All of the pride, courage, and roguishness woven into Maine’s seafaring heritage are on display in the grin and the posture of Captain Lincoln A. Colcord, photographed here on the deck of his ship, the State of Maine, as it rounded the Cape of Good Hope on a journey to Asia in 1900. The photographer was 18-year-old Joanna Colcord, the captain’s daughter. Born and largely raised at sea, Joanna learned photography from her uncle, Frederick Ross Sweetser, a prominent turn-of-the-century Mainer and early adopter of glass plate photography.
“It was very unusual, at the time, for a woman to be a photographer,” says Kevin Johnson, photo archivist at Searsport’s Penobscot Marine Museum. “It was pretty much a man’s hobby.” The museum today houses around 600 of Joanna’s glass and cellulose negatives. Many were taken aboard her father’s ships; others are candid, almost anthropological shots of people and street scenes in far-flung ports. But this portrait of Joanna’s father, Johnson says, is the museum’s most quintessential maritime image.
“Most of the images we have of sea captains are these formal portraits from photographers’ studios, or even paintings, because photography was hardly invented yet,” Johnson explains. “There aren’t a ton of photos of people on these ships and schooners at sea. You can see the waters lay higher than the back of the boat, and the propeller on the taffrail log is just a blur, so they’re cruising. And that guy, he’s just standing there, proud and loose.” A little too loose, if you asked the captain’s wife: Jane Colcord apparently deplored the photo because her husband didn’t have his teeth in. More than a century later, though, Joanna Colcord’s classic shot of her dad still has more bite than any other image from Maine’s nautical history.