In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Early Maine Photography

Portland Photographers

Augustus Fox, ca. 1855
Augustus Fox, ca. 1855Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

As Maine’s largest city, Portland became a center for photographers between 1840 and 1860. Five Portland photographers of this period are represented in the Maine Historical Society Collection: Marcus Ormsbee, George M. Howe, Rufus Adams, Thomas R. Burnham, and A, M. McKenney.

Marcus Ormsbee moved his studio from Boston to Portland in 1843 and practiced in the city through 1850. During that time he made a daguerreotype of Augustus Fox, a dapperly dressed young Portland barrel maker. In 1850 Ormsbee sold his business to his longtime assistant George M. Howe and returned to Boston.

Alice Jane Means, ca. 1850
Alice Jane Means, ca. 1850Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

A Portland native, Howe made many daguerreotype portraits in the 1850s, including eleven in the Collection. Outstanding among these are an engaging image of young Alice Jane Means and the four photographs of the children of Stephen and Mariana Longfellow, nieces and nephews of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Other Portlanders who sat for Howe include student Walter H. Pomeroy, finish carpenter William H. Weeks, and an elderly lady from the Deering family.

Thomas R. Burnham arrived in Portland from Bangor in 1858 and was joined the next year by his brother John to operate the Burnham Brothers studio. During Thomas Burnham’s brief stay in Portland, he took a memorable picture of Sadie O. Gould. Sadie’s smiling face and her informal pose in a large Victorian chair capture the spirit of childhood in an ambrotype made about 1858.

Marian Longfellow, Portland, ca. 1851
Marian Longfellow, Portland, ca. 1851Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

By the eve of the Civil War, the ambrotype had largely replaced the daguerreotype as the preferred means of photography. Modest in cost and having a non-reflective surface, ambrotypes were the stock in trade of two lesser known Portland photographers whose work is represented in the Collection. Between 1856 and 1859 Rufus Adams made a portrait of a young woman, while A. M. McKenney took a picture of a young man in 1860.

While most pre Civil War Maine photographers operated studios in cities and towns, some chose the life of itinerants, moving from village to village in coastal and rual areas of the state. Such was the case of Almond W. Hanscom, who signed himself as a "traveling artist" on a circa 1860 ambrotype of Adam Winslow and his grandson Adam.