All posts by Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.

5@50: Sneakers in the sky and pigeons on the ground

The rules of my game are simple: get five pictures with a 50mm lens one a single jaunt through Portland.

This is what I saw today.

See more of my efforts HERE.

Every street is a stage

I walk the streets in my city, Portland, whenever I can. In the summer, there’s no lack of colorful folks on the street. Musicians and street performers abound. Here’s a few I’ve photographed this year.

 

The Frame: Late night at the State House

Maine House of Representatives Sergeant at Arms Normand Arbor and page Alyson Pelletier rip notices off the wall as legislators leave the House early Wednesday morning after passing a two-year budget. Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Maine House of Representatives Sergeant at Arms Normand Arbor and page Alyson Pelletier rip notices off the wall as legislators leave the House early Wednesday morning after passing a two-year budget. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

The time stamp on this photo reads 12:45 a.m. The smile on page Alyson Pelletier’s face spoke for most everyone. Lots of folks were unhappy with the details of the two-year budget the Legislature had just approved, but nobody was sad to go home.

I stayed until the bitter end, as the budget bounced back and forth between the Senate and the House for the various procedural votes. I was hoping to get fist pump pictures or maybe a high-five. But that didn’t happen. Everyone was too exhausted.

I filed out the door of the House with everyone else and heard a gleeful ripping of paper. That’s where I found what might have been the only smile in the building, on Pelletier’s face.

– TROY.

5@50 June 11, 2015

Whenever I can, I head into downtown Portland and come back with five pictures taken with my trusty 50mm lens. Then I post them here without Photoshop tricks or crazy cropping.

It’s a personal challenge. Click on the 5@50 tag below to see more.

Moving Todd Webb into photography’s “Pantheon”

 

 

Todd Webb, the extraordinary 20th century American photographer, died two weeks before I took my first daily newspaper job at The Times Record in Brunswick. Until shortly before, he’d lived nearby in Bath and his optimistic residue was still floating over the midcoast as I began to crank the film advance on my own career.

That was the spring of 2000 and people talked about Todd and his wife, Lucille, wherever I went. They all told me I would have liked him. The Webbs seemed to leave a trail of friends wherever they went.

A couple weeks ago, my friend, and fellow motorcyclist, Ray Sapirstein, invited me to visit the Todd Webb photographic archive in Portland. It was started in 2008, after Lucille died, by Betsy Evans Hunt, a gallery owner and their surrogate daughter.

“My purpose is to elevate Todd’s work to, as I term it,  ‘The Pantheon’ where I believe he belongs,” Hunt said in an office stuffed with Webb’s non-commercial prints and negatives.

The archive is dedicated to scholarly research and promotion of Todd Webb’s considerable photographic legacy. It was a real treat to get a tour and up close look at his work.

To tell you more about the man, I’m turning this blog over to the man who gave me my start in the business. He was my first boss and mentor, I owe everything to him: former Managing Editor of The Times Record, James McCarthy.

– TROY

Todd and Lucille Webb, Kansas City, 1986. Courtesy of Todd Webb Photographs
Todd and Lucille Webb, Kansas City, 1986. Courtesy of Todd Webb Photographs

 

I came to know Todd Webb in the early and mid-1980s, first through his photographs, which I saw in a couple of exhibitions held in Portland.

His images celebrated those scenes we invariably see out of the corner of our eyes, as we’re walking from Point A to Point B, and which we rarely stop to appreciate.  It was obvious to me that Todd made a point of stopping to appreciate those moments and that his skills as a photographer were more than up to the challenge of helping others appreciate the beauty that surrounds us if we only took the time to truly see it.

A few years later, I was living in Bath and occasionally would notice a white-haired gentleman walking with his wife in neighborhoods with these elegant 19th Century homes set off by lilac bushes and well-tended flower gardens. I inquired about them and my neighbor knew immediately who I was talking about, describing them as “the couple who always walk together”: Todd and Lucille Webb.

