“Freedom,” by Russian photographer Alexey Kalugin, a fan favorite at the “Bridges of Friendship” exhibit at Walker Memorial Library. Courtesy photo

WESTBROOK — A collaboration between two camera clubs, one iteration of the sister city bond the Portland area has with Archangel in Russia, shows that the universal language of photography can melt stereotypes and bring people together, organizers say.

The show, titled “Bridges of Friendship,” features over 60 photographs by Russian and Maine-based photographers. It was on display in Westbrook in March before moving to Windham. Now it’s back in Westbrook for an encore. It will be on display at Walker Memorial Library through this month.

“Photography is really a universal language,” photographer and club president Dennis Marotte said. “We put our photos along theirs, and it really shows parallels between us.”

“Bridges of Friendship,” a photo exhibit collaboration between the Portland Camera Club and a Russian counterpart, is back for another visit at Walker Memorial Library in Westbrook. Chance Viles/American Journal

Marotte has been to Archangel four times. Starting in 1989-90, he and a number of other Maine residents and photographers made their way to Russia, and Russian photo club Spolokhi members came here.

“The relationship with Archangel is an important one,” Sister Cities partner Dan Glover said. “Starting just before the end of the Soviet Union, it was diplomatic in nature.”

The Portland Camera Club and Spolokhi have been having collaborative shows since. The shows features images by Russian and American photographers, side by side. The show aims to draw parallels, so an American photo of a horse for example, is paired with a Russian photographer’s shot of a horse.

“While we have our show, they have their sister show over there, so we have been sending each other photos for some time,” Glover said.

When the project started, communication was solely through teletype, and getting photographs overseas proved to be a lengthy process. Email has further closed the gap between Archangel and Maine, allowing the shows to happen more frequently.

Russians and Americans on one of the first Sister City trips to Russia, then the Soviet Union, photographed by Dennis Marotte. A Russian trucker excitedly slammed on his brakes in surprise at the sight of the American flag, Marotte says. Courtesy photo

While the camera clubs have a robust history with the sister city program, Westbrook has been involved in additional ways. The high school has taken Russian students, and a program exists between Archangel and Westbrook firefighters, where firefighters temporarily trade places overseas.

The sister cities program began in 1988 with a treaty signed Nov. 17 by Archangel Mayor Stanislav Potyomkin. At the time, Russia was still the Soviet Union and the Cold War had yet to end.

“That was before the wall came down,” said Phil Spiller, son of former Mayor Phil Spiller. The mayor hosted the initial ceremony when civic leaders from Archangel arrived at the Spillers’ home. He also led the first trip to Archangel in April 1989.

Spiller, 15, when the Russians visited his home, recounted how the trip and relationship changed many locals view of the Russians, both humanizing them and dissolving cultural differences.

“People look at them as cold or more serious, but that is not true at all,” Spiller said. “For us, we just look to the future. For them, their history goes so far back, with all of the wars, they just tend to look towards the past. … They are great people, and that is how a lot of Europe is.”

“Bridges of Friendship” opened their Westbrook encore with a reception Tuesday at the library.  The show is free and will continue through the month.

A cake made for the encore show’s opening, featuring the official seals from Portland and Archangel. Chance Viles/American Journal

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