PORTLAND — Looking as lovely as Coco Chanel wearing a black hat, white scarf and black pantsuit, Madeleine de Sinety exuded the grace and understated elegance of a worldly French woman.

The documentary photographer, who has captured moments in the everyday lives of people in rural areas on several continents, was seated at a lecture on Sept. 13 at the Portland Museum of Art.

Lecturing was renowned photographer and conceptual artist William Wegman, who spoke casually and with humor about his famous Polaroid portraits of his Weimaraners — and his friendship with de Sinety, who, like him, lives in Rangeley.

“Madeleine is a remarkable photographer and has a rare eye for detail,” Wegman said of de Sinety, whose exhibit, “Madeleine de Sinety: Photographs,” is on view at the PMA through Dec. 18.

On display are 71 mostly black-and-white images of French farm families living in a small region of Brittany, village life in Uganda and the work of a single logger in northern Maine.

De Sinety’s focus on everyday life is both poignant and powerful.

Her photographs effectively capture the human spirit and each image tells a story without anything superfluous.

The clear sharp-edged lines in her photography reflect her grasp on life: strong, earthy and unpretentious. All her work has a touch of the poet in its spontaneity and artistic beauty. Her works are outstanding because of their composition. She focuses on important details that remain indelible in one’s mind.

Some of her favorite works are of French families in Brittany, de Sinety said in an interview.

The global photographer said she especially likes to take photographs that show peoples’ spontaneous actions as well as their connections to the land. Some examples are images of people living in Maine titled “Matt Lord-Uphill,” “Michael Rothschild-Writer, Sculpture, Farmer,” “Slaughtering a Lamb” and “William Wegman at Work.”

De Sinety’s photographs of poverty in Uganda are moving. Among them are “End of Market Day,” “Returning From the Market” and “Young Girl Covered With Cassava Flour.”

Her photographs of village life in Poilley, France, as seen in “Lunch Under the Apple Trees,” “The Stonecutter and His Rabbit” and “Pompon ” are magnificent.

De Sinety offers powerful glimpses of character in her images titled “Mere Bourg,” “Christine and Collete-First Communion” and ”Julienne and Her New Baby.”

Of the 71 photographs in the exhibit, six are in color, three of which are outstanding: “Firewood Cart,” “Returning From the Fields” and “Whispering.”

In 1994, de Sinety was asked to take photographs of a wedding in Rangeley and was later hired to take wedding photos for international clients.

She is well known in the art community of Rockport, where she attended the Maine Photo Workshops (now Maine Media Workshops), but has kept a low profile to protect her privacy.

“I showed her work in an exhibit titled ‘Photographing Maine 1840-2000.’ When I saw her work, I thought it was fabulous; authentic, rich, and beautiful,” said Bruce Brown, former curator of what is now the Center of Maine Contemporary Art of Rockport.

“Madeleine de Sinety: Photographs” is worth seeing a number of times. It is an exhibit of subtle messages and great aesthetic beauty.

The Portland Museum of Art, at Seven Congress Square, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with ID, $4 for youths ages 6-17 and free for children under 6. Admission is free from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday.

Pat Davidson Reef has a master’s degree in education and has written two children’s books, “Dahlov Ipcar, Artist,” and “Bernard Langlais, Sculptor.”


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