This winters new acquisition exhibition is devoted to black-and-white photography, one of the strengths of the Portland Museum of Art
s growing collection. New Acquisitions 2009: In Black and White, on view January 9 through February 21, 2010 will feature 37 photographs, ranging from romanticized scenes of Maine agrarian life in the early 20th century by Chansonetta Emmons, to mid-century documents by photojournalist Verner Reed and contemporary images of an elderly Mainer by Jon Edwards.
Following the exhibition of Diane Arbus portraits in 2004, this past year we received our first Arbus images for the permanent collection from long-time supporters of the Portland Museum of Art, John S. Ames and Mallory and Peter Haffenreffer. Our collection of Berenice Abbott photographs has been significantly augmented by a prime example of her New York work donated by Owen and Anna Wells, as well as a portrait series of Abbott made by her assistant, Maine photographer Todd Watts. Artists portraits form an important niche in the collection and the animated images of Portland painter George Lloyd and Skowhegan watercolorist Abby Shahn by Philip Rogers document two contemporary artists whose works are also in the Museums collection.
Black-and-white photography has long played an important role in documenting the history of rural life in Maine. Initially, such images by Chansonetta Emmons were made as works of art that rivaled printmaking and genre painting as a means to romanticize agrarian life.
Earle Shettleworth, the Maine State Historian and director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, has recently enhanced our significant holdings of her work with a gift of 10 photographs taken near her home in Kingfield. By the mid-20th century, photojournalists like Verner Reed took a more straightforward look at the conditions of potato farming in Aroostook County. Contemporary photographer Jon Edwards combines both approaches in documenting the hard-scrabble life of a mid-coast Mainer who harvests seaweed in the summer and prunes fruit trees in the winter.
Frequently, black-and-white photographic projects get published in book form, as is the case with the work of John Willis and Tom Young. These two photographers from western Massachusetts provided a photographic essay for a new book that examines the environment at a recycled paper factory. But rather than focusing on the machinery or the end product, these photographers were attracted to the bundles of used paper that goes into the process. Like those who preceded them in this genre, these black-and-white photographers combine a keen aesthetic with social concerns.