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Portland Museum of Art announces Blueberry Rakers. Photographs by David Brooks Stess

The Portland Museum of Art (PMA) presents Blueberry Rakers. Photographs by David Brooks Stess, an exhibition on view on view from April 6 through May 19, 2013.

David Brooks Stess, Javier and Family, c. 2002, gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 inches, Courtesy of the artist.)

Stess has spent more than two decades photographing the annual blueberry harvest in northern Maine, raking alongside Native American Mainers and migrant field hands from south of our borders. His striking images capture the physical aspects of their labor, as well as their social life in workers’ camps at the edge of the fields. Blueberry Rakers: Photographs by David Brooks Stess features 50 gelatin silver prints-among them striking portraits, candid documentary scenes, and looming landscape views.

By focusing his camera on the hard realities of manual labor and the warm relationships among the workers, Stess brings an unsentimental view to his subject. An icon of rural life in Maine and one of the culinary wonders of this state, over the years the blueberry has inspired numerous children’s books and treasured recipes. But blueberry raking has also become a large, agri-business with an economic bottom line and more mechanized ways of harvesting that endanger the traditional method of hand-raking which is quickly and quietly disappearing. This exhibition examines both sides of this dilemma in an attempt to give a face and a context to a tiny wild berry that has come to define the state of Maine.

Born in New Jersey and raised in Florida, Stess attended the University of Miami where he studied history, film, and photography. From states with large migrant agricultural communities, Stess eventually carried their concerns with him first to New York City and eventually to New England, where he supports his photography career with seasonal work raking blueberries, picking apples, and selling Christmas trees. His documentary work is informed by this first-hand experience, as well as a deep admiration for the photographs of Jan Koudelka, who lived with Europe’s nomadic gypsies, and Danny Lyons, who rode his motorcycle alongside America’s biker gangs.

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