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Friday, May 24, 2019

“Bridges of Friendship” photo exhibit at Windham Library has ties to Russia

By Lorraine Glowczak

If you have been to the Windham Public Library (WPL) in the past two weeks, you may have noticed an array of nature and candid photography gracing its walls. Some photographs are encased in gold frames while others – silver frames. Why is this subtle difference so important?

“Silver frames indicate that the photographs are from photographers of the Greater Portland area,” began Dennis Marrotte, a member and former president of the Portland Camera Club. “The photography that you see in gold frames – they are from photographers in our sister city – Archangel in Russia.”

As in all artforms, there is a story involved in the “Bridges of Friendship” photography exhibit at WPL that will continue until June 29. The tale is filled with not only cultural exchange but is also steeped in history which gives the photography display an interesting twist.

It all began in the early 1980s and continued in the early 1990s when, during the end of the Cold War, hostilities in America were growing toward Russia. To create more peace among the two countries, a professor from Oregon State University instigated a sister city initiative between the U.S. and Russia.
The effort caught on and members of the Greater Portland area, including the town of Windham, joined forces “to provide opportunities for Russians and Americans to share time, ideas, and the best of our communities; to bring true friendship and understanding to our peoples; and to improve the chances for world peace through citizen diplomacy,” as stated by portlandme.gov website.

Friendship, culture and art has continued to develop between the two cities since the Archangel Committee of Greater Portland nonprofit organization was established in 1988, of which Dan Glover of Westbrook lead the group as president in its beginning years.

Glover shared that although the towns and cities that comprise the sister city exchange with Archangel began in the late 1980s, their roots and connections began in WWII. “South Portland had two shipyards, building EC-2 Emergency Cargo, also known as ‘Liberty Ships’, with Portland being one of the several east coast ports from where Liberty Ship convoys sailed to Europe and to the Artic Ports of Murmansk and Archangel, in Russia.”

https://bbcultivation.com/Fast forward to 2019, and the connections continues. Part of the success with the Archangel Committee of Greater Portland can be contributed to the exchange of high school students between the two cities. Glover explained that the students from the Greater Portland area would spend one month, usually during the March break, in an Archangel school (and vice versa). In recent years, the student exchange has subsided. Glover is happy to announce that the exchange will be revived – at least for one year – in 2020 as students at Westbrook High School will do an exchange with students from Archangel.

However, the photography exhibit exchange has remained intact since the Archangel Committee of Greater Portland was established, creating not only an exchange of art and culture, but that of lifelong friendships between the photographers of the Portland Camera Club and the camera club of Archangel, the Spolokhi Club.

Marrotte has developed many friendships and experiences over the years travelling back and forth from his home in Westbrook to Archangel. “When the photo clubs first began the photography exchange, everything was film and you couldn’t just send photography at the click of a button,” Marrotte explained. “We had to communicate via teletype and travel with photographs in hand.” 
(Teletype was used to communicate typed messages from point to point through a simple electrical communications channel, often looking like a big typewriter, before the days of the internet.)

https://www.egcu.org/boatMarrotte has so many stories of his travels throughout Russia as well as the generous and kind people he met - that could fill volumes of books – all as a result from the love of the art of photography and the photography exchange that developed between the two cities.

You too, can experience a small slice of Marrotte’s (and all the photographers’) journeys throughout the past 30 years with the “Bridges of Friendship” exhibit. In the photographs, you will not only see art – but if you look deeply enough, you’ll also see history, friendship – and peace.

“The exhibit is a visual connection between the two cities,” explained Marrotte. “Both camera clubs agreed on the title of the exhibit as it came from an essay written by a member of the Spolokhi Camera Club after Marrotte had visited Archangel three times. The title of that essay was also, ‘Bridges of Friendship’, and it reflected the photographer’s experience between the two countries.”

NOTE OF INTEREST: The Portland Camera club has been a gathering of both amateur and professional photographers in the Southern Maine area since 1899. For more information, peruse their website at www.portlandcameraclub.org. The camera club in Archangel, Spolokhi, was formed in 1980 by a General Physician who left his practice to follow his calling of photography. “Spolokhi” translates to “Northern Lights”.

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