Smith Galtney, “An Accident of Hope,” archival inkjet print, edition of 10 Photo courtesy of the artist

Photography is everywhere this summer, ranging from small, focused exhibitions to expansive, rambling surveys featuring some of the greatest masters in the field. Together, they represent a continuum of this art form from the 1880s through present day.

“Light and Lens” (through June 4) at Cove Street Arts will be the first of the four shows we’re highlighting here to come down. Curated by Bruce Brown, the theme is a loose vehicle for gathering work of three Maine-based photographers – John Tiedje, Don Peterson, Caroline Savage – with little in common stylistically.

The most innovative offerings are Savage’s. For this show, she wrapped various bundles of flora in plastic, scanned them under a black cloth, and manipulated them digitally before transferring them onto wood panels. Then she used a clear acrylic medium to create an impression of brushstrokes over the surface.

They recall life forms in a pupa state – as in a chrysalis or cocoon. Indeed, their titles all bear the word “cocoon” paired with the location of their harvest or purchase. The dark backgrounds, however, also evoke 17th century Dutch still-life paintings. There’s not much light to speak of here, except in the way the plastic wrap catches and reflects the flash of the scanner. But they are strangely, wondrously mysterious.

Peterson is a trained architect and painter. Clearly, he approaches his compositions from an architectural perspective, particularly those images taken at New Mexico’s White Sands National Park. They are of aluminum cobra-like picnic shelters that seem incongruously placed in this desolate landscape, giving them a slightly surreal effect. Light here comes in many forms, varying from whispy-clouded sky to the reflections off the shelters’ metal to the blinding white of the bleached sunlit sand.

But even Peterson’s pictures of wooden sawhorse tables at an open-air market in Monsweag, bundles of wire fencing or the patterns created by rows of corn stalk stumps in a snowy field all belie his interest in the geometry of objects and the way they cast repetitive outlines of shadow. They have a lovely formalist quality to them.


Tiedje’s photos seem initially like documentary recordings of nature and buildings. But the truth is that he manipulates the images to create romantic impressions of a landscape or phenomenon. For “Portland Pilings #4,” for instance, he removed background structures like ramps and bridges, as well as geological features, bringing the sky down to the horizon to create an idealized, dreamy effect.

Like Peterson, Tiedje is also interested in shadows and naturally forming patterns (“Japanese Maple Snow #2” and “Parking Lot Tracks #3”). But his most stirring images have a mournful, mortal quality to them, precisely because they are devoid of human presence. “Secret Door #8” and photos of a dilapidated barn seem reminders of the transience of human existence.

Caroline Savage, “Cocoon Back Cove,” altered photography on wood panel, Ed. 1/1, 24″ x 18″ Photo courtesy of the artist


It’s immediately clear upon entering Bowdoin College Museum of Art’s “Marcia Resnick: As It Is or Could Be” (through June 5) that this is not just a photography exhibit. To call Resnick merely “a photographer” is to ignore her wide-ranging vision and talents. It would be more accurate to call her a conceptual artist.

As Frank Goodyear writes in his introduction, “She discarded preconceived ideas about what her chosen medium was supposed to do and proposed new ideas for what it might be, applying paint and graphite directly on the photographic image, adding text elements, interjecting humor, and conceiving photography as a type of performance were some of the strategies she explored.”

Marcia Resnick, “See Changes #8,” gelatin silver print with applied graphite, 1974 Photo courtesy of Deborah Bell Photographs, New York, and Paul M. Hertzmann Inc., San Francisco

In images from her See and See Changes series, a variety of people gaze at landscapes, sometimes a few feet in front of them and sometimes in the distance. But all of them have their backs to the viewer. Further, she charges the energy around some of them with graphite markings, while in another the figure is a Magrittean presence through which we perceive the part of the landscape his body would normally block (complete with rock formations, clouds and sky).


In her Landscape/Loftscape series, she pairs a photo of a scene with a photo of that scene recreated using props in her studio. Elsewhere, text elements appear in a series of staged photographs. In one, the nudgingly feminist text reads: “She learned about morality at an early age. Innocence gave way to Good and Evil…everything appeared to be black and white.” The picture is of a girl holding her knees, her feet tucked into old-fashioned Oxford shoes. Before her is a black-and-white composition book, black-and-white cookies, a bottle of chocolate syrup next to a glass of white milk and a plate of Oreos.

