Every picture ever taken, since photography’s invention in 1839, is a portal into the past. It’s a quirk of the process — and of time itself. The moment any photograph captures is instantly part of what came before.
It’s only natural, therefore, that we look at the year’s stack of pictures to help us understand just what happened. They’re a visual echo of Maine, as it was, in 2021.
Here, three Bangor Daily News photojournalists combed through their archives, looking for the most meaningful pictures of 2021. Below, Troy R. Bennett, Sawyer Loftus and Linda Coan O’Kresik give us a last look at 12 pictures that helped define Maine’s year — while sharing their thoughts on what the images mean and how they were made.
Troy R. Bennett
I made this photo in January, before mass coronavirus vaccines began. People were still — literally and figuratively — stuck inside their own bubbles. Here, a man makes a tentative reach outside his protective sphere for a beer left by a server at a Portland brewery. Behind him, people huddle together in small groups, within clear sight of each other but also separated by thin sheets of clear, sanitary plastic. To me, it looks like a scene from a dystopian science fiction film warning us about a possible future. Except it was real and it already happened. Of course, these days, with the omicron variant on the loose, we could be headed back into our bubbles. I’ll be OK with that, as long as there’s beer.
Knoep and Nick Nieuwkerk are an extraordinary father-and-son team of fishermen I met in May. When I ran into them on the Portland docks, they were starting work on rehabbing an old fishing boat they’d bought in Nova Scotia. Both are lobstermen, they were readying the vessel to also go gillnetting fish in the summer. They planned on targeting monkfish, specifically. I’ve never seen anyone work as long, as fast and as hard as they did. The Nieuwkerks were perfect subjects to photograph because, while also friendly, they stayed focused on their work and left me alone shooting. I kept visiting them, off and on, for more than a month. Eventually, I published a story, a video and a decent photo package. I think this picture sums them up pretty well. They’re cooperating on something difficult, they’re pants are dirty, their tools look well worn and they’re not paying any attention to my camera.
This picture came about on a rainy day in July. Driving by, on my way somewhere else, I noticed a man sleeping on the sidewalk under a railroad overpass in Portland. In warm weather months, it’s not unusual to see tents pitched in quiet corners of the city — in parks, beside trails and on vacant lots. This was different. He was right in the middle of the pedestrian walkway, looking a lot like a homicide victim who’d been covered over for dignity’s sake. I parked and walked back to take pictures, knowing they’d be useful for illustrating stories about the battle over Portland’s new homeless shelter location. It’s perfectly legal to photograph anything, or anyone, you see in public but I kept his face out of the frame. Taking these kinds of pictures is not easy but looking at a situation straight on, acknowledging its existence, is the first step toward doing something about it.
I count 15 people smiling in this photo. It’s actually 16, if you also count me, behind the camera. I spent an entire day in August grinning and shooting pictures with Gigi Gabor and Cherry Lemonade, two Portland drag performers billing themselves as the Curbside Queens. The exuberant pair travel in a bright pink bus, delivering fabulous song-and-dance shows right to folks’ front doors. It was the pair’s creative solution to performing while most of their regular venues were shut down due to the pandemic. In this photo, they were parked at a Portland brewery, putting on a show for someone’s birthday. But, being a full house at the brewery, lots of people got to enjoy the surprise show — including these folks sitting at the picnic table. Everyone pictured in the background heard the fun and walked over from an adjoining brewery. Gigi Gabor and Cherry Lemonade’s outrageous performances that day were marvelous examples of human resilience in the face of unprecedented hard, isolating times.
This is one of those images that come back into my mind daily, if not weekly. At the time, it wasn’t a hard thing to shoot, but afterward, as I was preparing the photo to be used for publication I felt overwhelmed with emotion. I made this image during the graveside service of Hancock County sheriff’s Deputy Luke Gross on Sept. 30. Gross was fatally struck from behind by a pickup truck in the early morning hours of Sept. 23 while reaching down to retrieve debris from the road. I felt for the men and women he worked with and the strained image of the man, in the top right corner of the photograph who is looking up toward the sky, is burned into my memory. Death is difficult, especially when it is unexpected. Photographing sensitive events like a memorial leaves a lasting impression, at least it did for me. I don’t know if others feel the same way, but I felt as if I was absorbing the emotion around me. Every time I went to take a photo that person’s pain became attached to the image.
A moment of teamwork, that’s what this image reflects. I took this one while I was writing a story about the main subject of this photo — Director of Food Service for RSU 26 Ben Jacobson who is to the left. Jacobson not only is the one person in charge of the food programs in the Orono school district but is also the only person working to feed Orono middle schoolers and high schoolers. While this wasn’t what he was hired to do, the COVID-19 pandemic-induced worker shortage left Jacobson as the only one around to do the work. Jacobson is a humble person who just wants to make good food and feed the kids. The man to the right in this photo is Orono police officer Ed Leskey. Leskey often jumps behind the counter to help during the lunch rushes, as he did in this photo from Oct. 22.
So much of our coverage from August was focused on what was going to happen this school year. This photo I think perfectly summarizes the debate over reopening schools and with what restrictions. I took this photo during a Milford school board meeting on Aug. 12. It was a tense meeting with parents, educators and school board members sparing over a universal mask mandate. I think the main subject of this photo, a masked man, represents the exhaustion that came with the conversation, on both sides of the argument.
This photo doesn’t have a remarkable story. I was tasked with getting visuals for a story about an alleged conspiracy to use medical marijuana grow houses in western Maine to illegally sell $13 million of the drug in and out of Maine. I like this photo because it took a boring scene — a bunch of lawyers in fancy suits talking to the media — and made it really interesting. When I’m shooting, I like to look for different angles, something that the eye doesn’t typically see. This shot is wide enough that you can feel the scene, it puts you in that place. But the shot is also dynamic enough that it is visually interesting. I think it is just a good photo.
Linda Coan O’Kresik
One of the best parts of my job is having the opportunity to meet new people every day. Meeting older people is my favorite though because of the history and life stories they have to share, especially the stories of World War II veterans. Over the years I have shot numerous WWII veterans and am always grateful for the opportunity to hear history come to life. All have left a lasting impression on me. This photo of George Newhall, 93, (left) and Carmine Pecorelli, 96, is one of my favorites this year — how their hands are just resting on the beautiful new WWII memorial at the University of Maine.
The most challenging part of my job is having to photograph tragedy. This year, the death of Hancock County sheriff’s Deputy Luke Gross in September was a huge loss to the community. My primary focus when photographing his funeral was to do so with honor and respect. When Hancock County sheriff’s deputies escorted the flag-draped casket of Gross out of the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, surrounded by the law enforcement community, it was very powerful. A sad, but beautiful, moment.
I love to capture fun moments. This photo of Old Town celebrating their 7-3 victory over Freeport to win the Class B state championship is pure joy to me.
There isn’t really anything I can say about this photo. Two young alpacas looking like they’re hugging at Northern Solstice Alpaca Farm in Unity. It’s just an abundance of cuteness and who doesn’t like that?