Gloucester Daily Times: 'Above the fold' Exhibit turns a lens on Cape Ann

November 29, 2023

Gail McCarthy

Cristin Gisler captured the unthinkable, a home being washed into the North Atlantic during what is now called the “Perfect Storm” of 1991, and later the outpouring of a community mourning its fishermen lost at sea.

Josh Reynolds captured a depth-defying shot of a shipmate atop a mast at dizzying heights during Gloucester’s annual Schooner Festival, celebrating the city’s maritime heritage.

Paul Bilodeau captures a subtle scene of a fraternity of Sicilian-Americans enjoying conversation in the heart of the seaport, in a city they now call home.


This trio of images is only the tip of the photojournalistic iceberg embodied in Cape Ann Museum’s next special exhibition, “Above the Fold: The Photographers of the Gloucester Daily Times, 1973-2005,” which runs from Dec. 2 to March 17. This show grew out of a donation of an estimated 1 million Gloucester Daily Times negatives to the museum in 2021.

“Gloucester is a visual paradise,” said James “Jim” Mahoney, who was hired at the Times in 1981 at the age of 23. After a two-year stint, he spent the next 36 years as a Boston Herald staff photographer.

Trenton Carls, the Cape Ann Museum’s head librarian and archivist, noted that when processing the GDT photo archive, the individual styles and approaches between the different photojournalists quickly became apparent.

“Some drew from the style and approach of Charlie Lowe, but all brought something new and a fresh perspective to their role of documenting Cape Ann. This exhibit looks not only at the photographs of Cape Ann from this over 30-year period, but it also explores the newspaper, cameras, and people that brought them to the community’s doorstep every day,” said Carls, the curator of the exhibit.

Charles A. Lowe worked as a photographer at the Gloucester Daily Times from 1957 to 1981, when he died of lung cancer at the age of 49. Lowe was a 17-time winner in United Press International New England photo contests. In 1971 alone, he won prizes in five separate categories.

This exhibition is a veritable walk down memory lane with the gallery brimming with images that not only showcase the compelling stories of the day, but also daily life, like the first day of school, or the community celebration of St. Peter’s Fiesta, the joys and defeats of local sports, a summer’s day at the beach or fishermen at work on the wharves.

The dates of the exhibition correlate to the dates of the donated physical media, primarily negatives, but some CDs as the newspaper switched to digital about 2000. The time frame also focuses on the era starting from Gloucester’s 350th anniversary to 2005.

Among the featured photographers, there also will be interactive exhibits where a visitor can try their hand at viewing negatives on a light box as was the method decades ago when there were darkrooms, chemicals for developing film, and contact strips. The light box interactive display also allows visitors to view each stage of a photograph, from negative, to contact sheet, to photo print, to the final version as seen in the newspaper.

A display of cameras will illustrate the change in technology. Residents can even fill out a photo assignment of their own, perhaps of a scene they think is worthy of publication.

Newspaper photographers seek to do far more than just capture a moment in time, they seek to embody the emotion of the people and the authenticity of the action.

“Immersing myself in the livelihoods of so many left me with an appreciation of the closeness of the city and the importance it has on the residents — a feeling shared by many of the Times’ staff,” wrote Mahoney in a photographer statement of his tenure at the paper.

He reflected on the differences between his first job and his next post: “Working for a Boston paper does not allow you to get involved in the community with as much zeal as when you work for a local paper like the Times.”

“This sentiment perfectly reflects the close relationship that exists between the people of Cape Ann and the journalists at its hometown newspaper,” noted Carls.

The exhibit features more than 150 photographs of more than a dozen photographers, each with their own legacy.

Bilodeau, the current staff photographer at the Times, appreciates the close-knit nature among Cape Ann residents.


“When I showed up, everyone knew who I was and why I was there. I made kids famous and some adults infamous. I photographed everyone and everything and I was welcomed, unless you were being arrested, everywhere,” he wrote in his photographer statement.

“Unlike all the other papers and areas I’ve covered, Gloucester and Cape Ann are different. It’s a family. It’s dysfunctional at times, but it always comes together in crisis. In the 1990s, I felt like part of the fabric of this community, and I still feel that way today.”

His first gig at the Gloucester Daily Times was from 1995-1996, after which he worked for The Salem News and The Eagle-Tribune, returning to Gloucester in 2018 until present.

The spark of Gloucester’s Charles A. Lowe and a second photographic exhibition

The first section of “Above the Fold” features the work of Lowe, the sole local photographer for the Times for nearly a quarter century during which he served as a visual analyst of life on Cape Ann. He transformed daily scenes into photos which caught the public’s attention over the decades.

In 2009, Cape Ann Museum presented an exhibit of roughly 120 of Lowe’s photographs, selected from Lowe’s archive of more than 40,000 images, which the Gloucester Daily Times donated to the museum in 2004.

With the sheer number of images in the recent donation from the Times, the museum was able to bring back the position of photo archivist, and hired Maegan Squibb, who worked closely with Carls exploring and sorting the countless negatives.

“As we started to excavate, we realized the task was more than we ever expected,” Carls said. “Furthermore, we wanted to take a look back at the two eras, from the city’s 350th to this year’s 400+ commemoration. The obvious next step was to do an exhibit and we wanted to tie it to the 400th.”

In fact, the first photo in the exhibit is a Lowe photograph from the summer of 1973 with residents watching the 350th anniversary parade.

“What ended up happening, and I didn’t expect it necessarily, is that while processing and digitizing, we started recognizing names and started to realize there is a lineage of photographers at the paper,” Carls said.

The Gloucester Daily Times, founded 135 years ago in 1888, always has focused on telling the stories of its residents.

“The Gloucester Daily Times celebrates the vibrant community of Cape Ann,” Cape Ann Museum Director Oliver Barker said. “With more than 30 years documented in this exhibition, it captures the emotions of the people in Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Essex. The museum is excited to share these images that show the details and special moments of everyday life.”

Keeping in mind that photography was invented in the early 1820s, the Times began including photographs in its editions as early as the 1900s, sourcing them primarily from national photo syndicates. That changed in 1957 when the newspaper hired its first full-time staff photographer, Lowe, according to an exhibition statement.

“Building on the success of the museum’s 2009 exhibition featuring Lowe’s work, ‘Above the Fold’ will focus on the newspaper’s next generation of staff photographers, technological advances that changed the field, and the myriad of ways that GDT photographers have captured life in Cape Ann,” Carls wrote.

This exhibit has consumed Carls since he started his job at the museum on Nov. 12, 2019. It was a week later when Bilodeau walked into his office inquiring about the museum’s interest in the Times’ photo archives. He never imagined the Herculean project on which he was about to embark.

Amy Sweeney, a Gloucester Daily Times staff photographer from 1985-1991, said the exhibit really shows what the job is all about.

“This is what we do as a photojournalist. We document every day — and every moment is precious,” she said.

“We are storytellers. We try to capture the essence of a story in one photograph. It’s amazing to see how talented the staff has been through the years.”

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