Maine's Woods: Observations by Bert Lincoln Call & Henry David Thoreau back to intro page

Bert Lincoln Call

Call as a young man B.L.Call at age 30
1866 Born May 16, and named Albert Lincoln Call after President Abraham Lincoln, in East Exeter, Maine, he is the second child of Edwin and Jane (née White) Call. He grows up on his family's farm, where he helps with the milking of dairy cows and raising sheep, the production of apples, maple syrup and honey.
1886 In February, at the age of 20, leaving the operation of the farm to his family, Call moves to Dexter, Maine, where he apprentices himself for three months to local photographer, A. G. Fassett. Impressed by the young man's work, Fassett refuses the $25 apprenticeship fee, instead hiring Call as an assistant at $8 a week.
  In November, Mr. Fassett, sells his photography studio to Call for $1000 for the business, fixtures and building.
1887 Call purchases Fassett's business with a loan from Mr. L. T. Waterman, a photography enthusiast and furniture mill worker, who is interested in becoming a picture framer. The two men establish a successful partnership.
1888 Marries Miss Carrie Safford. They have one child, Edwin Clifford Call.
 Begins annual photographic excursions to the woods of Northern and Central Maine.
Call at cave entrance Call in woods at cave entrance
1890Call repays debt to L. T. Waterman, becoming sole proprietor of his studio.
 Call sets up seasonal outdoor studio at Etna Campground, making tintypes for visitors at four pictures for 50 cents.
1915Begins hand-coloring landscape photographs, mainly tintypes, with watercolor paint. He expands to other subjects, eventually replacing watercolor with oil.
1916—1933Named official photographer for In the Maine Woods, the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad's annual publication promoting passenger ridership in the region.
1918Moves and enlarges his studio.
1919Edwin C. Call, son, joins the business as a partner.
1924Fire destroys the Call Studio.
1925Purchases the John W. Springall Building in Dexter, re-establishing his photo studio.
1937 (circa)Receives order for more pictures of the Katahdin region from the Appalachian Trail Conference.
1944Closes his photography business.
1965 Dies June 1, Dexter, Maine, at age 99.

On the Work of Bert Lincoln Call

Bert Call's photographs have two important historical dimensions. First, they represent a key development in the history of Maine's tourist industry. Call's photographs are at the heart of one of the most important developments in the rise of outdoor recreation in the northeast. Call's photographs were featured prominently by the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad's magazine, In the Maine Woods, advertising the recreational potential of the northern part of Maine. Because Bert Call was the publication's most important photographer, the interpretive potential of his commercial photography is enormous. It represents ways in which Maine attempted to project and interpret its wilderness to outsiders over the course of nearly a half-century.

Second, the Call photographs document a wilderness landscape that had not changed significantly since the 1840s, when Henry David Thoreau's lyrical essays on the north woods placed the region at the core of the American concept of wilderness. Bert Call, who traced Thoreau's footsteps many times over in his photographic ventures into the same region, provides us with graphic documentation of these themes, rendered so powerfully in Thoreau's The Maine Woods. The photographs not only provide a photographic/artistic dimension to the metaphorical “creation” of the north Maine woods, but they show a fascinating continuity in values over the course of time between Thoreau's visits and those of Bert Call.

—Dr. Richard Judd, Professor of History, University of Maine, Orono, Maine
(Letter to Richard D'Abate, Maine Humanities Council, April 27, 1991)