Everyday Maine

Faces and stories from an ambitious photography exhibit reveal drama, humor, and grace in people just living their lives.

By Yankee Magazine

Aug 21 2019


When not working as a striper fishing guide, Steve Brettell is a decoy artist whose work has earned national awards and been commissioned by the likes of L.L. Bean. This portrait by freelance photographer Michael D. Wilson shows the master carver surrounded by birds of all stripes in his Biddeford workshop (at his feet is Vivian, his black Lab and hunting companion who, sadly, passed away earlier this year).

Photo Credit : Michael D. Wilson
On a winter day in 2018, Bruce Brown and David Greenham were talking about how the deep divisions in America had undercut our sense of community, both locally and across the nation. Greenham, the associate director of the Holocaust and Human Rights Center at the University of Maine at Augusta, suggested an ambitious antidote: a photography exhibit at the center to showcase Mainers going about their everyday lives, at home, working, playing, just being in Maine. As Brown recalls it, “We’d show that even though we were different, we still were one. I took that to heart. He said, ‘We’ll fill the walls top to bottom.’”
Far above the deck of the schooner Mary Day and the waters of Penobscot Bay, crew member Katie Haugen Schoettle grins up at Jim Dugan, who climbed 70 feet into the rigging to get the eye-popping perspective for this shot. A photographer and Web designer as well as a licensed Maine Guide, Dugan teaches photography for one week every year aboard the Camden-based windjammer and has also stood in for members of Mary Day’s regular crew from time to time.
Photo Credit : Jim Dugan
A longtime collector and curator, Brown is an influential voice for art and photography in Maine—so much so that the new Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland named a gallery in his honor. He knew the best photographers with ties to Maine, and he wrote to them all. He also knew that there must be many others, skilled amateurs with a passion for the craft, whom he did not know, so he contacted photo clubs, chambers of commerce, photography teachers, asking: Who am I missing? He also found some by serendipity, such as the 13-year-old who came up to him at a photo show and peppered him with so many questions that Brown knew he wanted to include the kid’s work. After six months compiling “the most grueling show I’ve put together,” Brown had assembled 190 photos sent by 73 photographers from 89 different locations. Titled “Everyday Maine,” the show opened at the Holocaust Center in September 2018 to rave reviews, and when it closed in December, it was only to catch its breath. The exhibit next headed south, to the University of New England Art Gallery in Portland, where it opened last April under the direction of UNE curator Stephen Halpert, and where it remained until late June. When I saw the exhibit, I knew I wanted more people to see what can happen when you bring a bold idea to fruition. The photos filled two floors. I saw farmers and boatbuilders; migrant workers and asylum seekers; fishermen and mill workers; sled dog racers and kids running through strawberry fields. Each portrait held its own story for the viewer to fill in. There is quiet talk of perhaps making the exhibit a book one day. I hope that happens. “Everyday Maine” makes a simple statement that we need to pay attention to and brings into focus David Greenham’s original idea: “There’s not ‘us’ and ‘them,’ there’s ‘we.’” —Mel Allen
When not working as a striper fishing guide, Steve Brettell is a decoy artist whose work has earned national awards and been commissioned by the likes of L.L. Bean. This portrait by freelance photographer Michael D. Wilson shows the master carver surrounded by birds of all stripes in his Biddeford workshop (at his feet is Vivian, his black Lab and hunting companion who, sadly, passed away earlier this year).
Photo Credit : Michael D. Wilson
University of Southern Maine professor Mark Silber, who is also a documentary photographer, captured this image of kids at a swimming lesson for Sumner 200: Portrait of a Small Maine Town, a book he coauthored for Sumner’s bicentennial.
Photo Credit : Mark Silber
Photographer David Wade spent over a dozen years traveling the world doing all kinds of stories, but—as he recalled in a MaineToday interview last spring—that changed after he moved to Portland in 1997. Upon seeing its waterfront, he realized it was as exotic as anything he’d seen, and “I [didn’t] need to go anywhere else,” he said. Wade’s recent show, “The Working Waterfront,” spanned 20 years of photographs and led off with this image of a lobsterman atop a mountain of traps on Widgery Wharf.
Photo Credit : David Wade
