PORTLAND, Maine — Photographer Jere DeWaters laughs a lot when you talk with him.
It could be about his backyard tomatoes or the details of printmaking in a darkroom. The subject doesn’t seem to matter. It’s not a cynical snort or knowing snigger, either. DeWaters roars, his head tilted back, face beaming.
So, maybe it isn’t surprising that he’s introducing red snapper hot dogs to the art world.
DeWaters’ latest gallery show features 52 photographs of cooked frankfurters. Three bunned dogs, boiled until they split and drizzled with mustard, grace each frame. The tube steaks all sit side-by-side, each atop platters on a white stove. The pictures are presented in a single grid, creating repeating patterns of electric burners, plates and crimson wieners.
Along with the hot dogs, Dewaters is also displaying photographs of his uncle’s pen collection and his father-in-law’s matchbook collection. His own collections of Ballantine Ale bottle caps and wishbones appear in the gallery as well.
The show, at the Danforth Gallery at the University of Maine at Augusta, is called “Four Faculty.” It showcases works by a quartet of retiring teachers: DeWaters, Karen Adrienne, Roger Richmond and Brooks Stoddard. Each one served the university for decades.
DeWaters, 67, is a Portland native. He taught photography — from grade schoolers through college undergraduates — in Maine and Massachusetts for 40 years. He officially retired in 2017 but still teaches a few online courses.
Besides photography, DeWaters is known as a musician. He’s played guitar and washboard with Maine humor maestros The Wicked Good Band since the 1960s. DeWaters is also a harmonica-honking fixture at the Sunday afternoon blues jam at the Tailgate Bar and Grill in Gray.
Not all of DeWaters’ photography is laden with whimsy. His serious work includes portraits of traditional artisans for the Maine Arts Commission and a decade-long project documenting the Shakers at Sabbathday Lake. His black-and-white images of Maine grace several schools via the Percent for Art program.
Q: When I was pitching this piece to my editor, the part that interested him the most …
A: It was probably the hot dogs.
Q: It was.
A: I knew it. The damn hot dogs [laughter].
Q: You photographed three hot dogs on your stove every Sunday night for a year? Why did you do that?
A: I was hungry [laughs for a long time]. I play music at these jams on Sundays. One time, I got home, about seven o’clock, I looked in the fridge. What do we got? I got some snappers. While those were cooking, I was looking through my Facebook, and I see all these pictures of food. So, I get my hot dogs all ready and I just held my iPad over them on the stove, centered them and went: boom. I said, “There, take that,” and put that up on Facebook [laughing]. I got a bunch of likes. So, I did another one.
Q: You were home every Sunday?
A: It’s actually three different locations. Thank God the burners are in the same place on all of them.
Q: I know you’ve done a lot of other work besides this…
A: Yeah, the Shakers, the Franco-American community — I’ve shot pictures up to Schoodic for 40 years.
Q: How did you pick these photos for this show?
A: I’ve shown all that other stuff. I thought, it’s a college, let’s have some fun. Let’s do something different.
Q: Speaking of college, you taught photography at USM and UMA. You were training people to be artists?
A: I don’t teach people to be artists. I teach people about art as a practice you do every day.
Q: What’s the difference?
A: Huge difference [laughing]. You can’t make anyone into an artist. It’s something you choose to do — the daily practice, the discipline of doing it every day. That’s how you become an artist. It’s in the doing. It’s in the making. That’s my deal, making people interested in doing these things — maybe like a Pied Piper. You gotta make it to determine if it’s any good — and that’s what the wastebasket is for [laughing]. I had a saying on the side of the trash barrel in the darkroom that said: This is the preserver of your reputation. Boom. Dump it in. [more laughing]. You need to do that to get to your good stuff.
Q: That daily — or weekly — practice is how the whole hot dog thing came together?
A: Sure, everybody loves to make things. Then, once you’re done, sit down and look at it. Decide if it’s any good.
Q: Or at least good to eat. What’s next for you?
A: I like to explore. I used to say, years ago, back when I was teaching, and had little kids, and was swamped: All I want from life is my cameras and an allowance. That’s all I want. [still laughing].
Hear Jere DeWaters talk about his art at the University of Maine at Augusta’s Danforth Art Gallery on Tuesday, Sept. 11, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.