Picture of Steve Rubin

Fellowship Title:

Fellowship Year:

Clara and Elery Corson 1983. Husband and wife.

Time And Time Again: Poverty In A Maine Village

Photographers enter people’s lives for periods as short as minutes or as long as weeks. Constrained by deadlines and journalism’s compressed time, the assignment ends and we leave. We never stay, we rarely know what becomes of the people we photograph. Editors may permit an anniversary special or the occasional follow-up, but rarely the follow-through. West Athens is different. With this work I have a personal commitment to return — to accompany this village through time, to follow the children of the children I first photographed years ago. For me, this project is a history. I seek to document the life cycle of this community over real time. The first time I walked down the dirt road into West Athens in 1982, I could tell I wasn’t wanted. Suspicious, light blue eyes peered out at me from trailer doors and from behind curtains, watching the stranger in their closed community. But with time and persistence, I began to be accepted. Eventually people extended their trust, allowing me to witness more of their lives. Life there

Read More »
Stacy Murray, 20, a single mother melts Crisco to make french fries for supper. Her one-year-old son, Vincent, watches from his walker.

Why the Poor Eat Poorly: French Fries for Supper in West Athens, Maine

Maine is famous for two foods: lobster and potatoes. The people of West Athens are familiar with only one of these—potatoes. If you are what you eat, then the residents of this small impoverished village are starches and meat. The diet in this town is a combination of country cooking and junk food. Stacy Murray, 20, a single mother melts Crisco to make french fries for supper. Her one-year-old son, Vincent, watches from his walker. There are always potatoes. Grown in nearby Aroostook County, they are sold at Jim’s Store in Athens, a 50 pound bag for about $8.00. Families go through 50 pounds in no time: mash them, fry them, grate them and boil them. Toss them in soups, grill them on the wood stove, bake them in campfires and sometimes just eat them raw like an apple. French fries commonly make a meal. It’s rare when there is something else on the table besides the main course. Maybe some white bread and cheap margarine, or home-made biscuits or a jar of pickles. Vegetables

Read More »
This huge sawdust pile behind this West Athens saw mill shows the prosperity reached in the late 19th century. Photo courtesy of the Athens Historical Society

The Timber Industry and the Felling of West Athens, Maine

Everett York leans back and rests his massive weight on a worn Lazy Boy recliner that belongs indoors but looks right at home amidst the miscellaneous junk, cars and car parts that litter his trailer’s yard. Close by, his wife, Rena, reclines on the rickety stairs that lead up to the trailer with a gracefulness that belies her size. Everett begins to reminisce about their town’s past. “Ayuh, there used to be stores, all kinds of stores and you could buy anything you wanted right here in West Athens. Oh, back then it was good. We had two saw mills and a shingle mill, even a cider mill down near where…” Rena can’t refrain any longer from adding her recollections and bursts in, “I’ll tell you, mister, this was some town! We had two stores and a gas station, plus a church. We even had a hotel right here. I don’t remember it, but I’ve heard people talk plenty about it. And, let me see, there was one, two, three, four! houses right here in

Read More »