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History of the Photography Exchange

The idea of a Photography - Photographers Exchange started in July 1989 in Archangel. The first People to People Delegation from Greater Portland were invited there for Archangel's annual Summer Solstice City Festival. Bruce Larrabee from Scarborough was asked on the next to last day of his stay: “Is there a Photography Club in Portland?” and he was given a small note concerning that question.  Bruce returned to Maine and gave the note to the late Peter Doe, the owner of the Photo Market located in Portland.  Peter gave me the note when I stopped in for processing film.


This handwritten note started this amazing Exchange between two Photography Clubs, the Portland Camera Club (PCC) and the Northern Lights Photo Club SPOLOKHI in Greater Portland's newest Sister City Archangel, Russia, high up in the northwestern corner of Russia – 600 miles North of Saint Petersburg.


Not long thereafter, I was president of the PCC and we received an invitation via Telex to submit a Portfolio of Works by PCC members for an international juried Photography Exhibition in Archangel called“White Sea 90” hosted by Photo Club SPOLOKHI in June 1990. Other Portfolios were sent from Belgium, Holland, England and different parts of the Soviet Union.   I carried a 67 Print Portfolio over on my first ever visit to what was still, for 1 more year, the Soviet Union, and the sub-arctic port city of Archangel – named for the Archangel “Michael.”  That was the first of what would be my 15 Trips to that part of the world.  SPOLOKH President Nikolai Chesnokov introduced me to Larisa “your interpreter for your stay in our town”.  Larisa was a middle school English teacher and I was the first American she worked with as an interpreter.  Photo Club meetings were both a challenge, educational and a lot of fun. Every question back and forth or critique of a photo print had to be translated – Russian to English – English to Russian.

My most recent trip was in September 2019 when I was one of a delegation of seven people from Maine.


Some of the challenges for over 30 years have included carefully packing and transporting prints in checked luggage.  Fortunately, no prints have ever been damaged or lost.  Early communications were via teletype/telex.   E-Mail and direct dial phone calls were not yet the norm. Making a phone call required going through 2 operators: 1 in the USA and 1 in either Moscow or Leningrad – now Saint Petersburg. Sometimes in the middle of a clear and great audio call – the connection would drop out without any warning.


My two week visit in November 1992 included an embarrassing situation with my host family when their multistory apartment building lost water pressure.  They were doing a bucket and glass jug brigade from a friend's apartment in a different building.  Luckily, their apartment was on the 2nd floor. I eventually convinced my interpreter (who visited Maine in September 1991 with the President of PC SPOLOKHI) that it was not beneath me to carry water in a large bucket or a glass jug. That cemented a lifelong friendship.


Photographers in PC SPOLOKHI worked mainly with black and white film.  If they wanted to process prints with a glossy finish, they used a roller to apply the glossy resin finish. On my March 1991 trip, when I carried over a Portfolio from PCC for what we named a juried “50/50” joint Exhibition here and in Archangel, I brought a package of Ilford glossy paper – 50 sheets – to present to someone. The winner of the Club's Black and White Print Competition received that Package of Ilford  glossy papers!!! I think he floated home that evening above the snow-covered sidewalks!   If a photographer wanted to print something in color, the only sources were in Moscow by train or Aeroflot flight or in Saint Petersburg. Agfachrome was the primary color film back then.  Today, there are several camera and photography shops and stores in downtown Archangel.  A very popular and well-designed Russian camera is the “Kiev Chest by Chest” which is Russian for the metric medium format 6 cm x 6 cm or 2-1/4 x 2-1/4 medium format camera.  Today, photographers, pros and amateurs, can purchase 35mm Digital SLR's – by Canon – Nikon – Sony – etc.  I don't know what the cost is over there. In the ' 90s, I would bring over a “Brick “of Kodachrome 25 or 64 ISO which SPOLOLHI members called “Gold.”


The ongoing “Bridges of Friendship International Juried Exhibition” came about during an October 2017 visit as a means of visual communications and to celebrate the overall 30 Years as Sister Cities between Archangel and Greater Portland, Maine. (November 1988 – November 2018). We agreed to name the Exhibition in honor and memory of Sergei Yarigin, a longtime PC SPOLOKHI member and an Avionics Technician for Aeroflot. Sergei composed an essay titled “Bridges of Friendship” in March 1991 after my 3rd visit in less than a year.  “Bridges” featured our photographs from members of both Clubs.  Sergei would pass away in 2004.


The “Bridges Exhibition” of 60 Prints total (30 from each Photo Club) was the first Exhibition to be transmitted via electronic mail to both communities.


A key part of the “Bridges Exhibition” was to secure 30 Patron Supporters in Maine (30 to recognize 30 Years of Friendship, Trust and Goodwill within 2 communities). These 30 Patrons each pledged their support for 2 Prints: 1 from the Portland Camera Club and 1 from “SPOLOKHI.”  The names of all 30 Patrons are displayed with

Each photograph.


Since 2017, the “Bridges Exhibition” has been displayed in many venues here in Maine, including the Yarmouth History Center and public libraries in Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Westbrook and Windham.  Plans are being made to display the Exhibition at other venues and online. 

by Dennis Marotte

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