Photo-A-Go-Go Keeps on Going
FEATURE-November + December 2009
By Jessica Tomlinson
Photographs by Scott Peterman
On December II, 2009, the bakery photographic collective in Westbrook hosts its tenth annual auction, the season’s go-to benefit auction, one that’s been cleverly disguised as a killer party.
Despite the early winter storm that slammed into Southern Maine, the crowds made their way along slippery roads to Westbrook on the obligatory white-knuckle pilgrimage. They searched for parking on residential side streets, slogged through slush, and trekked up the stairs of the Dana Warp Mill. They came seeking photographs Their destination: Photo-a-Go -Go .
Up a flight of stairs, curators, gallery owners, collectors, artists, designers, and photography fans packed the mill wall to wall. The high ceilings, brick walls, and tall windows made it feel like a giant loft party for 500 dear, dear friends. And it is. With kegs of Geary’s, plastic cups, and a rockabilly band, Go- Go is fundraiser disguised as a killer party.
Last year, I headed out to the auction with my husband, Henry, and our 6-year-old son, Otto, who immediately fell in love with a photograph by Sasha Bezzubov and Jessica Sucher. The couple’s work was simple, powerful, gorgeous—and way out of my price range. But Otto had a higher calling. He insisted.
The year before, he had bid on, and won his first piece of art, an image by Bianca Peterman. Apparently, he thought going to Go-Go meant acquiring art, so he grabbed a pen and scrawled his name on the bid sheet. Above Otto’s name was Keith Fitzgerald’s.
It’s a tight-knit arts community. I know Fitzgerald. I know he’s the owner of Zero Station gallery. And I know that Fitzgerald is a resource to the photo community. He provides printing assistance to many of the members in the collective and cuts a deal on framing to everyone who donates to Go-Go. I also know that, thanks to some bartering action, Fitzgerald already owns three photographs by Bezzubov and Sucher. I remind him of this as he returned to outbid Otto with 10 minutes to go.
The Bakery formed back in 1999, when a group of photographers decided to band together as a means to share the expense of an art form that depends on costly equipment and chemicals. “As a collective, we were able to build multiple darkrooms for multiple purposes and create a space that is better and cheaper than any of us could have done alone,” says Scott Peterman, the Bakery’s director.
The collective started in the former Calderwood Bakery Building on Pleasant Street in Portland. They needed funds to complete the build-out, so they held an auction. The first annual Photo-A-Go-Go was held in Betsy Evans Hunt’s gallery in the same building and grew over the years, spilling out into the hallways, eventually taking up the whole first floor.
It became the go-to party of the season. “It’s an amazing opportunity to buy photographs directly from the source while supporting one of the most important art collectives in New England,” says Mark Bessire, director of the Portland Museum of Art.
As the auction grew, so did the Bakery. In 2006, after looking unsuccessfully for larger, affordable spaces in Portland the collective relocated to the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook. The City of Westbrook welcomed the addition, offering the Bakery a low-interest business loan. Other visual and performing artists followed the Bakery, moving into the mill and throwing their doors open on the night of the auction. The mill’s owner donates an additional 4,000-square-foot space to hold the event each year.
Westbrook used to be a city dependent on the Sappi paper mill. Now, there’s a banner hanging on a downtown light pole that proudly proclaims: “Artists Live Here. Artists Work Here.”
The Bakery may have left the Portland peninsula, but the spirit and the collective model has provided an inspiration for a new collective: Pickwick Independent Press, which opened a letterpress and screenprinting center on Congress Street in October. “When we began to imagine a communal space for printmaking, the first place I called was the Bakery,” says Pickwick founder Lisa Pixley.
I’ve been to every Go-Go since it started and have seen some beefy bidding battles. My strategy is bid early, drink, dance, have a great time, and then come back to the wall for a final round of frenetic bidding. Below the Go-Go’s chummy surface runs an undercurrent of anxiety as buyers hope to find a gem. Because many people find it easier to buy a photograph than a piece of abstract painting or a piece of sculpture, the bidding is fierce.
Which is good news for the Bakery. The silent auction, now in it’s tenth year, brings in nearly $14,000 to support outreach programs. With nearly 150 photos, no jurying, and plenty of supporters, the auction showcases work of Samantha Appleton, the Portland photographer who frequently shoots for The New Yorker, signed books by Alec Soth, prints by Tanja Hallander, and master printer John Paul Caponigro, along with pieces from Bakery residents and interns.
As the emcee gave the 5-minute warning, bodies swarmed to the walls, pencils scratching out final and furious bids. Otto returned to write his name under Fitzgerald’s name again. I could not find a good reason to say no. He loved that picture. I loved it. It was way more than I intended to spend. Screw it. It’s Christmas, right?
Otto wrote his final bid, put the pen down, and bit his lip. “Did we win? Did we win?”
Keith made a beeline over to the wall, reviewed the bid form, shook his head and said, “Oh man, I can’t do this. I can’t outbid Otto.”
We won. We won. In an assembly line of efficiency, one of the Bakery members took our payment, another wrapped up the photo. We headed back into the snowy night, made the slippery drive home, and hung our picture next to the Christmas tree.
Photographs from top:
Bob Monroe. Victoria Winters Project #10, 2009, Silver gelatin, 19” x 19”
Tanja Hollander. Untitled 47712 (Camden, Maine), 2004, C-print, 30” x 30”, Edition 10
Karen Lewis. Clown at Filling Station, 2008, C-print, 8” x 8”
Sasha Bezzubov + Jessica Sucher. River, 2006, C-print, 18” x 23” courtesy Daniel Cooney Fine Art, NY
Mark Marchesi. Brown Street; Westbrook, Maine, 2007, C-print, 24” x 30”
Tonee Harbert. Untitled, 2009, archival inkjet print, 20” x 35”
Photo-A-Go-Go | Dana Warp Mill | Westbrook | bakeryphoto.com