In 2016, Falmouth-based photographer Joanne Arnold saw a New York Times story about MaineWorks, a Maine-based for-profit employment agency that matches recovering addicts and ex-inmates with construction jobs. Arnold was so taken by the company’s mission, she immediately called founder Margo Walsh and asked whether she had any use for a photographer. The next day, Walsh brought Arnold along on her job-site rounds, and Arnold has been photographing MaineWorks participants almost daily ever since. Her photos accompany senior editor Virginia M. Wright’s story “Saints & Sinners” in our November issue.
“People need to know what’s happening with this group — it’s extraordinary,” Arnold says. “It’s brutally difficult, what they’re trying to achieve. Margo is out there literally with her sleeves rolled up, with a group of people who are so broken, and here she is saying, ‘No worries, we got this. I’ll get you a job, and if you do it, you’ll be able to get your family back, your home back.’ Who’s doing that today? Who’s holding that kind of ferocious love for people?”
A professional strength-trainer when she isn’t shooting photos, Arnold is also one of 12 speakers on the bill at this year’s TEDxDirigo, on November 3, at the Portland campus of the University of New England. “What If?” is the 2018 theme of the Down East–sponsored event, which utilizes the popular TED Talk format to explore big ideas about innovation and creativity in Maine. Arnold’s presentation draws on her experience of photographing MaineWorks employees — and how it changed her views about addicts and what’s possible for them. What if, she asks, the time it takes for a shutter to click — 1/500th of a second — is enough to create meaningful connection and change? “It’s about realizing that a shift in perspective needn’t take a lot of time,” she explains. “It’s about learning to be open to your own 1/500th-of-a-second experience, this moment when grace arrives.”