Down East 2013 ©
Patrisha McLean, whose new book Maine Street: Faces and Stories from a Small Town  proves Camden, Maine, is a portrait-perfect place, takes five questions about how to capture the essence of character – and more – in black-and-white portraiture.
Q: What is the difference, for you, between a snapshot and a portrait?
A: A snapshot is something taken to capture a person at an event or in a time period. A portrait is timeless and can be looked at forever, and should also illuminate the subject.
Q: How do you capture character, rather than merely an image of a person, in your portraits?
A: I do a quick study of my subject and figure out what it is about them that is most distinctive and characteristic, and make sure to incorporate this into the portrait. This can be the long, graceful fingers and honest, kind face of Fiona Fischer, or it can be the way a person stands or holds their head or arms. Sometimes I feel it's important to incorporate items that say a lot about the person, such as a doll in Evelyn Richards' case, or the long-necked beer bottle in the case of Leroy Dodge.
Q: Do you have any hints about how to get a bashful person to relax and reveal his or her inner self in a photo?
A: Bashfulness to me is not an impediment to a good portrait because I feel that if a person is shy, that shyness can be part of a successful portrait. The impediment for me is self-consciousness. Most children don't have this and that is why I chose to become a children's photographer. I try to overcome this in adults by carrying on a conversation with them about anything not having to do with my photographing them.
Q: Why do you choose black-and-white photography rather than color?
A: I prefer black and white because I feel that it packs a stronger emotional resonance than color. In a portrait, one is not distracted by colored clothing or background. When I discovered photography, all of my favorite photographers shot in black and white and that is still the case. Also, I am a traditionalist and it is meaningful to me to be carrying on the long and illustrious tradition of black and white photography.
Q: In the process of doing your work, what did your learn about Camden, Maine, that convinces you that this small town is a true slice of American life?
A: I used to work on daily newspapers as a feature writer and every day drove around a mid-sized city in order to come up with two stories a day about the people living there. From this experience, I already knew that everyone has an interesting story. But until I started the project that became Maine Street, I didn't know the stories behind many of the faces that I see regularly in my daily ramblings around town. Camden is a true slice of American life because many people who live here, and the ones I chose as subjects, have deep roots in this community. Often, they live in houses bought or built by their grandparents or great-grandparents. Camden is also reflective of the best side of America because people who are very different in background, career and income level interact daily and respect and appreciate each other here. I feel that a project like mine could be — and should be — done in any town with this tradition.
Maine Street: Stories and Faces from a Small Town  is available via Down East's online store. Order here.