In her exhibition “If I had Known” on view through Jan. 27 at the Maine Museum of Photographic Arts at the Glickman Family Library at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, Margo Halverson presents views of her daily home life – kids, dog, house, etc. – shot with the iPhone that she, like so many of us, always carries.

Halverson is a design professional (she designed Judy Glickman Lauder’s gorgeous new photography book, for example), so we should expect some visual sophistication – which there is. But the feel of the show is not based on the clever visual machinations of a professional graphic designer: Instead, it feels like unvarnished everyday life. A little girl donning her favorite pink cowboy hat lies in bed back to us watching “SpongeBob SquarePants.” A kid reluctantly presents a unbaked sheet of mini hot dogs wrapped in pie crust in front of an open car door, so we see this as parental obligation maybe for a party at school. The white standard poodle stands to scratch “in” at the glass back door or glances out at the season’s first sleety snow as it falls – still footprint free – on the back porch, dusting the holdover pumpkin from Halloween. We see the pooch again and again: on the couch, in front of bang-kneed dad, in a field, with her girl, lying at her mom’s feet on aluminum bleachers and so on.

Halverson’s world is anyone’s world. Sure, it’s a bit looser, artsier and casual than most, but these are the pictures that so many of us take practically every day. (I certainly do, and Facebook and Instagram are flooded with them.) Presented as simply as they are, it’s clear Halverson wants us to see them this way. It’s not as obvious as arguing we’re all photographers, although that is part of it. Rather, it’s more about how we all now see and picture the world: Instead of capturing our lives in pen-written letters to Mom or far-off friends, we now pull out our iPhones whenever we see something sweet … or visually interesting. This gets at the kernel that might be most intriguing to many would-be photographer viewers: With smartphone cameras (which are quite good: Halverson’s sometimes large prints don’t suffer for image quality) eternally in our pockets, are we now getting more attuned to the incidental visual quirks in our world around us? Halverson certainly seems to believe this is the case. She doesn’t just smile at the toast with the dark cinnamon swirl that looks like a dog; she takes a picture. And, in turn, it’s fair to ask: If she didn’t have the iPhone in her pocket, would she have noticed the swirl?

“Side Longings #615,” 30 by 40 inches.

This kind of quirk is key for “If I had Known”: a blue-painted toenail on a foot fleetly stepping over a spilled blue cup of soap-bubble water, two blue eggs among brownier denizens, a single leaf sticking to the rain-steamed glass back door seen from the inside, a girl floating in the water as still as the moored boats around her. This is very diaristic work, subjective and intimately personal, but in it we see so much more than Halverson’s family life. We see something about how we are changing the way we see the world. While she doesn’t reference social media, it’s there for the viewer in our experience of seeing the domestic snaps of “friends” online. In fact, this public exhibition is not unlike checking out the Facebook photos of someone you don’t know. Halverson actually comes across as a bit of a luddite: a cordless phone is unceremoniously taped to a tree and the television showing Mr. Krabbs is more than a little outdated – and that’s it for technology across 60 domestic scenes. For an iPhone junkie like Halverson, it’s actually a bit odd to see so little tech at home.

Halverson’s photographic sensibilities are self-consciously snapshot-like. In photography circles, this comes across as “street photography” – most recognizable for a lack of alignment between the horizon and frame. But she’s right at the edge of self-conscious style and spontaneous authenticity, so we often get the best of both worlds: A picture of a little kid’s bath with an upturned foot that creates shadows showing the texture and warmth of the water (again, natural light – not the surgical clarity of so many contemporary bathrooms), but mom’s viewpoint is over the water, and we feel she chose to lean over the water with her iPhone – something which would make virtually anyone who has paid for an iPhone hesitate. In a tilt-horizoned play scene at the beach (buried alive!) we see just enough of photographer mom’s raised elbow shadow.

“Sited Snippets #881,” 22 by 28 inches.

In the series “If I had Known” (one of several series in the show), Halverson presents complementary pairs: three family members in summer swimming white towels from the back look like the three ice-weighted winter trees; a red winter jacket on a girl is balanced by a picture of her full-body impression in red at a children’s museum; dad’s swollen sprained ankle next looks like the similarly lumpy sleeping dog. These are simple comparisons, the stuff of daily personal humor rather than any sophisticated curation.

“Sideline Vigilance #89.” 26 by 29 inches.

The casual setting of the museum in the halls of an academic library is perfect for “If I had Known.” Sometimes, after all, pristine white box gallery walls overwhelm works that would otherwise be intimate – or even add to them a pretentious cast. In this setting, it’s easy to follow Halverson’s personal connection to the world she pictures and enjoy the visual wit and interest she finds in her “squirrel!” moments of any given day. It is not in spite of her light touch that Halverson opens the viewer to hefty insights, it’s precisely because of it. Kids, bathtime, lunch, the dog and the house might be the stuff of every day normalcy, but, for many of us, there is nothing as remotely important.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:

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