I never intruded on those walks, and might well have never gotten to know Todd and Lucille if not for my work as a reporter and editor at The Times Record.

Occasionally, we’d get press releases about some exhibition featuring Todd’s work, or the publication of several books of his images that came out in the early 1990s. I found Todd’s name in a phone book and called him to see if he’d agree to be interviewed for a story tied to those events. He always graciously accepted.

I’ll never forget that first interview: He suggested we meet at their house on North Street for lunch. When I arrived, I was amazed to see Todd at the stove, stirring a large pot of Creole crab gumbo. It was delicious … a five-star dinner that to this day is the best gumbo I’ve ever had.

After the lunch, Todd showed me his darkroom set up in a spare bathroom; it was as makeshift as any darkroom I’ve ever set up for myself. We went into a front room, where I immediately noticed an original Georgia O’Keeffe watercolor and a large whitened cow’s skull hanging nearby that I assumed she had given Todd and Lucille.

Todd acknowledged they had been close friends of “O’Keeffe,” as he called her, and then he told me the story of how she had enlisted him to help her bury a beloved chow that had just died and how it probably weighed more than 100 pounds and that by the time she found exactly the right spot to dig the grave he was soaked in sweat from carrying it across the gravelly New Mexico landscape. There was a kind of ‘gee whiz’ quality to his story, which I soon discovered was very much part of Todd’s persona.

In that interview and others, Todd never put on airs that he thought of himself as a “great photographer.”

Here’s a guy who was friends with Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe, who knew Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Berenice Abbott and Harry Callahan, among others; who had photographed Bertolt Brecht and Ira Gershwin, among others; who’d been awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships to follow the trails of the Gold Rush era across the American West when he was in his 50s; who was still photographing in his 80s, having been to Venice a couple of times. But he chose to describe himself, simply, as “the guy who HAD to photograph” … for Todd, that was the truest statement he could make about himself, and any other superlatives would have to come from others.

At the time, I was then in my early 40s and was beginning to realize the vanity of my early 20s sense of myself that “some day, some way” I would gain some recognition for my photography. By example and by sharing his own philosophy of living so freely, Todd freed me from such self-destructive and ultimately (for me at least) not useful thoughts.

Since the early 1990s, I’ve consciously placed myself in the Todd Webb camp of just doing my work for the love of it, being as true as I can to my feelings about my subjects and the unique qualities of photography as an expressive medium, and not worry about anything else.

I also revised my notion of what “old age” is all about: Todd and Lucille, even in their 90s, were an incredibly alive and engaging couple. Good role models as I find myself now on the other side of 60. In a very real way, Todd Webb became my personal patron saint for late-bloomers. I’ve learned a lot from looking deeply at his incredible photographs and from the stories he shared. I feel blessed to have known Todd and Lucille during that period of my life.

– James McCarthy

 

5@50 April 27, 2015

It’s been a while. So, sue me.

I could lie and say I was busy, but I won’t. I’ll tell you the truth: the weather was too darn miserable.

This set of pictures, this whole one-lens-no-cropping-no-Photoshop experiment, requires me to walk around the city. I’m mostly cold-proof but I just couldn’t bring myself to hang around outside. Nobody else was around anyway. They were all scurrying to and fro.

In the future, I’ll try and stick closer to my once-a-week goal.

Anyway, now the weather’s getting better and there’s more to see on the streets of my dear old town. I hope you like what I saw.

– TROY.

“Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” showcase Maine’s best skateboarders


Parts in order of appearance:
Alex Winslow 01:14
Tyler Gibbs 02:30
Street Interlude 03:55
Garrett Brooks 04:38
Dave Labbe 05:16
Matt Seavy 06:17
Barroom Interlude: 09:17
Friends Interlude 09:34
Sean Hernandez & Tim Nichols 13:25
Jay Brown 14:44
Mike Gustafson 17:32
Credits 20:24

Filmed by Jimmy Collins and Joe Radano.
Edited by Joe Radano.

