The Maine Frontier: Through The Lens of Isaac Walton Simpson, combines the never-before-seen photography of Isaac Simpson with archived and current film, archived oral histories, and a compelling musical score. The Maine Frontier is an illustration of family, work, community and culture in northern Maine (Penobscot, Aroostook, Piscataquis, and Washington Counties) at the turn-of-the-century. It investigates the geographical circumstances of a region virtually disconnected from the rest of the state and country. Life in this isolated region often led to struggle and tragedy, and demanded persistent hard work- evident on the faces and in the environment of Simpson's subjects.
The film is centered around a collection of over 1500 photos taken just after the turn-of-the-century by Isaac Simpson: photographer, blacksmith, barber, musician, woodsman, mechanic, and Father of 13. Isaac Simpson, his wife Effie, and their friends and family, exemplify the character, necessities, and unique condition of the turn-of-the-century northern Mainer.
Isaac's occupational skills brought him to logging camps deep in the woods, and to farms in the far reaches of the Maine frontier. Wherever he traveled he carried his box camera and glass plate negatives, and captured photos of everyone and everything along his way. His established relationships with his subjects, and a "he's one of us" understanding made his images genuinely representational of the region's foundational culture. He used his camera without social, political or gender bias, which resulted in his collection of images becoming a quintessential photographic social history of northern Maine.
Simpson's subjects included scarcely documented families living in the woods who's sole purpose was to hew railroad ties for the new lines of the Bangor & Aroostook RR. He photographed woods camps that were established only to cut shoe-blocks (wooden foot forms that were used to fit shoes). He photographed the crews constructing and excavating- by hand- the railroad, and the mill in Millinocket, tarpaper shacks, shanties, homes of the well-to-do, women in logging camps and on farms… He captured everyone and everything with an artist's eye and skilled composition, and rarely for self-indulgent art. His photographs document the exploration of the roots and conditions of his native land and neighbors.
Isaac's wife Effie is another hero of the Maine Frontier. Effie exemplifies a woman's life at the time. As Isaac was often working away from home, Effie was responsible for everything an early 20th century home in the country required (it was also filled with 13 children): cooking, knitting, baking, planting, dressing. She would cook, clean, can vegetables, and plant during the day. At night in the Winter she would knit woolen goods for Isaac to bring into the woods camps to sell to the crews.
By unearthing archived film, photography and oral histories, and combining them with a contemporary and original musical score, The Maine Frontier sheds new light on this isolated culture and region at a pivotal time in northern Maine's history.
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