October 17, 2010

In the Arts: Ten Years Later provides a long view on a decade of photos


(Continued from page 1)

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“Zoe and Ian, Kennebunkport, Maine” by Denise Froehlich, at CMMC in Rockport

Courtesy Center for Maine Contemporary Art

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“Judith,” by Margrethe Mather, 1920, from “Group f/64” at the Portland Museum of Art

Courtesy Portland Museum of Art

Additional Photos Below



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



WHERE: Addison Wooley Gallery, 132 Washington Ave., Portland, (207) 450-8499

HOURS: Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday

CLOSES: Oct. 30



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

  It is more than just a matter of a hoary Celtic cross against the battling Irish sky. It is a sense of the dark finality of its goal (jail) yards, the lone elegies complete with ruined abbies and friaries and the insistence of its lichen-infected lithes. This show says finality in terms that will touch your heart.


Now to the Portland Museum and Group f/64. The full name of the show is "Debating Modern Photography: The Triumph of Group f/64." The show consists of 90 or so works achieved by 16 artists. A didactic event; it is intended to instruct the viewer as well as to provide delight. The instruction begins with a series of beautiful old images that depict the aesthetic goals of photographers who flourished from, say, the 1890s into the 1930s. Those goals, in other hands, actually extended into the 1950s and those who held them over all those years are now called Pictorialists. They were challenged by paintings and sought to emulate the soft, romantic results they saw in them. Achieving those results required a considerable amount of manipulation in the darkroom.

  The instruction continues with photographers who succeeded the Pictorialists and pretty much speak for present attitudes. Their work is for convenience classed as straight photography. The term f/64 originally referred to the aperture opening the early proponents of straight photography used in their large cameras. Stopped down to f/64, a camera yields extremely sharp, beautifully detailed images throughout their depth, the antithesis of Pictorial and, so they say, with little darkroom adjusting.

  So, it comes down to a matter of style; rich, manipulated romantic images for a time before photography was admitted to the fine arts versus precise camera-created images to suit a time in which technology has enlarged our sense of beauty. I was raised in the fading years of the Pictorial style and am easily moved by the romantic haziness its images often attained. In the PMA show, I note the beautiful pictorials of Johan Hagemeyer, William Mortenson and Karl Struss.

  I am more moved, however, by straight photography, in part because of the tempo of our times, and in part by certain aesthetic distractions. In the Portland show, I was particularly taken by Willard Van Dyke's "American Scene #3" of 1934, Peter Stackpole's "My Shoes and The Tower Leg," Ansel Adams' "Factory Building, San Francisco" of 1932 and Sonya Noskowiak's "Untitled," a cityscape of San Francisco made in the 1930s.

This is a very useful and fine exhibition. Many of the major names in both areas are not present, but there is enough to make the necessary historical points.

I note that in comparison to current work, the prints in the show are quite small and require an adjustment in viewer attitude; perhaps a mindset something like that brought to engravings and etchings.

It's a little wearying, but worth it.


Philip Isaacson of Lewiston has been writing about the arts for the Maine Sunday Telegram for 45 years. He can be contacted at:



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Additional Photos

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“How Long Is Yesterday” by Dan Dow, at Addison Woolley Gallery in Portland

Courtesy Addison Woolley Gallery


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