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The Face Of Maine

July 2024
1min read

A remarkable group of photographs preserves the memory of a vigorous rural people—and a quite vanished world

It used to be, in the not-so-long-ago, that the faces of Americans were richly varied. At a glance, farmers could be distinguished from city folk, mountaineers from plainsmen, easterners from westerners. Something—the gradual assimilation of the immigrants, the quickening flight from countryside to city, standardization of dress, the ubiquity of television—has changed all that. In appearance we are becoming, like the morning milk, homogenized.

It is refreshing, therefore, to look into the faces of our forebears—not only at those who became rich and famous, but at ordinary people who grew up, fell in love and founded families, tamed the land, and—if they were lucky—saw their children’s children unto the third generation. Such are the faces that make up the portfolio beginning here. These are down-Easters, citizens of rural Maine, two generations ago. The pictures were taken by an unusually gifted photographer, Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, who looks out at us from the self-portrait above (it was made with the aid of a mirror). Beginning in the 1880’s in her native village of Kingfield, she took her cumbersome box-type camera into blacksmith shop (left) and gristmill, barn and farmyard, kitchen and parlor, to photograph her friends and neighbors. The little girl with her admirer on page 50 is her daughter Dorothy; the demure young lady opposite, her niece Blanche.

From her famous twin brothers, who would one day build the wonderful Stanley Steamer, Mrs. Emmons received priceless aid: about the time she began taking pictures, they developed a successful dry-plate process which freed her from the confining walls of a studio and enabled her to concentrate on subject, lighting, and composition. The results were remarkable: not only did she record a set of strong, distinctive faces; she also preserved on glass plates—now owned by her son-in-law, Irl G. Whitchurch—a now-forgotten way of life.


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