Portland skaters and filmmakers Jimmy Collins (left) and Joe Radano recently released a 25-minute video featuring Maine's best skateboarders. The video, released in conjunction with Step Dad magazine, was more than two years in the making. Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Portland skaters and filmmakers Jimmy Collins (left) and Joe Radano recently released a 25-minute video featuring Maine’s best skateboarders. The video, released in conjunction with Step Dad magazine, was more than two years in the making. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

From the time they first got on skateboards in grade school, Joe Radano, now 27, and Jimmy Collins, 29, have been filming their exploits with all the sick tricks — and hard falls — included.

The duo recently released a 25-minute video in conjunction with Step Dad magazine that looks to put Maine on the skating map. It features more than 20 of the state’s best boarders, all of whom are friends, skating in parks, under bridges, at constructions sites and shooting down Portland’s hills.

Filming commenced almost two-and-a-half years ago and, at first, they didn’t have a feature film in mind. They were just shooting their skating pals, as usual.

“It didn’t really start until we had a bunch of footage,” said Collins as he sipped a pint of beer in Portland’s Downtown Lounge.

They split their time behind the camera, often shadowing their subjects on skateboards, swerve-for-swerve, themselves. Then Radano spend the winter editing 30 months worth of footage together.

“It took about five months,” said Radano.

Maine, covered in snow for half the year, is not widely known for its skateboarding terrain. Radano and Collins hope their video will spread the word that Maine has a distinct skating culture and scene from, say, Boston.

“A lot of people don’t know that Maine has sick spots, too,” said Collins, a Bangor native. “People are ripping and killing it, here.”

The pair are already at work on their next project, working with Portland-based skate and apparel shop Recession. They’re not sure how long the next video will take, but they don’t care. It’s a labor of love and they’re not in it for the money.

“It’s hard work, but when you look at it, it’s just hanging with your friends,” said Collins. “So, it’s not that bad.”

Randy Rhoads, Gene Simmons and more: Four decades of rock photography in Portland

 

 

Portland native, James Pappaconstantine, 52, has been watching rock and roll memories transpire through his camera’s viewfinder for almost 40 years. He’s shot the likes of Alice Cooper, Blue Öyster Cult, Pat Benatar, the Ramones, Judas Priest, J. Geils Band, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart and Nazareth.

Pappaconstantine got thrown out of Three Dollar Dewey’s in the Old Port with Iron Maiden. He hung out on Mötley Crüe’s tour bus on Congress Street. He met Gene Simmons of Kiss without his makeup on (in the days when no one saw him without it) but didn’t dare take a picture.

In the 1980s, he got in trouble with the fuzz after partying with Quiet Riot in his apartment. Ask him for the details on that one.

Pappaconstantine started out in 1977 with a Kodak Instamatic, in the days when you could bring a camera right into a rock show. It had an extension for a rotating, four-sided flash cube. He remembers it looking like a lighthouse on top. Then he saw some pictures a buddy had shot at a Jethro Tull show with a Pentax K1000 35mm camera.

“He had way better photos than I did,” said Pappaconstantine during an interview in Portland. “I was like — wow — I gotta’ get a better camera.”

Less than a year later the buddy sold his Pentax to Pappaconstantine’s mother, who gave it to him for his 18th birthday.

“I used that camera forever,” he said.

Portland native James Pappaconstantine has been shooting rock'n'roll concert photos since he was a teenager in the 1970s. His pictures have appeared in magazines, on posters and graced album jackets. Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Portland native James Pappaconstantine has been shooting rock’n’roll concert photos since he was a teenager in the 1970s. His pictures have appeared in magazines, on posters and graced album jackets. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Back then, he shot straight from the audience. He didn’t have any special access. Standing in line outside, often in the cold, he waited to get into shows at the head of the crowd. Then, he’d make a dash for the standing room right in front of the stage. Once there, he did his best to cling to the barricade in the surging crowd.

