Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Workers set up an inflatable igloo in preparation for Carnival ME on the Eastern Prom on Jan. 29.

Carnival Maine was a three-day event modeled after a carnival in Quebec City. I was assigned to photograph the preparations and really got lucky with the timing, arriving as they were inflating the igloo. From the outside it didn’t look like much, but from the inside you could see workers scurrying around to bring sections of the igloo together. The nice blue sky and shapes of the igloo make this image work.

Photo by Ben McCanna

Singer Jonathan Rugema, then a Casco Bay High School senior, records a vocal track in his friend’s bedroom on Jan. 30. Buy this Photo

I’d hoped for a brightly lit, spacious area, but instead entered a shockingly tiny bedroom where Rugema and two friends were recording in near darkness. The room was so crammed with keyboards and guitars I could barely move. I perched on the bed in my socks with my 35mm f/1.4 lens. Although the light was dim and the space tight, the shot was good, probably for those very reasons.

Photo by Derek Davis

Grace Shimansky of Cheverus completes a dive at the North Southwesterns swimming and diving meet Feb. 8 at Donald Richards Community Pool in Cape Elizabeth, as a pre-pandemic crowd looks on. Buy this Photo

Even without the context of what came afterward, this image has impact. It conveys the moment in a calm, but suspenseful and dramatic way. If you have ever been to a big swim meet, you would understand this moment. Halfway through, the stands packed with screaming teenagers and parents, the swimming stops and divers take the stage. It is suddenly eerily quiet. When a diver springs off the board, all eyes are focused and there is not a sound.

Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Oliver, 4, waves a flag as he and his father, Anthony DeBeryas, wait for Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar to arrive for a campaign visit in Portland on Feb. 29.

I arrived early and set up on the risers designated for the press when I noticed a beam of light illuminating a small section of the crowd in the mostly dark room. The youngster was watching his flag wave in the light. I made a few images of this moment before my focus shifted to the candidate.

Photo by Gregory Rec

Clark Cole takes in a dusk sky before returning to his sugar house in Dayton on March 4. Buy this Photo

As the day temperatures went above freezing in early March, I knew maple sap would start flowing, so I checked in with Clark Cole, who has a small sugar shack in Dayton, on my way home from work. Cole had gathered over 300 gallons of sap that day and he and a friend were boiling and loading wood into the shack’s original stove. Cole has been making syrup in this sugar house for 44 years. Returning to the sugar house after checking the sap level in a tank outside, Cole paused for a full minute to take in a colorful sunset. Before opening the door, he looked at me and said, “Isn’t it beautiful?” I thought of that moment frequently over the following months as a reminder to myself to pause and appreciate the beauty in this world to help alleviate pandemic stress.

Photo by Brianna Soukup

Members of the Hospital Incident Command System fill the board room at Maine Medical Center on March 12. The first case of COVID-19 in Maine was announced later that day.

It is strange to look back on this photo. This was taken when I still thought the pandemic might not be that bad in the United States. Just hours after I took the photo, the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Maine. The reporter and I were supposed to go back to the hospital the next day to continue documenting preparations, but they cancelled after the first case was announced. Being at the hospital for those two days was strangely comforting. It was nice to be around people who seemed prepared and confident, while outside, people were panic-buying toilet paper. I’m sure these same doctors, nurses and administrators are now exhausted. Back in March they probably didn’t think they would be living out the worst of the pandemic nine months later. I hope to see them again someday so I can thank them.

Photo by Ben McCanna

Andy Pillsbury, assistant bar manager at Great Lost Bear in Portland, puts barstools away while closing up the popular restaurant on March 18, when the state shut down in-person dining.

The world was grinding to a halt on March 18, when Gov. Janet Mills ordered all restaurants and bars in Maine closed to dine-in customers. I was sent to the Great Lost Bear on Forest Avenue in Portland to document its closing. Owner Dave Evans (not pictured) was sad, but optimistic that restaurants would fully reopen later that month, after what was initially a two-week order was due to expire. “You should come back to take that picture,” he said.

Photo by Ben McCanna

With pandemic restrictions in place, Congress Street in Portland is nearly empty late in the afternoon of March 24.

Parking was a cinch for this assignment. The city had just issued a stay-at-home order – effective the next evening – but it seemed people were already heeding the call. My job was to take a photo of an empty space in an area that would normally be bustling. Without street traffic, pedestrians or parked cars along Congress Street, the crosswalk signs suddenly looked comically unnecessary.

Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

East End Community School Principal Boyd Marley greets a student through a car window as families picked up lunches and Wi-Fi hotspots on March 31.

This image was made as schools were just starting to go remote. I believe it was the first time I saw people wearing masks. I made a few images of teachers and assistants handing out lunches and hotspots, but sometimes the better images are of moments you aren’t expecting. It was nice to see this principal still making connections with students amid the pandemic.

Photo by Brianna Soukup

Bela Harnden, 17, who is hearing-impaired and has Down syndrome, signs to his mother, Susannah Harnden, through the window of their home in Cape Elizabeth on April 8.

I knew when I took this photo that I was going to like it. I love the blue reflection against the glass together with Bela’s blue-toned outfit. The story was about the unique challenges that students with disabilities and their families face in the remote learning landscape. His mother was trying to balance working from home and managing the online education of her two children. I thought this sweet moment of Bela asking his mother a question – as he did many times a day – really worked for the story.

Photo by Brianna Soukup

Jaehee Park, 17, a junior at Greely High School, poses in her prom dress near her home in Cumberland on April 25.

