For the same reason that Maine is popular with painters, Maine is popular with photographers: It’s a beautiful place.

Dozens of museums, historical societies, libraries and galleries will explore the state’s long history in photography with the Maine Photo Project, a year-long statewide effort designed to help people appreciate Maine’s position as a go-to place for image seekers and picture takers.

More than 30 institutions will mount exhibitions, which begin this month in Portland, Augusta and Waterville, and roll out over the course of the year. Many of the major exhibitions at the state’s largest museums will open in the busy summer and fall tourist seasons.

Most are tightly focused around individuals, themes or techniques. Collectively they explain Maine’s magnetism for photographers and the state’s historic and contemporary connections to the art form, said project coordinator Jessica Routhier.

Some shows push the boundaries of technology and innovation. Others tap the vast collections of old photos housed in historical societies and community museums across the state. Visitors will better understand why the international photography community pays attention to work being done in Maine today and why modernists came here a century ago, Routhier said.

“Maine is deeply involved in the origins of photography, and Maine remains at the forefront of photography today,” she said, citing Maine Media Workshops in Rockport and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland as contemporary institutions that are in Maine because of the state’s pull with photographers.


In Portland, the Art Gallery at the University of New England will host three photo shows, including one that launched the project last week. Gallery director Anne Zill said the timing is ideal.

“In some ways, I think photography in Maine today is what painting was in Maine 100 years ago,” Zill said. “It’s just bursting wide open. We are revisiting old, historic photographic techniques and discovering new ones. It’s bursting into 1,000 flowers. The breadth of creativity in the photographic arts is very exciting right now.”

Maine has always been at the forefront of art form, and commercial photography has roots in Maine.

John Johnson, a businessman born in Saco in 1813, partnered with Alexander Wolcott of New York to help create the first commercial camera in 1839. Johnson understood the Daguerreotype method of photography, which began in France in the mid-1830s. He explained it to Wolcott, who designed a camera for portraits. They opened what was believed to be the first commercial portrait gallery, in New York in 1840.

There’s more.

The Stanley brothers of Kingfield, who invented the Stanley Steamer automobile, are credited with originating a dry-plate photographic process, which made photography more convenient and portable. They briefly operated a store in Lewiston before selling their patent to Eastman Kodak of Rochester, New York, which was the company most responsible for making photography affordable to American families.


The photo project is an effort of the Maine Curators’ Forum, a statewide fine-arts consortium that has organized past projects on prints and drawing. This one goes deeper, Routhier said.

“This time around, we were conscious of the fact that a lot of museums in Maine that are not art museums have real depth in their collections. We tried to reach out to historical societies and smaller museums that have these treasure troves of photography from the turn of the century,” she said. “There are upward of 1,000 historical societies and collecting institutions in Maine, so this is just a tip of the iceberg. But we’ve got a really nice cross-section and are able to give people who live here and visitors to the state a taste of what we have to offer for photography.”

With that in mind, here are 10 shows among the dozens that look interesting:

“A Gateless Garden,” on view through April 12, Art Gallery at the University of New England, Portland.

Freeport friends Liza Bakewell and Kerry Michaels collaborated for this show. Bakewell mined the archives of the Maine Women Writers Collection at UNE for inspiring quotations. Michaels used those quotes to frame her black-and-white photographs. The images and the quotations that inspired them are part of the UNE exhibition, which opened last week.

The key to taking pictures in Maine, Michaels said, is “shooting around the cliches.” A quote from Elisabeth Ogilvie about spring buds and the sight of freshly painted buoys challenged Michaels to make a photo of lobster traps that was unexpected. “I was like, ‘Oh, God, a lobster pot is the last thing I want to shoot.’ It’s been shot so often. How can I make it speak in a way that is not cliché?”


She ended up with a simple image of traps stacked on a wharf, their buoys in neatly arranged rows in front.

“Tiny Giants: Life-Sustaining Marine Microbes at Risk,” organized by Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, East Boothbay.

Bigelow labs has put together a traveling exhibition that explains the role of microbes in the natural world and how changes in the environment upset planet balance. The photos were taken with microscopes and reproduced in large-scale format. They are stunning. The microbes look complex, robotic, industrial – and beautiful. The exhibition opens at the Portland Public Library on March 6. On March 20, part of “Tiny Giants” will be displayed at the Bangor Art Walk.

“Far Up Close: Photography of Lou Garbus, Abe Goodale, and Harlan Crichton,” opens April 3, Waterfall Arts, Belfast.

Three Waldo County photographers document a cross section of life in Maine, the United States and the world. Garbus, who died 2010, made thousands of images of people he met as a mail carrier and through his life in New York and Searsmont. Garbus’ photos reveal the hard-worn faces of Mainers over time. Goodale and Crichton take pictures of people and places in their travels. Collectively, their photos capture the humanity of a place.

“Rose Marasco: Index,” opens April 24, Portland Museum of Art.


This exhibition brings together many facets of Portland photographer Rose Marasco’s four-decade (and counting) career, including her series on domestic objects, Maine Grange halls and scenes that document life in Maine’s largest city. Marasco retired last year after a 35-year career in the art department at the University of Southern Maine.

“Verner Reed (1923-2006): New England Life,” opens May 1, Ogunquit Museum of American Art.

Verner Reed lived in Falmouth and shot photos for national magazines. This exhibition shows the range of his work and kicks off a season-long focus on photography at the museum. Other artists whose work will be featured this year include Marasco, George Daniell, Todd Webb and Michael Alpert. Former Portland gallery director Andres Verzosa will curate the shows.

“Exploring the Magic of Photography: Painting with Light,” opens May 23, Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport.

Visitors can learn historic photo-making processes, including pinhole camera techniques. This exhibition includes old-time photos, hands-on opportunities and a chance to have your photo taken with historic equipment.

“44.1522 Degrees North – 68.4433 Degrees West, Here Is Home: Life in Pictures, 1890-1945,” opens June 15, Swan’s Island Educational Society.


This exhibition includes old photos that show life on the Maine island, including its schools, churches, stores and people. The show illustrates the resourcefulness of islanders, as well as their playfulness. As part of the show, island school kids will participate in a photography workshop.

“The Alluring and Enduring Maine Coast,” opens June 26, Archipelago Fine Arts, Island Institute, Rockland.

This show includes historic photos of islands, the coast and the working waterfront, culled from the archives of the Penobscot Marine Museum. Peter Ralston, Lisa Mossel Vietze and Kevin Johnson of the marine museum curate.

“Framing the Atlantic: Contemporary Photographers of the Northeast Coast,” opens July 17, Tides Institute & Museum of Art, Eastport.

This exhibition includes photos from a dozen photographers from the United States and Canada, and offers perspective about what photographers working the coast look for today. How do they find their subjects, what distinguishes their work and what inspires them?

“Early Maine Photography: Images of People and Places from 1840 to 1870,” opens in September, Maine Historical Society, Portland.

Maine Historical has some of the oldest photos in Maine, dating to 1840 and the invention of the Daguerreotype. Those early photos show what Maine and Mainers looked like, and how they lived their lives. The collection includes Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes and paper prints, and is based on images collected by the historical society over 150 years and the newly acquired Vickery-Shettleworth Collection of early Maine photography.

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