“If I didn’t (get up front) I’d always get heads or hands in my shots,” he said.

Money was tight for the teenage Pappaconstantine and he didn’t have film to waste on photos of concertgoers’ noggins and hairdos.

“I could afford a concert ticket and then maybe a roll of film — maybe two,” he said.

After the show, with the concert still ringing in his ears, Pappaconstantine would drop his film off at the Fotomat and wait a week to see if his pictures came out well. Sometimes he was happy, sometimes he was disappointed.

“Then, right around 1980, I had this brilliant idea,” he remembers.

At the top row of the Cumberland County Civic Center, where most of the big rock shows used to take place, there was a booth where radio broadcasters would call hockey games. Pappaconstantine realized there were folding chairs in that booth.

Instead of waiting in line to get in first and run for the barricade, he’d run like Rocky Balboa to the booth at the top of the stairs. There, he’d grab a folding chair and sprint back down to the floor and find a spot to stand.

During the show, when he wanted to take a picture, Pappaconstantine unfolded the chair, hopped on, aimed and fired away. Then he’d hop back down before security noticed. By then, rockers were starting to ban cameras at shows.

“I’d be above all the heads and hands and I could get good shots,” he said.

His system worked out great, for a while.

In 1981, he was shooting pictures of Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist, Randy Rhoades, from his temporary perch on a folding chair when his plan fell apart.

“I kept seeing this flashlight point at me,” he said. “I thought, ‘what is going on?’”

Suddenly, he felt hands seize him and pull him off his chair. Security guards dragged him out of the crowd and into the hallway where they threatened to break his camera if he didn’t hand over the film. Pappaconstantine was 19 or 20 years old at the time and pretty freaked out.

He gave them film from his camera. It’s something he still regrets.

The roll of film in the camera had, what he thought would be, great photos of Randy Rhoads — who died the next year at age 25, going down in history as one of the greatest and most influential rock guitarists of all times.

The guards didn’t get the roll he had in his pants pocket, though. It had a few, precious shots of Rhoads, but mostly pictures of an unknown opening act called Def Leppard.

“Back then, in the back of every magazine, people were selling photos,” he said. “The record companies weren’t getting anything from it.”

So, he said he understands why artists and their managers want to control who is taking pictures at a show — up to a point.

“For me, I wasn’t selling my work. I was creating a memory that I could always look back on,” he said. “I think that’s what photographs do.”

Around 400 shows later, Pappaconstantine is still shooting at concerts. His camera has a digital chip in it instead of a roll of film, but his outlook is just the same. Although he often shoots on official assignment for magazines and websites, and his pictures have graced artist’s CD packaging and posters, he still doesn’t do it for money. He does it for the love of music, pictures and memories.

Diary of a River: Maine woman uses 120 pinhole cameras to document the Kennebec

Maine photographer Johanna Moore lives and works on the Kennebec River in Central Maine.  I saw her photos at USM’s Glickman Family Library in Portland. They are on display there through May 29.

I asked her to share her project — how she did it, what it means, and the photos themselves — and she agreed. For that, I am grateful.

– Troy

This project started in a beaver bog near my home in Central Maine. I made several Solargraphs there for an upcoming pinhole camera workshop I was leading for the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell.

Solargraphs are long exposure pinhole photographs. The exposures can be as little as one day or as long as six months. The streaks you see in these images are the sun as it travels across the sky. Any spaces you see between the streaks are overcast days.

Solargraphs track the sun between solstices and mark its rise and decent on the horizon as the earth changes its tilt.

Starting in April of last year I built 120 pinhole cameras out of metal cans of various shapes and sizes and drilled pinhole apertures to match the size of each can. I lined them with photographic paper and, at the summer solstice, travelled the Kennebec River, from Indian Pond to Phippsburg, and set them in place to see what they might capture.

When this project started I looked at it as a way to document the different weather patterns we see from one region in Maine to the next. In a single day it could be raining in the Forks and cloudless at Popham Beach.

