Blueberry rakers of Maine at PMA

Posted Tuesday, March 26, 2013 in Culture

Blueberry rakers of Maine at PMA

Image credit: David Brooks Stess, Javier and Family, c. 2002, gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 inches. Courtesy of VoxPhotographs, © David Brooks Stess.

PORTLAND — As part of the innovative Circa Series featuring the work of Maine’s best contemporary artists, the Portland Museum of Art will exhibit photographs by David Brooks Stess. "Blueberry Rakers: Photographs by David Brooks Stess" will be on view April 6 through May 19.

Stess has spent more than two decades photographing the annual blueberry harvest in northern Maine, raking alongside Native American Mainers and migrant field hands from south of our borders. His striking images capture the physical aspects of their labor, as well as their social life in workers’ camps at the edge of the fields. The exhibit will feature  50 gelatin silver prints — among them striking portraits, candid documentary scenes, and looming landscape views. By focusing his camera on the hard realities of manual labor and the relationships among the workers, Stess brings an unsentimental view to his subject.

In recent decades blueberry raking has become a large agri-business with more mechanized ways of harvesting that endanger the traditional method of hand-raking, which is quickly and quietly disappearing. This exhibition examines both sides of this dilemma. In his essay for the Circa brochure, noted author Richard Russo touches on this subject as he delves into the heart of Stess’s photographs.

An icon of rural life in Maine and one of the culinary stars of this state, the blueberry has inspired numerous recipes. During the exhibition, some of Maine’s best food providers, including Fore Street restaurant and Aurora Provisions, will share their favorite blueberry recipes with museum visitors.

Born in New Jersey and raised in Florida, Stess attended the University of Miami, where he studied history, film and photography. From states with large migrant agricultural communities, Stess eventually carried their concerns with him first to New York City and eventually to New England, where he supports his photography career with seasonal work raking blueberries, picking apples, and selling Christmas trees. Stess’s documentary work is informed by this first-hand experience, as well as a deep admiration for the photographs of Josef Koudelka, who lived with Europe’s nomadic gypsies, and Danny Lyon, who rode his motorcycle alongside America’s biker gangs.

Circa is a series of exhibitions featuring the work of living artists from Maine and beyond. Circa is supported by S. Donald Sussman. Corporate sponsorship is provided by The VIA Agency.

The Portland Museum of Art is located at 7 Congress Square in downtown Portland. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; closed Monday until Memorial Day. Admission is $12 for adults; $10 for seniors and students with I.D.; $6 ages 13-17; and free for under 12. On Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m., admission is free.

 

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