At age 84, photojournalist Linn Sage is still documenting people, places and events. A retrospective of her work titled “N x NE: Summer Migrations” is on view at the Northeast Harbor Library through Aug. 30. PHOTO COURTESY OF NAN LINCOLN

Linn Sage continues to document the people and world around her



In Bar Harbor’s Fourth of July Parade in 1996, a couple is captured riding in Oli’s Trolley as part of the procession.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LINN SAGE

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — Linn Sage, a photographer with a history of documenting protests over the decades, is taking a brief respite from politics to train her camera on the tides, scenery, water reflections and human activity on Mount Desert Island. Her show, “N x NE: Summer Migrations,” is on view through Aug. 30 at the Northeast Harbor Library. 

Sage, who lives in New York and has summered most of her life in Mount Desert, at age 84 continues to document the times we live in. Her street photography spans 60 years.  

“My intention has been to record these events with the eye of an artist rather than a journalist,” Sage says. 

With her Leica camera in hand, the photographer has recorded many major events and periods in American history. Her body of work includes the 1960s’ free speech movement, including Abbie Hoffman’s Yippie uprising; the Vietnam War protests; the Gore v. Bush presidential election; the 9/11 terrorist attacks’ aftermath; more recently, the protests outside Trump Tower; and the U.S. Senate impeachment hearings. 

Nowadays, Sage shoots in color and black-and-white and is well-versed in digital photography. The photographer’s images featured in “N x NE: Summer Migrations” are black-and-white. Over the decades, her pictures have been published in national newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, People and New York magazines and The Ellsworth American, the Mount Desert Islander and the former Bar Harbor Times. Her work has been exhibited in Maine, New York City and abroad. 

“I wasn’t at the Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol,” Sage related, giving the impression she would have liked to add her perspective to the visual history of the riot and insurrection.  

Here on Mount Desert Island, Sage is better known for her iconic and often humorous photos of interesting people and beautiful places rather than political unrest and controversy.  

“Summer Migrations “is a retrospective collection of 26 black-and-white archival images, most featuring MDI summer scenes and people. 

A youngster tries to dislodge the South Bubble’s giant glacial erratic with a swift kick.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LINN SAGE

In one image, a youngster karate-kicks the giant glacial erratic on the South Bubble. In another picture, a child offers a pine frond at Lower Hadlock Pond outside Northeast Harbor. Venturing farther afield to Nova Scotia, the photographer captures a group of camera-toting tourists scrambling over the ledges at Peggy’s Cove. In the image, the tourists are intent on snapping a sunset, unaware that their own silhouettes have created a different sort of tableaux for another observer. 

“It was difficult putting this together – choosing what to include, what to leave out,” Sage says. The prints she did choose were almost exclusively shot with her 35-mm Leica from the 1970s through the ‘90s. Although she now uses a lab to create her prints, it is done under her close supervision. 

“Initially I planned to include some of my more recent color digital images in this show,” Sage says. “But it just didn’t work. As I was assembling these, I realized a story about an annual migration was emerging – about the pilgrimage, which I and so many others make, each year, from our winter homes to return here, to this wonderful island.” 

Her personal summer migration brings her to a charming, light-filled converted barn on Sargent’s Cove, a narrow inlet on Somes Sound. A stone’s throw away is her more contemporary studio where she spends much of her time editing and organizing a lifetime of photographs. 

Sage, a Baltimore native, began her career in photography on another coast. Her first job after graduation from Barnard College in 1960 with a degree in art history was as the arts editor for the literary magazine Contact in San Francisco.  

“While there I decided to learn about photography by taking a few courses at the San Francisco Art Institute, “Sage says.  

As a student in an earlier decade, Sage had participated in the program “Experiment for International Living” and spent some time in Japan. She says she found her admiration for Japanese art and architecture has had an enduring influence on her photography. 

When Sage returned to the East Coast to take a job at Newsweek in New York City, she was proficient with a camera and confident enough to start her long career in photography by documenting the turbulent era of the ‘60s. She is still at it. 

But come summer when she returns to MDI, Sage has been happy to focus on the less volatile occasions and vistas she finds here. 

Wherever she is taking pictures, Sage says she is most interested in people and/or action, and most of the images included in this library exhibit bear this out, often unexpectedly – a dizzying off-kilter shot of the Baker Island Light, for instance. Or an elderly pair of Oli’s Trolley passengers in a Fourth of July Parade in 1996. The couple seem to stare back at you as they slowly pass by on the parade route, poignantly reminding one of a kinder, gentler form of patriotism. 

PHOTO COURTESY OF LINN SAGE

If her subjects don’t offer enough movement for her purposes, Sage lets their shadows loose. A child’s shadow flows like spilled ink over the flat rocks of Baker Island. We only see the shoes of another child, but her shadow reveals she is holding a sea treasure. In the double contact print, the starfish and the delicate dark fissures in a rock formation transform the static granite into a sort of dance. This photo, as are several other images in the show, is accompanied by a verse or quotation – sometimes humorous such as, “You say erratic, I say erotic, let’s call the whole thing rock,” from MDI poet Carl Little. Sometimes, they highlight her theme of migration, as in this quote accompanying a portrait of writer and fellow migrant Frances FitzGerald. It also happens to contain a perfect description of the photographer herself: 

“There are enough changes in the cities of my l life that what I require for a month or two each year is an island where nothing changes,” it reads. “Not a vista, not a curbstone, not a pair of shoes in the closet. Also, I believe that by returning to the island every year I will become someone like my grandmother and her friends when I am in my eighties: That is fit, tart and a connoisseur of the clouds.” 

“N x NE: Summer Migrations” is on view through Aug. 30 at the Northeast Harbor Library. The library is located at 1 Joy Road. For more information, call (207) 276-3333. To learn more about Linn Sage, visit her website at www.linnsage.com.   

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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