By Catherine J.S. Lee

Beloved local newspaper owner/publisher/editor Edward French of The Quoddy Tides presented “People and Place: 40 Years of Quoddy Tides Photographs” to a capacity crowd at the Eastport Arts Center (EAC) on Sunday, January 14th, as part of the Sunday Afternoons at the Arts Center Series.

French presented 31 slides of black-and-white portraits and news photos that have appeared in the newspaper, all of them demonstrating both newsworthiness and human interest. French, who began photography in high school, noted that the essentials were “being in the right place, timing and anticipation” if one were to achieve a photo that would transcend the moment.

Several photos documented vanishing ways of life: a worker at a carding machine at the woolen mill; the owner of one of the last small dairy farms in Washington County; a sardine carrier and scaler pumping out a weir. Others recorded indigenous cultural moments, including building a birch bark canoe, gathering sweetgrass and setting up elver nets. News events were also featured, including the fire that destroyed the Holmes Packing sardine cannery, the sinking of the tug Nickpatrick, the ice storm of 1998 and the collapse of a crane loading wood pulp aboard an open-hatch ship.

AT THE CARDING MACHINE at the Guilford woolen mill in Eastport is Roland LaVallee, as the mill
announced plans for expansion in October 1987. Photo by Edward French.

At the start of his presentation, French invited audience participation, and many questions and comments followed several of the photos. The local fisheries and sardine factories occasioned many questions and anecdotes. One question concerned getting the subject (in that case, an elderly farmer) to feel comfortable being photographed. French suggested that talking and getting to know the person, considering other elements in the composition and using a longer lens in order to be farther away and less intrusive were some keys to a good photo.

LUBEC’S LAST WORLD WAR I VETERAN, Claire Ramsdell, is shown in November 1993 when he was 98. “We were trying to help our country,” he said of his service. “We just did all we could.” Photo by Edward French.

Another question concerned photo-manipulation in the digital age. French noted that beyond increasing contrast and lightening a face, news photos should not be manipulated in any way. Accuracy in how things actually are is uppermost for news photos, and while accuracy was amply demonstrated in French’s presentation, the audience saw as well that news photos purposefully and effectively composed can indeed rise to the level of art. 

Catherine J.S. Lee is an Eastport educator and fiction writer who serves as president of Peavey Memorial Library and as a board member of the EAC.

Sunday Afternoons at the Arts Center programs are held in Eastport Arts Center’s cozy downstairs Washington Street Gallery, amidst rotating exhibitions. Admission is by voluntary donation; proceeds are shared equally between the presenters and EAC ongoing program The Concert Series, which offers year-round programming run by volunteers. No one is turned away for lack of funds. Find the full 2024 schedule and more posts about upcoming and past programs may be found at eastportartscenter.org/the-concert-series.