Rose Marasco has been a positive presence on the Maine art scene for at least four decades, as a photographer, a champion of the arts and a professor of photography at the University of Southern Maine from 1979 to 2014. She has been the embodiment of a photo artist who makes photographs rather than takes photographs.
Her retrospective at the University of New England Art Gallery, “Rose Marasco: Camera Lucida” (through Oct. 8) is full of photo images not found and captured but conceived and constructed by Marasco.
Marasco’s early work, such as a series of architectural portraits of Maine grange halls, was more or less straight black and white photography. But in recent decades, Marasco has concentrated on making pictures that “are” something rather than pictures “of’ something. She is not a documentary, reportorial or journalistic photographer but a fine art photographer who uses photographs as an interpretive tool to examine and codify her immediate surroundings.
In her essay in the book “At Home” that is the occasion for the UNE exhibition, critic Lucy Lippard describes Rose Marasco as “a feminist aware of the hidden lives of women” and her art as “deceptively homey.” Most of Marasco’s best work, in fact, deals with the domestic lives of women.
“Utensils,” for example, is a series of eight kitchen utensils (peeler, knife, cheese slicer, dough cutter, mandolin, grater, sifter, pan) seen in silhouette against a pleated curtain.
“Projections” casts black and white images of fashionable women across the rooms of Marasco’s Portland home. In “The Easel,” silhouette shadows of hair combs float over the surface of a photograph of a wooden easel, the whole composition frames in black lace.
The work of Marasco’s I know best are her diary photographs from her “Domestic Objects” series. In these signature works, Marasco uses historical handwritten diaries as the centerpieces of compositions that include objects or images mentioned in the texts.
In “Mimics,” the artist pairs natural images with images she has created to mimic nature, thus hairpins are arranged to resemble a dead weed standing stark in the snow.
“Paraphernalia” is a lovely series the artist did while on a residency in Finland. The lattice of lace casts shadows across Spartan interiors giving the everyday a magical look.
“At Home” (OSMOS Books, $60) is at once a professional memoir and mediation on photography in words and pictures. The titular home is an 1837 Greek Revival house Marasco purchased at auction in 2003. In keeping with her close examination of domestic life, she has collected and documented some 83 objects ranging from a woman’s shoe to a gum wrapper that she found in the old house. Her findings are visually and verbally recorded on a series of posters that hang in the basement of the UNE Art Gallery.
“Rose Marasco: Camera Lucida” occupies all three levels of the gallery, providing a very sustained and satisfying visual and philosophical experience as the artist looks at, arranges and thinks publically about the material culture that surrounds her every day.
Edgar Allen Beem has written about art in Maine since 1978. He also writes the Universal Notebook opinion column in the Portland Phoenix.