I hoped these images would show a visual diary comparing weather over the 170 miles of the Kennebec River

As the project progressed my response to it changed. I met people living and working along the river, saw flourishing farmlands, and boarded up factories.

Kennebec River camera mapI took time out of my days to sit along the Kennebec River in Hallowell to watch the sturgeon jump.

In most areas the terrain leading to the river is steep and treacherous. I would climb down to the river holding onto my cameras in one hand and tree roots in the other hoping
I wouldn’t get sliced up on the broken beer bottles strewn everywhere.

I accessed the river through the generosity of those who donated land to regional Land Trusts, through boat launches and wildlife management areas provided by the state.

Brookfield Renewable Energy operates hydroelectric dams along the river and maintains rest areas, allows water releases for thriving whitewater rafting businesses, boating access points and camping areas. This access to the river was made possible by a long term contract negotiated with the state of Maine.

I accessed the river through the generosity of private landowners who welcomed me onto their land and who enjoyed the project updates I would send them.

Accessing the river and coming away with a body of work was not easy. Out of the 120 cameras I set out, I lost 38 to vandalism or the weather. One camera was set too low and sat in water every time the tide came in and reached the top of the bridge abutment where I installed it.

Another camera was mistaken for a geocache site; the people who found it opened the camera, signed their names to the photographic paper, and left behind a Shamrock bracelet charm.

At Nanrantsouak, north of Norridgewock, I found a memorial which said,  “The Land you walk upon has been a special place to Wabanaki people for thousands of years. A place where children were born and played, a place where elders lived their lives. Walk in respect on this land so over the next thousand years your descendants will enjoy the beauty that surrounds you”

It was through discoveries like this that changed my perception of this project. What started as an experiment transformed into an ode to the fragility of time and place.

A flowing river is a conductor of time, a leaf passes in front of you for a moment, floating on the current and you can watch that moment disappear downstream. You want to reach out and grasp that leaf to hold onto the moment, yet it is out of reach and only its fading memory remains.

The pinhole cameras captured exposures from 63-134 days. In Dan Kany’s recent Maine Sunday Telegram review of the exhibit of this body of work he said of these long exposures,” When you look at something that long, strange things appear.” I agree.

A snapshot of a scene gives you a moment in time. You see all that is in focus for that moment. These images overlay thousands of moments and make those strange things appear — inexplicable shapes and colors that you don’t see in a snapshot.

And when you look at something that long, some things disappear.
When I look at these images I forget that we massacred tribes of people to fulfill European Land Grant claims,

I forget about all the Bud Light bottles and garbage people have dumped along the riverbanks.

I forget that today conventional agriculture, private homeowners, and roadways seem to be contributing more pollution to the river than paper mills and that there are more reporting requirements to import fertile chicken eggs into the state than there are to import pesticides.

I forget that Cianbro has plans to build a superhighway through the Dead River watershed of the Kennebec River as it bisects the State of Maine

I forget about the fragility of this place because, when I look at the images, I see that what has burned into the photographic paper is what is important. I see what is important for the Kennebec and for all waterways

And that’s The River, the life that flourishes there, and the light that shines along its course.

A friend of mine saw the project and said: these river solargraphs are an essay of life’s movement and its range from darkness to a celestial light. They celebrate the river and connect a question.
What is our responsibility as humans to the stewardship of this wonder, and of all the wonders in the world?

– Johanna Moore

5@50 February 25, 2015

It’s been a while since I did this. It shows. I’m out of practice.

In fact, I haven’t gone out on a 5@50 hunt since before we had any serious snow. It was way back at the beginning of January that I last roamed the streets of Portland (my hometown) looking to make five pictures with my trusty 50mm lens.

I admit, these photos are not my best work. But I’m committed to posting whatever I come up with — no crazy cropping, Photoshop tricks or pictures taken over several different days — just five pictures at 50mm.

That’s a challenge, but challenging myself is the point.