FALMOUTH — A Route 1shopping center seems an unlikely place to discover one of the best Maine photography shows in recent history, but that’s just what “A Picture’s Worth” is.
The brainchild of Elizabeth Moss, who operates a gallery and frame shop in the Falmouth Shopping Center, “A Picture’s Worth” features some 128 photographs by 29 photographers hung in the vacant building that once housed the W.M. Home store at 190 U.S. Route 1.
Moss says she passed the empty store on the way to her gallery daily and stopped one day for a look. What she saw was 4,000 square feet of potential.
“Look at all the walls and the track lighting,” Moss thought to herself. “I could hang a wonderful show here.”
Though her Falmouth gallery generally shows paintings, Moss decided to mount a photography show after seeing the romantic photographs by Jeffery Becton and John Kelley at the defunct Domain Gallery on Commercial Street. Because she was not familiar with the Maine photographic scene, she wisely consulted Bruce Brown, former Center for Maine Contemporary Art curator, the person who knows more contemporary Maine artists than anyone in the world.
Brown became Moss’s “silent curator.” Eleven of the 29 photographers in the show were also featured in the encyclopedic “Photographing Maine, 1840-2000” exhibition that Brown curated at CMCA in 2000.
“A Picture’s Worth” is thus a thoughtful and discerning survey that includes some of the best and best-known photographers in southern and coastal Maine (Jocelyn Lee, Peter Ralston, Scott Peterman), some well-known local photographers (Rose Marasco, Bernard Meyer, Denise Froehlich, Shoshannah White), and some new and less well-known local talent (Trent Bell, Jared DeSimio, Ilya Askinazi).
What you may notice first in this feast of imagery are the vivid, high-impact, large-format prints that depict more than the eye can see: Scott Peterman’s panoramic photographs of the New York City skyline and barren landscapes, Tom Birtwistle’s eye-popping portraits of canned vegetables, Joe Muir’s Georgia O’Keeffe-like blow-ups of flower blossoms, Maggie Foskett’s glowing enlargements of natural history specimens, Brenton Hamilton’s large and lacy white-on-black botanical prints, Mary Woodman’s symbolic studies of pears and onion inspired by her studies with the great Paul Caponigro.
This being Maine, the subject matter runs heavily to the naturalistic and the landscape, but often in surprising ways: Christopher Becker’s sublime nocturnes of hay bales and marshes, John Kelley’s misty, minimal coastal landscapes, Irvin Serrano’s glorious hummingbirds frozen in frantic flight, Amy Toensing’s lyric takes on life on Monhegan.
There are also photographers who take a most painterly approach to photography: Brad Maushart’s encaustic-covered digital images, Juris Ubans’s impressionistic Iris giclee social scenes, Shoshannah White’s encaustic and oil-coated florals.
Strangely, the show is light on figurative work. Denise Froehlich’s grand, grainy self-portrait is simply her shadow on a garden. Melonie Bennett shoots children in a documentary style. Jocelyn Lee provides the exhibition’s only nudes. And Peter Ralston shows a trio of his iconic portraits of Andrew Wyeth.
The discoveries for me were Trent Bell, who dares to trespass into William Wegman terrain by photographing his own Weimaraner; Jared DeSimio, who makes off-hand, oblique pictures of interior details; and, best of all, Ilya Askinazi, a Russian emigre photographer who manages to make Bangor look like a foreign country.
“A Picture’s Worth” is an ambitious and unexpected undertaking, well worth your time.
An untitled archival giclee print by Joe Muir.
“Monique Instigating the First Water Fight of the Season,” a silver gelatin print by Melonie Bennett.