Portland Camera Club members Bill Shumaker, Sue Sturtevant and Richard Sawyer at the Woodfords Club in Portland, with three historic photos that will be included in an upcoming exhibition marking the club’s 125th anniversary. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Sue Sturtevant really likes the fact that people take pictures on their phone.

“The cellphone is just so compatible with our daily lives, and I’m happy that so many people now consider themselves photographers,” said Sturtevant, 77, a retired museum director who lives in Portland. “They’re learning to look more closely at things and to appreciate what they’re seeing. The photos may not be technically superb, but the fact is, the more you look, the more you learn.”

Sturtevant’s opinion might seem surprising, given she’s an active member of the Portland Camera Club, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. It was founded in 1899, some 100 years before cellphone cameras became mainstream, and when cameras required film. The purpose stated in the club’s charter was “to promote friendly relations between persons interested in photography and kindred subjects and for the advancement of knowledge in the science and art of photography.”

To celebrate its long history and to follow its original mission of promoting photography in all its forms, the club is organizing a photo exhibit next month titled “125 Years of the Portland Camera Club: Seeking the Magic Light.” It will feature 19 images made by past and current members and will be on view March 1-31 at the Portland Public Library’s Community Gallery. Members hope to arrange for the exhibit to be on view at other sites around the state as well, later in the year.

This photo of a fire in Bangor in 1911, by Leyland Whipple, will be part of the Portland Camera Club’s upcoming exhibition. Photo by Leyland Whipple

The works in the upcoming exhibit represent the wide range of subjects captured by members over the years, in Maine and around the world. There’s a dramatic photo of a massive fire along Bangor’s riverfront in 1911, one of the best-known surviving images of the blaze, taken by longtime member Leyland Whipple.

Member Ethel Wight captured a candid photo of aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, with his plane, on July 24, 1927, in Old Orchard Beach. He had completed his historic solo trans-Atlantic flight – the first ever – just two months earlier. Lawyer and club member Eddie Richardson Jr. is represented in the show with an image of laundry hanging on a clothesline on the edge of Portland’s Old Port in 1977.


Current member and avid bird watcher Linda Cullivan of Scarborough drove to an Audubon wildlife sanctuary in Ipswich, Massachusetts, about 10 years ago, after a friend told her about some Pileated Woodpecker chicks who looked ready to leave the nest. Cullivan, 73, a retired retirement plan administrator, was able to photograph the adult in mid-hover, about to feed the chicks, their mouths wide open. Her photo was selected for the show.

Portland Camera Club members Linda and Mike Cullivan of Scarborough with their images that will be included in the club’s 125th anniversary exhibition. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Her husband, Mike Cullivan, also had a photo of a fox selected that he took during a snowstorm at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in 2018. The couple was on a group tour of the park in a snow coach – a vehicle with tracks, like a snowmobile – when they spotted the fox. Once out of the coach and about 100 yards from the fox, Cullivan adjusted the speed of the camera, to the point where some of the fox’s fur and the snow were in a softer focus while the animal’s eyes and face are sharp and clear. It almost looks like it could be a sketch or a painting.

Cullivan said that visualizing what he might want to take a photo of is an important part of his process, as is knowing his equipment and being ready. But he thinks the most important part of getting good photos is putting in the time in the field.

“It’s more a function of persistence, of always going out and looking for that one moment that can happen in instant,” said Cullivan, 73, a retired manufacturing manager who worked for Procter and Gamble. “You might have to put in a week of driving around looking for something like that.”

“Winter Fox” by current Portland Camera Club member Mike Cullivan, is part of an exhibit celebrating the club’s 125th anniversary. Photo by Mike Cullivan


The club had 98 members by the end of its first year, according to its records, but some years membership dipped as low as five or six people. Today, there are about 125 members, ranging from high school and college students with a couple years of photography experience to retirees and members who’ve been in the club for 40 or 50 years. While cellphones allow for spontaneity, most club members today also have sophisticated digital cameras and lenses, while some still use film cameras, too.


Members meet weekly from September through May at the Woodfords Club in Portland, to socialize, learn from each other and listen to speakers on photography topics. They also organize workshops and exhibitions and sponsor scholarships for aspiring photographers in high school or college.

The club was founded at a time when cameras were becoming more and more common in American homes and about to explode in popularity, thanks to the introduction of the relatively inexpensive Kodak Brownie camera in 1900, said Libby Bischof, a photography historian and professor of history at the University of Southern Maine.

Camera clubs were being founded all around the country in the late 1800s, including in Boston in 1881 and New York City a few years later, Bischof said. They were part of an overall trend in people joining clubs to pursue an interest. But they were also important in promoting interest in photography, including as an art form, by organizing exhibits and juried shows, Bischof said.

The Portland Camera Club, for instance, was connected with the Portland Society of Art, the entity which became the Portland Museum of Art, from about 1910 into the 1960s. Early judges of the Portland club’s juried show were the famed architect John Calvin Stephens and landscape painter Charles F. Kimball.

Francis Orville Libby, who would go on to be a nationally known “pictorialist” photographer, became a club member in 1907. Pictorialism, popular into the early 20th century, often featured a soft focus on photos and was more about photography as an art than as a way to document a moment, Bischof said.

“When you see a photo club that has been in continuous operation for 125 years, like this one, you can see the history of amateur photography contained within its very existence,” said Bischof, who co-wrote the book “Maine Photography: A History: 1840-2015” with Susan Danly and Earle G. Shettleworth Jr.


“Pitching Hay” is a 1941 photo by George W. Swan that will be part of the Portland Camera Club’s upcoming exhibit. Photo by George W. Swan

At some point more than 20 years ago, the Portland Museum of Art’s McLellan House building was undergoing renovations, and workers found several boxes of club records, including handwritten minutes from its first meeting. The records were given to the club, and member David A. Kirkwood used them to write a history book called “Seeking the Magic Light: A Chronicle of the First Hundred Years of the Portland, Maine Camera Club.”

Kirkwood spent years researching the club’s history, in the materials found at the McLellan House as well as other sources, and published the book in 2023. He died in October of that year, at the age of 89. The book is available online at Amazon for $19.99 and all proceeds go to camera club scholarships.

Members say one of the crucial roles the club plays is as a place for an older generation of photographers – or at least more experienced ones – to help teach younger folks. So the club members do workshops and go out to schools and groups to talk to aspiring, young photographers. Sometimes that outreach results in new members.

One of the clubs newest members is Echo Paradis, 15, a home-schooled high school freshman from Lewiston. She learned about the Portland Camera Club when a member came to give a talk at a home-schooling co-op she belongs to. She had been interested in learning more about photography for a while and liked the idea of learning in person, from others, rather than reading about it online.

“I really wanted to be in a group where we could share experiences and information,” said Echo. “I wanted to get more of a hands-on experience. “

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