PORTLAND — A classic is universal and timeless. It is judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality of its kind. Some remarkable classics in the photography field can be found in the current exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art titled “American Vision: Photography from the Collection of Owen and Anna Wells.”

The collection includes 69 works recently given to the museum. More than 35 beautiful works are shown in the 4th floor gallery, where a viewer can focus on individual works with quiet ease.

This exhibit, curated by Zmira Zilkha, holds many subtle surprises and is a wonderful addition to the PMA collection.

The Owen and Anna Wells collection includes some of the finest classics in photography of the 20th century. Selected prints on view include photographs by such famous photographers as: Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Margaret Burke White, Paul Strand, William Wegman, Berenice Abbott, Philippe Halsman, Imogen Cunningham, Robert Mapplethorpe, Paul Caponigro and George Tice, to name only a few. A broad range of styles of the 20th century are shown in the Wells Collection which creates an interesting study of the growth of photography between 1906 and 2000.

Photography has developed as an artistic medium over the years. The camera, once considered a mechanical entity, in the past, has now been totally accepted as an art form. It reflects a mastery of skills using a wide variety of sophisticated equipment and expertise in the use of perspective, composition, and shading. It includes talent in capturing the spontaneous moment, including creating moods and atmosphere with different lenses and uses of overlaying negatives. It is a sophisticated art form which gives us great visual pleasure aesthetically, but is also used to document important events as in photo journalism.

In the early 1900s museums did not show photography. Alfred Stieglitz in the 1920s and 30s established photography as an art form in his gallery in New York City. Stieglitz died in 1946 but inspired photographers to be accepted in museums before his death. Now museums are showing photography exhibits with great respect making the public aware of their important artistic value. The Portland Museum of Art has an extensive photography collection and the Owen and Anna Wells Collection expands this important field. Owen Wells was ahead of his time in collecting photography and continues to collect today.

One of the most beautiful works in the Wells’ Collection is titled “Amish Boy Lancaster County Pennsylvania,” gelatin silver print, (1962) by George Tice, who captured a young boy’s innocence with sensitivity.

Another excellent work is titled “Apple Orchard Tesuque NM,” Dye imbibition print, (1981) by Paul Caponigro. A tree in an apple orchard is covered with snow which looks like Maine right now. Its composition is symmetrical and it captures a lyrical beauty.

Eliot Porter’s photograph titled “White flowers in Black Ash Clif Breidhidalur,” Dye imbibition print, (1972) is a subtle, beautiful visual poem of nature emerging between cracks in a boulder.

Berenice Abbott’s photograph titled “House in Belfast Along Route 1,” gelatin silver print (1954) captures an old Victorian house in Maine, a hidden treasure of architecture, in a small town on the coast.

Paul Strand’s work titled “Young Girl, Luzzara” gelatin silver print, (1953) is poignant and thought provoking.

Ansel Adams’ photograph titled “Graduation Dress, Yosemite Valley CA,” gelatin silver Print (1948) shows a young girl leaning on a huge redwood tree trunk. The contrast between a small human being against the gigantic force of nature is revealed in the photograph.

Margaret Burke-White’s work “Troopers, Syria,” gelatin silver Print, (1940) is powerful. She was the first female war correspondent and staff photographer at Life Magazine and helped define photojournalism.

Other works of significance include: Imogen Cunningham’s work titled, “Jonathan Elkus on the Bassoon,” gelatin silver print (1943),William Wegman’s work,“Knotts Berry Farm Ride” (1986) and Arthur Rothstein’s photograph titled “Milton Avery and His Wife Sally,” gelatin silver print (1950).

Last, but not least, is a powerful self-portrait by Philippe Halsman, gelatin silver print mounted on board, (1979). A sharp silhouette of the photographer creates a visual pun of the past in historic photography with this severely modern hard edge work of the present.

Be sure to put it on your calendar to explore this cold winter. It will warm your heart.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday Saturday and Sunday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Closed on Mondays.

Admission is $12 for adults,$10 for seniors and students with I.D. and $6 for youths ages 13-17.  Children 12 and under are free. Friday evenings 5  to 9 p.m. the museum is open free of charge to the public. For more information call 207 -775-6148.

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