It was about a year ago when photographer Justin Levesque had the epiphany to spend time on the Portland waterfront to document the city’s shipping industry. He was curious about all those container ships moving in and out of Portland harbor and assumed others were curious as well.
Levesque, who grew up in Biddeford, followed his wonder all the way to Iceland. Last fall, he hitched a ride on an Eimskip container ship and used the experience as a springboard to tell a much larger photographic story of the relationship between Portland and Iceland and the people who work for the Icelandic shipping company that calls Portland its North American home.
A year after hatching the idea in a Manhattan bar, Levesque, 30, is about to open a multi-media exhibition in Congress Square that will be displayed inside a 40-foot shipping container, just like the ones he’s been following for the past 12 months.
The exhibition, “ICELANDx207: Container,” will include photos from his journey aboard the MV Selfoss, portraits of the people who work on the ship and at the International Marine Terminal, as well as excerpts of podcasts that Levesque recorded with the crew while under way.
The container will arrive in Congress Square on Tuesday, and Levesque will open the show as soon as he sets it up. The official opening is Sept. 30, and it’s on view through Oct. 12.
“ICELANDx207: Container” also puts Portland’s Eimskip experience in context with the past and future of shipping in Maine. It will include audio and video stories of Portland’s working waterfront, collected by audio producer Galen Koch. Those stories will be told under the title “Wharfside: Stories from Portland Harbor’s Working Waterfront,” supported by Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and the Waterfront Alliance.
The exhibition coincides with the three-day Arctic Council international conference in Portland in early October.
For Levesque, the exhibition feels like the beginning of something bigger, not the end of a yearlong project.
“I think we’ve begun a contemporary conversation about shipping and transportation and helped make the invisible life of seafarers more visible to the general public again,” he said. “I really want to have this conversation away from the water. Putting it in a public space in the heart of downtown allows Mainers to engage a conversation they wouldn’t otherwise have.”
In June, Levesque will complete an artist residency in the Arctic Circle, traveling there in an older sailing vessel. That will help him tell another part of Maine’s shipping story.
The container for the art show will run lengthwise parallel to High Street. It’s a tight space, only 8 feet wide, and Levesque has a lot of work to display. He’s eager to get in there and hang the show. He’s worked it all out — on paper.
“I’ve had some problem-solving to do, in terms of figuring things out spatially. I have to maximize the space to achieve as great an impact as possible. But what’s nice about the container, it has the great ability to act as a metaphor for the story I’m trying to tell,” he said.
WHEN: Opening reception 6 p.m. Sept. 30, on view through Oct. 12
WHERE: Congress Square, Portland