PORTLAND, Maine — A sprawling new show at the University of New England Art Gallery features nothing but Maine photographers depicting Mainers living their regular lives in the Pine Tree State. It’s called “Everyday Maine.”
More than 100 prints from 73 photographers cover every available wall in the three-story gallery tucked away in a parking lot on Stevens Avenue. The black-and-white and color images, taken from the 1950s through the present, celebrate what ordinary people do, all the time.
“I wanted photos that showed faces and about 98 percent show exactly that,” said co-curator Bruce Brown. “I received dozens of images of people turned away — and they were lovely photographs — but I adopted this idea of seeing what people looked like.”
Together, the images form a powerful collective portrait of Maine people and their lives: People bake beans at the B&M factory in Portland; Jamaican migrants get ready to pick fall apples; rockers play heavy metal music in the woods; two small children square off wearing boxing gloves; a little girl in a Halloween mask hauls a red wagon full of day-old bread; and kids get a swimming lesson in a cold pond.
A larger version of the show appeared in the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine in Augusta last year. That show had nearly twice as many photos.
Co-curator Steve Halpert was in charge of slimming the show down for its Portland appearance. It was a chore that had to be done mostly for space considerations.
“That’s the only reason we cut it down, just to make it smaller,” said Halpert. “Nobody was cut out of the show.”
Though there are fewer prints, every photographer from the original show is still represented.
One of those shooters, Dave Wade of Portland, thinks the show is stronger and less crowded with fewer prints.
“The pictures have a chance to breathe,” said Wade.
One of Wade’s monochrome images shows a fisherman descending a stair-like stack of 18 lobster traps on a Portland wharf.
“I was hanging around the waterfront quite a lot because I had this suspicion that things were changing,” said Wade. “I wanted to document them in their natural state before they were displaced.”
At least one photo in the show goes against curator Brown’s faces rule. Elise Klysa photographed an Amish toddler in Whitefield on a porch, facing away from the camera. The little barefoot girl wears a red dress and black cap. She leans casually on a small table. She’s bathed in warm light, possibly coming from a Maine summer sunset. The colors are serene and beautiful.
Klysa stopped at the house one day where the family sold jam and quilts. She introduced herself and asked if she could take photographs. The family didn’t mind, as long as she didn’t get their faces.
“I hung out on the front porch as people were stopping by, buying the jam and looking at the quilts. This little child was just hanging out on the porch,” said Klysa.
Most of the prints in the show are serene, even lovely — but not all of them.
Melonie Bennett has made a name for herself making stark pictures of family, friends and strangers at cringy moments. Bennett’s showing in Everyday Maine is no different.
In her photo, a man who had too much to drink lies slumped over a log on a riverside sandbar. His companions go about their business in the background but someone has placed a stack of napkins under his chin, which rests on the log.
“We would go on canoe trips back in the day with 10 or 12 people,” said Bennett. “This particular guy drank a lot and ended up passing out. His girlfriend had taken some napkins and put them under his face to kind of soften the log. It was just kind of funny, one of the weird details I notice. I’m always going after that quirky, awkward thing going on, something that puts it over the top.”
So far, the exhibition has seen a steady stream of visitors since opening a couple weeks ago, said Halpern. It runs through June 25.
Brown hopes people recognize themselves and their fellow Mainers in this show — working, playing and living their lives here.
“I hope people get the pleasure of saying, ‘Yes, here we are. This is us.”