More text appears in the inventive stories she wove for Resnick’s Believe-It-or-Not, a feature published by the Soho Weekly News. They are hilarious – whether it’s a completely false explanation of the origins of the term Elgin marbles (the picture is a cigar box filled with glass marbles) or a sales pitch for Lugar 38 perfume (which shows a woman’s hand reaching for a pistol). There’s much, much more. It’s a thoroughly smart, witty, sarcastic body of work from a perpetual prankster. You’ll never have more fun at a photo show.


It takes a couple of circumlocutions around the Jody Sataloff History and Art Pavilion to understand the title of Smith Galtney’s “Dream Sequence” at the Maine Jewish Museum (through June 27). The lushly developed color images feel completely disconnected – and they are, at least in their individual subject matter. But taken as a whole, the show, curated by Nanci Kahn, is indeed like walking through a dream, with all its eerie, convoluted plot lines and all’s-not-quite-right tensions lurking beneath the surface.

Titles are deliberately opaque. “The point was to disassociate the photograph from any sort of direct, factual representation and give it some kind of dreamy, fictional inner life,” explains Galtney. So “What’s Next, Big Sky” has nothing to do with the portrait of a man standing in a hydrangea bush. All looks thoroughly conventional until we perceive the mosquito perched on his forehead, calmly syphoning off some of his blood.

Smith Galtney, “Meaningless and All That’s True,” archival inkjet print, edition of 10 Courtesy of the artist Photo courtesy of the artist

The more we look, the more we wonder what is really going on in each picture. A splash of orange sunset light on the surface of a lake by a diving dock (“An Accident of Hope”) suddenly makes us speculate if someone drowned there. And why are the women in colorful blouses (shot from the neck down, no heads) gripping their wine glasses so desperately? Does it register the tension they feel at having to put on a good face for the camera?


In some cases, the titles are downright disturbing when juxtaposed with the image. “Your Youth—Where Did It Go?” shows a frozen lake with the sanguineous remnants of a kill staining the ice. Galtney, who was an entertainment journalist before taking up photography, is clearly weaving bizarre, somnambulant stories that fascinate because of their lack of reason or linear logic. The images themselves are by turns gorgeous, astonishing, weird … but always intriguingly absorbing.


I only place Colby College’s “Act of Sight: The Tsiaras Family Photography Collection” last because it runs the longest (Aug. 14). This is a major show with a capital “M.” The collection, donated by alumni Dr. William Tsiaras and his wife Nancy Meyer (both class of ’68), encompasses over 400 photographs by most every master of the medium, including Berenice Abbott, Margaret Bourke-White, Harry Callahan, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, Aaron Siskind, Edward Steichen, and on and on.

Tsiaris had a long career as a renowned ophthalmologist. He traces his love of photography to his father’s purchase of a Zeiss Ikon 35mm camera, shortly after arriving with his family in America, from Greece, in the wake of World War II. “It represented a conscious effort to chronicle our lives and the growth of our family in our adopted culture and home,” Tsiaras writes in the elegant catalogue, which is an essential reference for any photography enthusiast. His brothers would go on to successful careers in the photographic arts.

Edward Schwartz, Untitled, 1948, gelatin silver print Courtesy of The Tsiaras Family Photography Collection

In a way, aside from the many, many extraordinary images here – documentary, experimental, biographical – the collection is still largely about family. The exhibition excels in photographs of children at many stages of development and from many economic, social and ethnic backgrounds: Edward Schwartz’s disarming 1948 shot of four children mugging for the camera; Leo Rubinfien’s “Boys Posing as Shaolin Warriors, near Kampung Sasak, Surabaya, Indonesia, 1983”; Ed Clark’s 1949 “Black Schoolhouse, West Memphis, Arkansas”; James Van Der Zee’s 1928 “Tap Dance Dress Rehearsal” of 1928. There are many.

The importance of the collection to the academics of the school cannot be understated. Images from it have become teaching tools for courses across a variety of subjects: anthropology, biology, environmental studies, queer studies, art. And the history they chronicle is breathtaking in its scope and relevance to today – from Robert Polidoro’s 2001 photo of a Russian classroom abandoned in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster and Dorothea Lange’s migrant camp near Bakersfield, California, (1935), to events such as Gandhi’s funeral and Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, accounts of American labor, scientific advancements, war drills and other war preparations. They reveal perpetual cycles of human fallibility, ideological conflict and exploitation, as well as a rich panoply of social customs, joyous gatherings and human achievements.

Jorge S. Arango has written about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be reached at:

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