Barbara Goodbody came to photography around age 50, after decades of community engagement. She moved to Maine in the early 1970s after working on Edmund Muskie’s presidential campaign. While raising her three children, she was deeply involved with the Junior League of Portland and co-founded Big Brothers Big Sisters. With her studies at what is now the now Maine Media Workshops + College in Rockport, Goodbody flung herself into photography.

She has shown her own work around the state – she is represented by VoxPhotographs – and abroad, including at UNESCO in Paris for the International Women’s Day celebration. Her work is held, among other places, in the Ernst Haas Memorial Collection of the Portland Museum of Art.

Over the past three decades, Goodbody solidified herself in the state as a steward for photography. Not only has Goodbody been a member of the advisory board at Maine Museum of Photographic Arts, she has collected local, national and European photography. Through the Maine Museum of Photographic Arts, highlights of Goodbody’s collection are now on view at the University of Southern Maine’s Glickman Library, and a catalog of the collection is available for $100 with sales benefiting USM’s Center for Compassion.

Ernst Haas, “Albert Einstein,” 1992, silver print, 12 ½ x 17 inches

Goodbody’s collection leans toward visual qualities we associate with old-school photography such as design excellence, photographic skill and expert black-and-white printing techniques. With Maine’s nascent photographic renaissance, such concerns are coming more clearly into view. While American photography historically has no shortage of socially focused champions such as Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, Goodbody’s collection connects regional photography to the moral and artistic concerns of mid-century European work. We see a scruffy, casual and familiar portrait of Einstein by Ernst Haas (1921-1986; the photo is dated 1992, though Einstein died in 1955). Nearby is French photographer Lucien Clergue’s (1934-2014) “After lecturing on Picasso,” a shamelessly sexy 1988 photographic pairing of two female breasts – one in dark silhouette with the other in a more frontal torso-oriented closeup. The connection is odd, but compelling: the old academic who came to America to escape the war and continue his work and the other a rather risqué response to what was ostensibly an academic discourse about art.

On one hand, it’s easy to wipe away Picasso’s ever-interrupting sexuality, yet the realism/data dialectic (regular photo/silhouette) of the Clergue can be seen as a comment on Picasso’s inability to bridge realism in art with the legibility approach (if you can recognize a thing in the picture, it’s legible) of Cubism in relation to Einstein’s ultimate failure to find a Unified Field Theory that would seamlessly connect his general theory of relativity with electromagnetism.

Judy Glickman Lauder’s 1991 silver print “Child of Theresienstadt Poster, Prague”

Then we are almost forced to take this conversation and admit the ghostly mastery of Judy Glickman Lauder’s 1991 silver print “Child of Theresienstadt Poster, Prague” to the equation. Lauder has been a huge photographic and philanthropic presence in Maine. This image questions our moral and social obligations to cultural history – questions compellingly relevant to Haas, Einstein and Clergue.

Yes, this is a very heady stew at one end of Goodbody’s collection, but, morally at least, it is the tip of the iceberg. We can’t escape, for example, the murderous poverty of the aesthetically intense view of shacks barely afloat in poisonous garbage in Boston-based Dominic Chavez’s 2010 image of a third-world scene or Donna DeCesare’s 1994 silver print of a girl around 8 years old, sitting on a stained mattress with a pigeon in her arms and a handgun lying beside her on the bed. And within this context, we can hardly deny the compassionate tone of Tonee Harbert’s “Cider House Rules”-like print of a migrant worker picking apples in Maine.

The images compel us to sense Goodbody’s cultural engagement as driven by moral philosophy. This might relate to issues of applied and normative ethics (the three branches of which address right and wrong, what we should do and how we approach these questions a.k.a. meta-ethics), but with contemporary culture, such as 20th century photography, we don’t need to borrow the discourse of Kant, Aristotle or, say, the utilitarian John Stuart Mill (although their legacies are highly relevant), we can begin with practical reality – this is our world, and what should we do to shepherd it?

It’s no surprise that Goodbody began her professional political/moral path to Maine with Muskie – one of Maine’s (and the nation’s) greatest moral pillars. Her own photographic work hints powerfully at a spiritual connection to the Maine landscape and the environment.

Paul Caponigro, “Backlit Sunflower,” 1965, silver print, 4 x 5 inch

In this light, it’s easy to see why Goodbody is so attracted to the spiritually-inclined work of Paul Caponigro, such as his 1965 gelatin silver print “Backlit Sunflower,” a spare and iconographically clear image of a singular floral form. Throughout the show, Goodbody’s environmental concerns are echoed again and again to the point where works such as Brenton Hamilton’s silver leaf and colloidal “The Conjurer” have to been seen as moral flash points: The 1998 image features a male nude-like figure in silhouette on a flat black background with an orbish image between its hands; it’s magically otherworldly on one hand, but it presents an inescapably earthly sense of start on the other. In the end, it is the this-world sense of engagement that prevails.

Tillman Crane’s “Touchstone, Plate 22” is a small image of Stonehenge-like standing stones, but it glows with an undeniable spiritual urgency among Goodbody’s collected works.

Mario Giacomelli’s 15 ¾-by-11-inch silver print “Landscape #403, 1953-1963” glows as plowed farm land marked by last night’s snow dusting shot from the air above. Yet the elevated view is only elevated to the height of a magical realism-driven painter like Henry Isaacs.

This is a mere glance at the dozens of images within the MMPA’s Barbara Morris Goodbody Collection, but it’s enough to show that Goodbody has created a collection both fitting for now and worthy of the ages. More and more of the art talk in Maine has been about photography; Goodbody’s collection helps show why the scales have been tipping in this direction for decades.

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

[email protected]


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