Through Her Lens: Women Photographers of Mid-Coast Maine,  1895-1925

Since photography’s inception in 1839, women have been involved in the making of images. Constance Fox Talbot experimented with photography even as her husband William Fox Talbot was perfecting his process, the calotype, which generated the world’s first photographic negative in 1841. A handful of women began opening daguerreotype studios in Europe and the United States in the early 1840s, and were among the first professionals in this technical field at a time when most women either didn’t work outside the home, or were employed as domestic servants, schoolteachers, nurses, or laborers in the textile industry.

Between 1895 and 1925, five Mid-Coast Maine women were producing striking photographs of their own. As far as we know, Evie Barbour, Joanna Colcord, Ida Crie, Harriet Hichborn, and Ruth Montgomery were never acquainted. Their circumstances, abilities, approaches, reasons for photographing, and the geographical range available to each of them for making pictures, varied widely. Colcord and Montgomery travelled with seafaring families to far-flung ports; Crie and Hichborn were enthusiastic and imaginative amateurs; and Barbour was a professional, producing real-photo postcards after the death of her first husband. This exhibit showcases the myriad subjects that caught the gaze of these women, in Maine and beyond. We are invited to look—through her lens—at unique views of coastal Maine life, portraits, intimate domestic scenes, life aboard ship, and bustling foreign ports.

That these collections have been preserved, and are available to us today, suggests that the efforts of these women were recognized and respected by others, in many cases by their descendants. This exhibit explores the multitude of ways women mediated—through the lens of the camera—shifting roles in public and domestic life during a time of great social change in Maine and the nation. Women incorporated camera work into their daily lives, as artists, amateurs, preservationists, professionals, and as travelers and explorers, while photography altered the way men, women, and children saw the world, themselves, and each other.

The Penobscot Marine Museum wishes to thank the Maine Humanities Council for a generous grant which helped make this exhibit possible. PMM also warmly thanks Libby Bischof and Mazie Hough, both professors in the University of Maine system, whose consultation was endlessly valuable in shaping the exhibit.

Share your insights

It's our intention that this exhibit inspires our visitors to ask questions and to reflect on their own experiences. What we know about these 5 women photographers comes, in some cases, from their descendants; from written records; or from oral history.

However, what might the photographs themselves say about the photographers? Based on what you know—or can infer—about their lives, do the images suggest anything about the extent of their education, about personality, gender, age, economic circumstances, or upbringing?

Today, with the widespread availability and use of cameras, nearly everyone is a photographer. We take pictures all the time, and typically we don’t consider how they reflect who we are. Ansel Adams observed, “You don't take a photograph, you make it.” When we make a particular photograph, what are saying? How are we saying it?

We invite our visitors to share their thoughts and impressions in the comments area below, and to upload photographs of their own to add to our collection.

While a picture may be worth a thousand words, please supply a few more by filling out the short form on the upload page. Tell us something about your photograph and, if you choose, about you. Does your image say anything about who you are? Why did you take the picture? Does taking a picture of something in any way affect how you see that thing?

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