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). mdwphotographic.com
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.’”
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