ROCKLAND, Maine — The pages of photographer S.B. Walker’s rebound DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer are filled with gold lines traced along the roads he’s traveled. Considering he’s not originally from Maine, the ground he’s covered is quite impressive.
Since 2014, Walker has driven more than 100,000 miles across Maine to document people and places in the state. He wasn’t in search of anything in particular, instead his photographic journey was fueled by intuition and curiosity.
“I sort of set out with the idea that there have been a lot of people who have done projects, photographically and otherwise, in Maine. A lot of them have really narrow focus, and I wanted to do something that covered a large geographic area, that went across a lot of social levels,” Walker said.
In all, Walker took tens of thousands of photographs over the course of his travels — of Mainers in the course of their daily lives, of roadside signs and the messages they preached, of mud pits and frozen harbors.
A small fraction of those photos will be on display at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland next summer. The exhibit, Nor’east, is funded through a $7,500 grant from the Maine Bicentennial Commission. Walker’s exhibit is part of the museum’s celebration of Maine’s 200th birthday.
“Sam Walker’s work celebrates the diversity and complexity of Maine today, and in its sweeping scale, will serve as an important historical document in years to come,” Center for Maine Contemporary Art director Suzette McAvoy said.
Walker grew up outside of Boston but spent time as a child visiting his grandmother who raised sheep in Oxford County. In 2012, Walker convinced his grandmother to let him build a small cabin on a woodlot she owned in Raymond. It was through the course of building the cabin that the idea for the Nor’east project was born.
“I built this little cabin out there. This one room cabin with no running water or electricity or anything,” Walker said. “While I was doing that I had this notion that it would be great to base myself out of there and travel around just out of love and curiosity for the state, to see what I could learn.”
Once he finished the cabin in 2014, photographing Maine became Walker’s full-time job. With the DeLorme atlas by his side, intuition led Walker’s Subaru Forester across the state. He would spend two weeks on the road and then travel back to Boston, until he relocated to Portland in 2015.
Walker started his journey by travelling to places where he knew people, or where his friends knew people. Having places where he could stay was also a bonus. When he wanted to travel to the islands during the winter, fellows from the Island Institute helped him find places to stay.
Of the places he traveled, Walker said Aroostook County surprised him the most because it is so different from other parts of the state.
“It’s sort of unexpected. It almost feels like going to the midwest,” he said. “There are all these little towns that are in the middle of these large agricultural areas. It just doesn’t feel like the hill country farms that you see in western Maine or near the Camden Hills.”
Walker is quick to acknowledge that he didn’t take on this project to collect any kind of data or concrete answers about Maine or its residents. In fact, Walker said the journey left him with more questions than answers.
He gathered “more of a feeling than any kind of knowledge,” Walker said. “I wouldn’t exactly say [Mainers] are open, but they respond if you are curious about what they’re doing.”
Walker is spending a month at the Lincoln Street Center in Rockland through a residency with the Ellis Beauregard Foundation, which provides artists with space to work and live.
Through the residency, Walker is able to remain close to the Center for Maine Contemporary Art and its staff, as well as have the space to sort through and refine the massive collection of photographs he’s taken.
Walker said he is working with about 80 photos he feels are eligible for the final exhibit, which will be on display beginning in June.
“I feel really lucky to have been able to do this,” Walker said. “It’s not an experience that a lot of people have had.”