Lupine, view northwest, up Somes Sound, June 2008
Jane Hague, July 2005
Tim Murphy and Piper, July 2008
Seth Milliken, Sunday Times, June 2005
Celebrated portrait photographer August Sander observed, “People are not simply what they are but rather are engaged in a continuing process of creating and projecting themselves.” It is for this reason that the portrait photographer’s work speaks so vividly to us. We may observe their work, a fraction of a moment frozen in time forevermore, where the individual becomes a symbol of their own life, and of something more.
It is this “something more” that compels us to bear witness to the miracle of life on earth, the miracle that exists every day the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. As we bear witness, we share what we learn. Perhaps there is not a form of sharing quite as intimate as the book, for it here that we hold in our fingertips the very evidence of who we are and where we’ve been.
Maine photographer Sarah C. Butler provides an insider’s look at the local inhabitants, architecture, and landscapes of Northeast Harbor in Portrait of a Maine Island (Glitterati Incorporated). More than 100 photographs in color and black-and-white take the reader through the seasons and the personality of this unique region of the Atlantic Coast, beginning at the head of Somes Sound, on Mount Desert Island.
Beginning with a walk down quaint and charming Main Street, we meet a post-mistress, mechanic, carpenter, lobsterman, librarian, and artist, and take a visual journey through the coves and rocky necks of the area. The book invites us into resident’s homes, as we read their stories, and see the landscapes in which they live, taking us into the unique environment known as Northeast Harbor—the author’s secret opening to the larger world. There are unique blues, grays, and greens that are exclusive to Maine’s dreamy seascape and are evocative of Butler’s childhood.
Butler began shooting portraits in the summer of 2003 in Northeast Harbor. She spent much of her early life in this town and has returned as a summer visitor each year since the age of sixteen. Butler’s first portraits were of people with whom she was most familiar. She wanted to know their stories, their lives, and how the community worked. Exploration of her “home” community was sufficiently complex to inspire Butler to extend the portraiture into a major project.
As Carl Little, the noted art critic, explains in the introduction to the book, “Butler works with a five-by-seven view camera. Her approach to portraiture has evolved in the years she has pursued this project. The early photographs reflect her use of guided focus, where the figure emerges out of the background, which is sometimes softened to a blur. The viewer’s eye is directed to the face, the centerpiece of many of these portraits, where we read manifold emotions, from simple pleasure to more complex moods, and study the creases and curves of each singular visage.”
Sixty people and places are brought to life through original photographs that convey and identify what it is that makes Maine culture so distinctive. Butler’s portraits reveal much about the strength, character, and enduring spirit of the people. We meet seasonal residents lounging in wicker chairs sipping coffee and reading The New York Times, while meeting yearlong residents proudly keeping shop. Celebrities such as Ralph W. Stanley, Gunnar Hansen, and painter Richard Estes also make up the diverse faces included in this stunning portraiture. An illuminating introduction by Carl Little, accompanied by profiles of some of the subjects, rounds out this gorgeous portfolio.
In the introduction to the book, Butler gently brings us into her world with an essay that is as evocative as her photographs. She writes, “Slamming the furnace room door, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl wanders down the path to the granite beach. She wears scruffy grey corduroys, a striped T-shirt, Sperry Top-Siders, and an orange life vest. The life vest bounces around her neck as she scrambles deliberately across the rocks. She will stop by her grandparents’ house after going for a row. She does not want to take the time now; the Sound is flat calm, besides it is too early.
“This was always the thing, always the space. There is a certain kind of energy that I have felt since being a girl. Early mornings the water is calm, perfect for rowing. At this time of day, the world is yours to see as you wish.
“This is where I grew up, where my ‘journey’ began” a creation of a world, a world I could enter, so as to avoid the one in which I lived.
“This world involves blues, grays, greens; this is my favorite light, favorite kind of day. It holds sadness? A good sadness, the energetic, peaceful kind. A longing. Trying to grasp something just out of reach. The weather changes so fast here on the island. You are given a moment such as this…having to give yourself to it fully or it will slip away.”
Looking Out Over Northeast Harbor from Thuya Gardens, September 2007
Maura Benjamin, sunporch of her summer-house, June 2004
Dot, at McGrath’s, September 2004
Katie and Brace, at studio, June 2004