Linda Connor, “Maui,” 1978, Silver print, 9.5 x 7.5 inches Images courtesy of the artists/Maine Museum of Photographic Arts

“Traditional Painting Genres in Photography” at the Maine Museum of Photographic Arts (through Jan. 31) is a typically overhung show (director Denise Froelich subscribes to the theory of “more is more”). Nevertheless, it’s worth a detour to an infrequently-trod stretch of Middle Street in Portland.

The thesis of the exhibition is how photographic artists have approached the multifarious and timeless subject matter of landscape and seascape, portraiture, still life, interiors and collage. At first, I must admit, I thought it pretty thin, since the reason these themes are timeless in the first place is because artists, no matter their media (including photography), have always drawn from their surroundings and their own ideas about physical human beauty and representation.

With few exceptions, in fact, most art is already inherently about how its creators perceive their physical surroundings, the human figure and, in the case of collage, the idiosyncratic way various stimuli (all these subjects, plus media, culture, advertising, etc.) coalesce into images in their minds and creative processes. What could be new? I choose only to critique art that has some creative merit, so consider this review corroboration that I was happily surprised by what I encountered.

“Traditional Genres” has, for lack of a better term, its traditionalists. Among them in the landscape/seascape category are Morley Baer (a protégé of Edward Weston), Ansel Adams, Alan Ross and John Sexton (who both collaborated with Adams), Linda Connor and Michael A. Smith. All of these artists produced and – with the exception of Baer and Adams – continue to produce analog black-and-white romantic landscapes and seascapes, usually silver prints.

The late English photographer Fay Godwin could also be considered a traditionalist in terms of methodology, but she invested her landscape work with evidence of human presence as a way of commenting on humankind’s impact upon it, which arose out of her own socialist and environmentalist beliefs. The work of all these photographers in the show is elegantly formalist and unabashedly beautiful for the way it records natural phenomena of light, mist, breezes, sun, clouds, surf and so on.

Then you have landscape work that is either traditionalist in methodology yet not in content, or that is completely contemporary in terms of both technology and effect. Of the former, two notables in the MMPA show are Cole Caswell and Eugene Cole. Both use old-fashioned glass plates and the 19th-century wet collodion process, where plates must be coated, exposed and developed within minutes (basically the time it takes for the collodion to dry). This necessitates a portable darkroom when working in nature.


Caswell’s work, like Godwin’s, is concerned with the environment and the human ability to survive within it. His “Drifter Portfolio” installation – a grid of 30, 8-by-10-inch prints – consists of images of American rivers. It records, almost abstractly, the effects of light on water. They are, fundamentally, meditations on two natural elements vital for human existence, which are under threat by the very lives they sustain (i.e., the consequences of our behavior leading to toxic rivers, global warming, severe weather and flooding, etc.). The implication, of course, is that we are spelling our own doom. The juxtaposition of mysterious beauty with the prospect of annihilation gives them an eerie poetic quality.

Eugene Cole, “Echinacea Study 1,” 1/1, 2023, Ambrotype, 20 – x 24 inches (single flower)

Cole’s works are essentially negative plates called ambrotypes (ambro means “immortal”) backed with black Plexiglas so that the image comes across as positive depending on our vantage point and how directly the light hits them. Cole writes: “My work aims to illuminate the convergence of art, history, science, and nature, inviting viewers to reflect on the thread that binds process and subject.”

Indeed, he is exploring a technology that replaced daguerreotypes in the 1800s (science and history), training his lens on flowers, trees and underbrush (nature), to produce images that are stunning and intriguing works of art. I’ll leave it to viewers to discern the connections among these, but some possible starting points are the co-emergence of fragility and resilience in nature, the presence of time implicit in the methodology he uses to capture images, and the mutability and subjectivity of our perception.

Dave Wade, “SS # 6, From Time Signature” portfolio, 1/5, 2020, Inkjet print, 24 x 36 inches 

In the latter category, we have Dave Wade and Caroline Savage, who use modern technologies to delve into landscape as an ever-evolving phenomenon, one constantly morphing over time. Wade sees himself as a passive “witness” to these processes. His arresting inkjet prints of beach sand feel as if we are watching the wind in actual time as it sculpts this arenaceous substance – metaphorically often called grains of time – into forms and patterns.

Savage is anything but passive. She photographs the Maine woods while in motion – walking, running, panning – capturing the ephemerality of light and form, while also transmitting a sense of the living energy and spirit of trees, rocks and grasses.

Claire Seidl, “Porch Dinner with Candle Light,” 2023, Silver print, 36 x 36 inches

And so it goes with various genres. In the interiors camp, new experiments with large-format printing (36-inch square) give work-transforming impact to Claire Seidl’s familiar moody photos of rooms occupied by people recognizable only as blurs. They have a ghostly, ineffable quality to them that is worlds away from interiors by Berenice Abbott and Eugene Atget in the case nearby.


Still life is a strong element of this show. Among my favorite work in this genre are the enormous platinum/palladium prints of Tillman Crane, which present single blossoms (and a fantastically insect-eaten seed head) in all their graphic glory. Lynn Karlin magnificently monumentalizes mushrooms by literally photographing them on pedestals. And by hand-coloring archival prints of tomatoes, radishes, gooseberries and other produce, Marcy Juran makes her images appear almost like Dutch Renaissance still life paintings.

Carol Eisenberg offers her signature digitally manipulated images on metallic paper, which, like John Woodruff’s inkjet prints on the opposite wall, are thoroughly contemporary works that straddle still life and collage.

Ian Trask, “Attack of the Holy Spirit,” 2022, 35mm slide collage in vintage slide viewer with shelf, 7 x 7 inches

The most whimsical and eccentric offerings belong to Ian Trask, who created wall sculptures using vintage slide viewers into which he inserted taped-together slides. The resulting images are funny and odd. My favorite is “Attack of the Holy Spirit,” which conjoins a hillside view of an Italian church with what looks like some sort of allium blossom hovering above it. The shelf it sits on is backed by a lens under which Trask has placed what look like about 45 miniature alien faces. Like Woodruff and Eisenberg, he also straddles – with hysterically humorous wit – multiple genres, in this case landscape, collage and sculpture.

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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