Every spring, thousands of would-be customers vie for a coveted reservation slot at the Lost Kitchen, a 45-seat restaurant in the tiny town of Freedom, where chef-owner Erin French serves seven-course “farmhouse” dinners that are widely regarded as once-in-a-lifetime foodie experiences. While on assignment for The New York Times in 2017, Portland-based freelancer Stacey Cramp, a specialist in food photography, caught this moment between French and some of her reverential diners.
Photo Credit : Stacey Cramp
In Lubec, a small town in Maine’s far eastern reaches, residents line up for plates of spaghetti at a 2013 fund-raiser for their neighbor, Warren Foley, diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. “I’m happy to have captured a sense of the event,” says Leslie Bowman, a photographer and painter who teaches art at the University of Maine at Machias. “This is my hometown, and Warren was my mailman and engine repair guy. He played music with several local groups and was loved by all.” The event, which was attended by about 600 people, raised $20,000 to help with Foley’s expenses.
Photo Credit : Leslie Bowman
This painterly image of the teenage daughter of some friends typifies the coming-of-age portraits created by Freeport’s Jack Montgomery, who says they echo his own late mother’s story of growing up in a New Hampshire tenant farmer family during the Depression. “The young girl, longing to move forward into a fulfilling adulthood, the sense of longing for something just beyond the horizon—it all moves me,” he says.
Photo Credit : Jack Montgomery
In bringing his Maine Media Workshops photography students to Ricker Orchards in Auburn, Brendan Bullock wanted to give them a chance to document agricultural labor as well as interact with an often-unseen population: seasonal migrant farm workers. This dramatic shot came from Bullock himself, who grew up working summers on a Vermont farm alongside seasonal Jamaican laborers and says he was “always incredibly taken by their kindness, humor, and incredible speed and efficiency.”
Photo Credit : Brendan Bullock
On the Fourth of July, the northern Maine town of Houlton hosts “an old traditional parade—bands, tractors, horses, floats—that’s a wonderful opportunity to capture community spirit,” photographer Elise Klysa writes, adding, “I’m going again this year. :-)”
Photo Credit : Elise Klysa
Living simply in an East Machias home with no TV or phone, heated by wood he cuts himself or collects on the beach, Kris Larson has been a blueberry picker in Washington County for more than 50 seasons. He is also a gifted photographer, as shown by this moment of energy and cacophony that he found during Robstock, a heavy metal and skateboarding festival in Whitneyville, back in 2005. Larson traces his love of photography to 1964, when he was 11 and his parents gave him The Family of Man, a collection of images from the Museum of Modern Art exhibit of the same name.
Photo Credit : Kris Larson
Molly Haley has been photographing at Portland Adult Education for the past six years, documenting students’ stories and compiling moments of learning, community, and celebration. This 2015 image from a beginner’s English class, filled with students hailing from countries such as Somalia and Djibouti, “conveys the joy and connectivity of the school’s culture,” says Haley, an alumna of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. A freelance photographer based in Portland, Haley has previously worked as director of multimedia at the Telling Room, a nonprofit creative writing center, and says her work as an educator “has informed and inspired my own practice as an artist and a documentarian.”
Photo Credit : Molly Haley
Beans that have been cooked in 900-pound cast-iron kettles heated by traditional brick ovens get a stir in this photo taken by Arielle Thomas at B&M Baked Beans, a landmark Portland factory where little has changed over the past century. courtesy of B&M)
Photo Credit : Arielle Thomas
A Portland native who taught photography to all ages of students for 40 years, Jere DeWaters found a portrait of timeless craftsmanship in Littleton’s Richard Silliboy, a Micmac artisan who weaves the type of brown ash utility basket that was once an essential tool for Maine potato workers and a means of survival for his people.
Photo Credit : Jere DeWaters
Of all the photos in the “Everyday Maine” exhibit, “Amish Girl” is the only one not to show a human face. It was taken in Whitefield, a Lincoln County town that’s recently seen an influx of Amish, who are typically reluctant to have their faces photographed. Yet there’s still a lot of personality in Elise Klysa’s image of this little girl, taken as her mother was selling jams and crafts on their front porch.
Photo Credit : Elise Klysa

SEE MORE: “Everyday Maine” | Bonus Photos