and Ian, Kennebunkport, Maine" will melt your heart. Michael Grillo's "79 Maple Street" -- a boy ascending a flight of stairs as shot through a toilet and above a long hall -- is a masterpiece of wry composition. Cig Harvey's "Emmie in Truck" is whimsical, touching and graphic. Diane Hudson's color print of children banked up in a great hall is animated and limitless in opportunities for individual examination. Kris Larson's portrait of Wayne Robinson amid a pile of detritus embodies the authority and strength of the sitter. Bob Brook's studies of the skulls of an owl and a raven scrapes up the fright and mystery of those creatures and the spooky intricacies of their crania. One of my favorites is Rene Braun's portrait "Thomas." I seldom see images that are so unguarded and compelling. I also note Dana Strout's "Bucksport Bridge" which, in this case, is Bernd and Hilla Becher brought to Maine.
The catalog to the show is a little wonder and a source document for a long view of the decade.
THE ANCIENT LOCALES OF IRELAND
Addison Wooley Gallery's show of Dan Dow's photographs of ancient locales in Ireland is particularly interesting. Mr. Dow is a classic, large format, black-and-white photographer. His images in this show reflect the attitudes that go with that. However, they are not silver gelatin prints. They are digitally achieved with an assurance by the photographer that in doing so he would not do anything with an image that he wouldn't do in the darkroom. I find this comforting because I consider the darkroom, however generous to the skilled, to be a limiting factor. Thus, other than the lack of the surface brilliance then comes with silver gelatin, Mr. Dow's prints are gorgeous and he has caught the elegiac quality of that land's ancient appointments as profoundly and with as much fidelity as the most expectant viewer would demand. In these prints, the photographer is fully committed and his sense of the age and mystery of the forms is almost palpable. They haunt him.
(Continued on page 2)
click image to enlarge
“How Long Is Yesterday” by Dan Dow, at Addison Woolley Gallery in Portland
Courtesy Addison Woolley Gallery