The 4 Photo Books That Best Capture Maine

More than just coffee table decorations, these classic Maine photography collections have all the storytelling heft of a great novel.

By Benjamin Williamson
From our June 2020 issue
Night Train at Wiscasset Station | by Kosti Ruohomaa, text by Lew Dietz

Night Train at Wiscasset Station, by Kosti Ruohomaa, text by Lew Dietz 

Kosti Ruohomaa, who lived in Rockland, was the founding father of Maine’s visual narrative during the golden age of photography. A regular contributor to Life in the ’40s and ’50s (as well as this magazine), he didn’t focus exclusively on Maine, but it’s where he shot his best-known and most memorable work. The focus of Night Train is the self-reliant Maine Yankee, resistant to the forces of change, here at what Dietz (a founding Down East editor) called “America’s outpost.” Nostalgic even when they were shot in the 1940s, Ruohamaa’s black-and-white photos showcase a vanishing world of horse-drawn plows, river-driven logs, and one-room schoolhouses. Still, the images are stark and unsentimental.

Maine, by Eliot Porter 

The phrase “intimate landscapes,” which Eliot Porter used as the title of an earlier book, aptly describes this portfolio focused on the photographer’s lifelong summertime home. Porter, a pioneer in the use of color in landscape photography, found delight in close, cleverly composed shots of rocks, shells, and plant life. There are some surprisingly sweeping images in here (a colorful sunrise from his family’s place on Great Spruce Head Island, for example), but the most striking are of lichens on fallen logs, carefully studied rock formations, and the like. It’s also fun to see Porter’s careful eye trained on lobster buoys, weathered siding, and other parts of the man-made environment.

Maine | by Eliot Porter
Sightings: A Maine Coast Odyssey | by Peter Ralston

Sightings: A Maine Coast Odyssey, by Peter Ralston

“Go deep,” Peter Ralston was told by his friend and mentor Andrew Wyeth, and that’s just what he does in this love letter to Maine’s fishing communities, first published in 1997. A cofounder of Maine’s Island Institute, Ralston knows how to find unexpected beauty in harsh landscapes and seascapes, but it’s his images of the people who dwell there — often at work, often in boats — that best reveal the patience and deep understanding of communities that went into this remarkable body of work. The cover image of sheep in a dory is one of Ralston’s, and Maine’s, most recognizable.

Maine: The Seasons, by Terrell S. Lester

This collection is nothing if not varied: macro shots of lobsterboats in the harbor feel equally at home next to photos of solitary oaks in the snow. Terrell S. Lester’s fondness for his home base of Deer Isle is particularly evident, and the book benefits from essays on the seasons by powerhouse authors Elizabeth Strout, Ann Beattie, Richard Russo, and Richard Ford.

Maine: The Seasons | by Terrell S. Lester

See more books every lover of Maine should read!

April 2024, Down East Magazine

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