“Through the Photographer’s Lens: Penobscot Bay and Beyond,” this summer’s special exhibition at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, opens with a tribute to Everett “Red” Boutilier (1918-2003). The journalist photographer covered the coast of Maine for nearly a half-century (from the 1960s to the `90s) for the Boston Globe, Maine Coast Fisherman and other publications. He specialized in the working waterfront, including numerous boat launchings, but his black and whites also captured domestic life, such as a quilting bee featuring five women in a Downeast living room beaming for his camera. The museum recently acquired an archive of Boutilier’s photographs, which it is in the process of scanning.
Another black-and-white photographer with journalistic credentials, Neil Parent, is drawn to dramatic images, such as fishermen hauling traps in rough seas. He often pays tribute to Maine coast livelihoods. A photograph of a clammer bent in two clawing the mud is fittingly titled Hard Work.
Alison Langley also seeks drama in her at-sea images. In one photo, the schooner Wendameen appears to charge at the viewer. She also captures the visual complexity of rigging with great clarity.
Another inspiration for the museum’s exhibition is the 25th anniversary of Benjamin Mendlowitz’s Calendar of Wooden Boats. Mendlowitz loves the lines of a boat, be it Hannah in flat-calm water or Beetle Cat leaning slightly in the door of a barn. In Curlew, you can see the pipe in a seated sailor’s mouth — through the fog. This is a Maine coast gunkholer in paradise.
You can see the pipe in another coastal cruiser’s mouth in Peter Ralston’s handsome “Daddy’s Angels.” The Island Institute’s in-house photographer contributes several of his classic color prints, including “Ghost,” which shows a wooden lobster trap come to rest on kelp-shadowed in-shore ledge — a stunning and spooky image.
Among the historic pieces is a selection of vintage photographs from the museum’s Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company collection. Back in the day, the company sent out photographers to New England and Canadian maritime villages to collect images for its line of postcards. They photographed landmarks — the Island Inn on Monhegan, for example — and unusual scenes, including a shipwreck on Coombs Ledge at Islesboro.
Rounding out the exhibition are photographs from the museum’s collection, including vintage prints by Carol Thayer Berry, Joanna Colcord, Ruth Montgomery and Charles R. Coombs. Berry, a well-known painter and master printmaker, knew how to handle a lens too. Several photos of fishermen working a weir recall George Daniell’s famous series on the same theme taken on Grand Manan in the late 1930s.
This is as rich and varied a photography show as you’re likely to view in Maine this year. While Penobscot Bay plays a starring role, there’s a lot of “beyond” here too. The ongoing legacy of marine photography along the Maine coast is highlighted throughout.
“Through the Photographer’s Lens” is on view in the Penobscot Marine Museum’s Carver Memorial Art Gallery through October 21, 2007. Museum hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, go to www.pmm-maine.org.