From Weir to Can

Maine Sardine Council Collection
LB1998.12.2549.6, LB1998.12.2559.1, LB1998.12.2560.7, LB1998.12.2563.1

Images of people at work tend to be prosaic, but a glance at these photographs makes clear that this photographer knew how to use the frame with candor and artistry. In 1951, the Maine Sardine Council hired Finnish American Kosti Ruohomaa to document the sardine industry. The Maine Legislature created the Council that year to promote high standards for the sardine industry and made it responsible for grading and inspections as well.

The sardine industry was complex; one photo could not encapsulate it. Ruohomaa was a master of the photo essay. He captured the action and the human condition. He knew where to stand, where the sun was, and how to use a scene’s natural geometry. He also posed subjects, took multiple shots and used artificial lights.

Look at the strain on the faces of the fisherman at the Dix Island weir taking up the net. Notice how the suction hose, on the sardine carrier JACOB PIKE, forms a frame within the frame. See the dynamic form of the worker pulling racks of sardine tins out of the steam cooker and see the blur of the hands of the woman packing endless cans. Sixty years later, the last sardine factory in Maine closed and a way of life was over.

Why Weir to Can?
It was a stroke of good fortune to find twenty rolls of film taken by one of Maine’s most notable photographers in the Maine Sardine Council Collection. It was a no-brainer to have a Kosti image in the 20 Best, but why pick just one?

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