Domestic life viewed by 17 Maine photogs

Still tales
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  January 11, 2012

‘ANINA AT REST’ Fujiflex superglass C-print, by Noah Krell, 2008.

In the theater of Maine photography, the winter exhibit assembled at the Portland Public Library might be thought of as a kitchen drama — a show that tells the rich tales of the many and diverse voices of Maine domestic living — and it deserves to be seen by all who can afford to.

Not only are most of the 17 photographers in the Lewis Gallery successful in bringing their subjects to life, many seem to originate them as characters. Melonie Bennett's lively, anarchic photo series offers so much rich information about her father that it might appear staged. (It's not.) The stout, lighthearted grandpa is seen in several feats of marvelous vivacity — wincing in (mock-)sword combat with a young rascal, sneaking late night chicken from the fridge — and his scenes gain considerable poignancy when seen in light of his nagging illnesses. Noah Krell's portrait of aging is more haunting. His lone contribution, "Anina at Rest," depicts the wall of a modest bedroom, where part of a vanity mirror reflects the sleeping head of an elderly woman. Affectingly, the photo presents her life by its most enduring composites: the rich, nostalgic peace of the quiet room and the mental life of Anina, no body in sight.

Each of Claire Seidl's four silver gelatin prints casts as its subject a dazzling fugue of light, telling stories of private life through attentions to human and object. Elizabeth Greenberg achieves similarly, but her fuzzy color digital prints of disarticulated living room pieces are even more memorable. Rene Braun's series of 8-by-12-inch metal prints rivals Bennett's for its bustling, unpredictable detail, but would benefit from being shown in larger dimensions. Sarah Szwajkos, Thomas Birtwhistle, and Roberta Baumann offer narrative pieces through colorful everyday items, each seeming to romanticize a different quality of home — modernism, solitude, and feminine nostalgia, respectively.

Two contributions by digital montage artist Jeffrey Becton offer interesting new takes on portraiture. "Wharf House — Claudia" (33 by 50 inches, 2011) depicts a smiling woman sitting at a wooden table in a breakwater home, which Becton has digitally enhanced to reflect some peripheral decay. In "Parlor — North Haven" (33 by 43 inches, 2011), the subject is absent, but its character shows through the rustic features of the room. Becton is one of the foremost photographers working in digital montage, and while his works here don't contain some of the more egregious irrealities of the medium, it's hard to divorce computer-generated images like these from their associations with product advertising.

With most artists favoring naturalness and spontaneity in their sentimental depictions of home life, the most radical departures here are the photo series that are staged. The stability and contour in Luc Demers's and Ben DeHaan's pigment inkjet prints make it clear their work has little to do with memory. Demers's 40-by-30-inch images of doorways and windows lit from the far side are energetic studies of liminal space. With much of the image plunged in darkness, Demers offers up an alien landscape, and in each, bright frames of light burst through the cracks in the entryway to bring familiar domestic patterns to the fore. DeHaan's prints stage a sort of postmodern agrarian fantasy in which a figure wears deer and goat masks and poses in elaborate ironic settings. It's a clever and engaging pun on domesticity, but can sometimes feel a little too engineered.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Fall Books Preview: Reading list, What is public art?, Up close with a superbird, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Photography, Portland Public Library, Portland Public Library
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   UNMASKING AFRICAN RELICS  |  February 26, 2014
    An evocative, transportive exhibit of icons, artifacts, and spirit masks from some of the many, many cultures and “kingdoms” of West Africa, what is now Cameroon and Nigeria.
  •   THE TEQUILA ODYSSEY  |  February 20, 2014
    Each of the city’s drinking establishments has its roots in some primordial myth.
  •   TRUE EFFIN' ARTISTRY  |  February 20, 2014
    Mousa is the new recording alias of Vince Nez, a/k/a Aleric Nez, the name by which he released a nimble, unpredictable record in late 2010.
  •   THE STATE OF SEA SALT  |  February 12, 2014
    A surfeit of salt manufacturers have cropped up in the state over the last few years.
  •   NOT YOUR AUNTIE'S DOOM  |  February 06, 2014
    Sure, it may be Latin for “forest of trees,” but Sylvia more readily conjures some wiseacre aunt, not a burly group of veteran musicians trying to carve new notches in well-trod forms of heavy metal.

 See all articles by: NICHOLAS SCHROEDER