Introduction to The Workshops' 50th Anniversary Exhibition
Last year, Arthur Ollman, writer, curator, and scholar, wrote to me, saying that a book, a history, or a memoir chronicling the formation and growth of The Workshops was needed, and the only person who could write that was . . . me.
I am not a scholar or an academic. I’m a magazine journalist. I write Creative Nonfiction––stories about adventures I’ve experienced, the people I’ve met, discoveries I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned. Twice, I’ve been lost in blizzards on mountain tops, three times I’ve survived hurricanes in the Caribbean, and over the years, started and failed, made and lost millions. All to have something to write about.
But, the grandest of my adventures has been those 35 years I spent getting this Idea of what The Workshops wanted to be, made. Recently, I’ve been looking back over those 50 years, all to writeThe Book. It’s been a bitter-sweet voyage. As I sort through contact sheets, negatives and journal entries, stories tumble out of memory. The book won’t be done till next year, but right now, it’s time to celebrate The Workshops 50 summers in Rockport.
Let’s Celebrate The Workshops 50th?
I’m all for a party, and any excuse will do. Anything to bring people together, and what better time than a 50th Anniversary Party.
Maine Media, the non-profit organization that took over from me 15 years ago, worked with The Portland Museum of Art this past year to mount a major show consisting of photographs from the museum's Ernst Haas Memorial and the Judy Glickman Lauder collections. It features work by many of those who led master classes at The Workshops over the years. That five-room exhibit opened in June and will remain open through September. When I visited it, I was pleased with the quality of the show and its presentation.
However, the scope of the show did not intend, nor did it include the story of The Workshops’ and how the magic was created, how a one-week master class could change people’s lives. Missing, where the people who made it happen. I felt there needed to be another exhibition, here in Rockport, in Union Hall, where it all started in 1973. Elizabeth Opalenik and I kicked around the idea in June, and when the Smith Family granted us the green light to mount an exhibition on the walls of the Union Hall theater, we went to work. The result, you will see inside, is interactive, and we hope will prompt memories for you as it has for us.
The photographs in the exhibit come from various personal collections and the Maine Media’s archives. They include snapshots, class portraits, portrayals of major and minor events, and important landmarks. Hopefully the exhibition will rekindle a sense of what the place looked like and felt like in those initial years. The text comes primarily from my memoir, in-process, and from stories told by others who were a part of the Workshops story. To all who contributed, to sponsors, including the team of printers and mounters who put it all up on the walls, we send a hearty thanks. And to you, as you step in to visit, welcome!
David H. Lyman
Founder and Director
The Maine Photographic Workshops (1972 to 2007)
Looking Forward, By Looking Back.
A perspective on the birth of The Workshops in Rockport, Main. By Bill Hayward, Resident Faculty Member 1973, 74 and 75
Photographer, artist, and teacher Bill Hayward was the first person to join The Workshops summer faculty while teaching photography at Castleton College in Vermont.
He recently sent this reflection on that first summer . . .
The Year was 1973:
• The Watergate hearings begin in the United States Senate.
• President Richard Nixon tells the nation, “I am not a crook.”
• The first handheld mobile phone call is made by Martin Cooper of Motorola in New Your City.
• US involvement in Vietnam ends with the signing of Paris Peace Accord.
• US troops withdrawn from Vietnam.
• US Supreme Court rules in Roe v. Wade.
• World Trade Center in New York City becomes The World’s Tallest Building.
• NASA launches Skylab, the first space station.
While back on earth, David Lyman launches the Maine Photographic Workshops in Rockport, Maine . . . a site of powerful spectral presence: tall ships, dynamic tides, mysterious northern lights, an authoritative harbor vista...and lobsters.
Here’s my take on how and what happened, as I was there at the very beginning, in fact before the beginning, when The Workshops was just an idea, spoken, but not yet written. It didn’t yet have a name, but later, it would become some kind’a epic, mad theater.
It’s hard to say how these things happen, there’s some kinda magic afoot. As if The Idea that wants to become real is back there, unseen, behind the curtain, pulling levers and pushing buttons to make it all happen out front.
The scene, it’s a Master Class in risk taking. That crew of emboldened photographers are assembled by an even more emboldened, risk taking founder. We are an untested brew at best, dedicated to exploring the “rights and lights of the imagination” by way of spending inordinate hours in slapped together darkrooms, to make manifest what we hope to have recorded on film that day. Indeed, it was the perfect mix for an extraordinary growth of heart and art among us all, students and instructors alike ... celebrating and exploring thresholds of light and shadow.
The Workshops, a grand theater of creative permissions of the first order. All created and led by Lyman’s crazy, innovative and inventive foresight, direction and ability to let it play out. Indeed, we all made it up as we went along...and that is the mantra I follow to this day in my own work in photography, film, theater performance, dance and painting. In the words of the British Artist Francis Bacon, “if I knew what I was doing, why would I bother doing it? If you know what you are doing, you are only repeating something you already know.” There’s no depth, no growth if you rely on lateral, rational thinking, when what’s needed is to draw out the hidden magic . . . most specifically, learning to be and to see in new ways.
From that four story brick building at the corner of Main and Central what was coming into existence was a unique symphony of evolution in risk, magic, heart...and image making, and why not? After all, we weren’t in Kansas anymore.
Thank you, David. It would take someone as crafty as you to pull this off.
Bill Hayward went on to forge a notable career as an avant-garde artist and creator in multiple disciplines, based in New York City. You can find him at BillHayward.com.
Shared, July 2023.
A Place Where Photojournalism Dances
with Fine Art
Contact Agency phoptographer David Burnett and art photographer Joyce Tenneson mix it up aty The Workshops.