April 4, 2013

Blue period: David Stess at PMA

An exhibition at Portland Museum of Art showcases photographer David Brooks Stess' images of Maine's blueberry barrens.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Susan Danly has been thinking about David Stess for many years.

click image to enlarge

“Both (Self-Portrait While Shaving),” circa 1999, gelatin silver prints.

Photo courtesy of VoxPhotographs and Portland Museum of Art/© David Brooks Stess

click image to enlarge

Susan Danly, exhibit curator

Additional Photos Below

"BLUEBERRY RAKERS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID BROOKS STESS"

WHEN: Saturday through May 19

WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square

HOW MUCH: $12; $10 for seniors and students with ID; $6 for ages 13 to 17; free for ages 12 and younger; free for all after 5 p.m. Fridays

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday and Sunday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday

INFO: 775-6148; portlandmuseum.org

 

When she worked as a curator at the Portland Museum of Art, Danly kept a file on the photographer, clipping stories that were written about his work in the blueberry barrens of Downeast Maine that would serve her well when she found the time to do a show.

She finally found the time, but barely.

Danly, who retired in December, curated "Blueberry Rakers: Photographs by David Brooks Stess," opening Saturday and on view through May 19 at the Portland Museum of Art.

The exhibition represents the final act of Danly's curatorial career at the museum, and she could not be happier with the subject.

Among the things she most enjoyed about her job was the opportunity to champion the work of artists she admired. Stess fits firmly into that category, which is why she followed him and his work for so long.

"David's work brings in social issues, though it is not social documentary work. His work is not just about the blueberry, but the people who rake them. He is as much a portraitist as a landscape or documentary photographer," said Danly.

Stess, who lives in New York, has been raking blueberries in Maine since 1989 and shooting black-and-white photographs about the process and the people who do the work just as long. He's gotten to know the workers well, because he has worked alongside them nearly every August for more than 20 years.

His images have been widely exhibited in Maine, and Stess has been part of past biennials at the Portland Museum of Art. But this exhibition marks the first time he has had a solo show at the PMA. It's part of the museum's "Circa" series, which features the work of Maine's contemporary artists.

Stess' blueberry project started with a road trip to Milbridge. He and a buddy were chatting with a woman in town, who told them about the blueberry harvest and suggested they drive up the road to check it out.

"So off we went to the blueberry barrens," said Stess. "If you have never driven out there, the first time you go, you are instantly disoriented. It's miles and miles of gravel roads, and miles and miles of blueberry fields. It's like going to an arctic landscape. There is no point of reference.

"So we're driving and driving, and we see a bunch of rusted-out vehicles and farther up, a bunch of cats who look like Confederate Army refugees. They were the blueberry crew, and most had stopped raking. They were waiting for their paychecks."

Stess and his buddy hung out for a bit, and then one of the crew gave Stess a rake and challenged him to try his hand.

He liked the physical aspect of the work, as well as the result -- he loves blueberries. But he especially liked the people. In that moment, he vowed to come back the following August and begin his photography project.

The PMA exhibition chronicles changes in the industry over time. When Stess began the project, all the raking was done by hand by local crews. In time, migrant workers took over most of the labor. Now it's largely done by machines.

"I think what this exhibition is about is a way of life, and how things have changed over a relatively short amount of time," Stess said. "Most people in Maine still have somebody that they know -- a family member or a friend -- who raked blueberries at one point. It was something that was important to the fabric of communities for a long time. It's obviously passing from the scene, or has passed from the scene."

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors


Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

“Javier and Family,” circa 2002, gelatin silver print.

Photo courtesy of VoxPhotographs and Portland Museum of Art/© David Brooks Stess

click image to enlarge

“Light and Fog,” circa 1998, gelatin silver print.

Photo courtesy of VoxPhotographs and Portland Museum of Art/© David Brooks Stess

click image to enlarge

"Potluck," circa 2009, gelatin silver print.

Photo courtesy of VoxPhotographs and Portland Museum of Art/© David Brooks Stess

click image to enlarge

“Joshua,” circa 1996, gelatin silver print.

Photo courtesy of VoxPhotographs and Portland Museum of Art/© David Brooks Stess

click image to enlarge

“Quinn,” circa 1999, gelatin silver print.

Photo courtesy of VoxPhotographs and Portland Museum of Art/© David Brooks Stess

click image to enlarge

“Hangers On,” circa 2007, gelatin silver print.

Photo courtesy of VoxPhotographs and Portland Museum of Art/© David Brooks Stess



Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)


 

Blogs

More PPH Blogs