I’m not the only photographer who took portraits of students dressed up for prom with no place to go this year, but I actually think that makes these photos better. They are part of a larger story of high school in 2020. The students I photographed are just a handful of the millions of kids all feeling the same sense of loss. It is just a dance and every student I spoke to recognized that, but for a lot of the seniors it wasn’t the dance itself, it was the feeling that they were going to miss the chance to properly close the high school chapter of their lives. That is no small thing.

Photo by Brianna Soukup

Isabelle Campbell, 8, a second-grader at Lyseth Elementary School, attends a distance learning science class on Zoom at her home in Portland on May 7.

Isabelle was so much fun to photograph. Her mom warned me that she might move around during her remote learning class and move she did. I’m so glad she quickly felt comfortable with me there and just did her normal remote learning routine. I think a photo of her just sitting at a table would’ve been much less real.

Photo by Ben McCanna

Deacon Larry Guertin blesses the occupants of a car during drive-thru Sunday Mass at St. Hyacinth Church of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Westbrook on Mother’s Day, May 10.

I tend to dress like a carpenter, not because I have any woodworking skills, but because I crawl around a lot in this profession. This blustery day at St. Hyacinth Church of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Westbrook was no exception. I was lying prone on the cold ground for several minutes waiting for the right combination of elements to converge. A big gust of wind was the clincher.

Photo by Brianna Soukup

Air National Guard member Anna Johnson administers an aerosol solution to test the seal of an N95 mask for a staff member at Gorham House assisted living facility in Gorham on May 19.

It was surreal to see National Guard members set up in front of Gorham House. Everything about this year has felt like it is out of a movie and to me, this scene is no different. If you had shown me this photo last December, I would have been so confused, but if you show me this photo in 50 years, I’ll know immediately that it was taken in 2020.

Photo by Derek Davis

Hundreds of protesters lie down on the street and sidewalk after marching to the Portland Police Station during the fourth straight day of demonstrations against racism spurred by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis a week earlier.

I could tell it was a large crowd while they were marching from City Hall, but to see all the protesters lying in the street at the police station was unbelievable. For months the Portland peninsula had been a ghost town. Then came that first day in June. Thousands filled the streets with angry, loud and desperate voices. I was close to a trash bin when they hit the ground, and I was able to climb up and capture an image that shows the sheer numbers.

Photo by Derek Davis

Hundreds of protesters surround a police cruiser on Congress Street as they march through Portland on June 1.

June 1 marked the first of the very large Black Lives Matter protests in Portland. The crowd seemed to grow as the sun went down, and clashes with police began. The crowd surrounded a cruiser, banging on the windows and trying to block its path. There were two officers in the car, and I remember thinking how outnumbered they were. I was worried someone might get hurt. I think the image shows the uncertainty of the situation. I doubt many of the protesters had ever surrounded a police cruiser before, and in their faces, you see emotion, anger and perhaps confusion.

Photo by Gregory Rec

A woman speaks with a Cumberland County Sheriff’s deputy during a Black Lives Matter protest near the Portland Police Station on June 2.

On the second night of widespread Black Lives Matter protests near the Portland Police station, things often became confrontational between protestors and officers clad in riot gear. This image stands out to me because of its different tone: The woman approached officers and asked them calmly, almost in a pleading tone, to let the protestors remain in the streets and continue to demonstrate.

Photo by Brianna Soukup

ZyAnthony Moss, 19, marches to Monument Square with other protesters during a night of demonstrations against police brutality in Portland on June 3.

I introduced myself to ZyAnthony earlier in the evening and told him I was taking photos for the Press Herald, so when he led a small group of demonstrators toward Monument Square, I began taking his photo. Because he already knew who I was and what I was doing he didn’t pay me any mind – he seemed so focused and calm. There is a deep sense of purpose that I think really comes through in the photograph.

Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Deante Campbell, 17, of Sanford, chants in front of the Sanford Police Department during a Black Lives Matter protest in the city on June 6.

I followed protesters as they walked from a local park to the Sanford Police Department, where they were met by officers dressed in riot gear. You could see the passion for justice in Campbell’s face as she chanted while walking up and down the line of officers. Campbell was one of a handful of young people of color asking local leaders to address systemic racism in her community.

Photo by Briana Soukup

Marchers celebrate Juneteenth, the day marking the emancipation of Black Americans from slavery, on June 19 in Portland.

This was taken on Juneteenth while I was photographing a rally that brought hundreds to the streets of Portland. When you’re taking photos of a march or demonstration it can be hard to stay in front of the crowd. During the rally, I somehow wound up in the middle of a mass of people marching to the Abyssinian Meeting House and I was worried that I would never make it back up to the front. Just as I was going to try to exit to the side, I looked over and saw this little girl being held up over her backyard fence with her fist raised. People passing by were cheering and clapping for her. Her mother was the one holding her up and her brother was standing next to her. They stood there as hundreds marched down their street demanding an end to police brutality and systemic racism. All of the people marching that day were there because they want her to grow up in a different country than the one we’re living in now. It felt really powerful.

Photo by Ben McCanna

Emily Walsh, office manager at L’ecole Francais du Maine, takes preschooler Hatcher Mardel’s temperature before Hatcher enters the building on June 11.

This was an early glimpse into the new normal for school children. Students at L’Ecole Francaise du Maine, a preschool-fifth grade independent French immersion school in Freeport, reopened in late spring, and I was there to document their new morning check-in, which included temperature-taking. Hatcher was especially emotive, making this the standout photo of the day.

Photo by Gregory Rec

A man skimboards in the water at Long Sands Beach in York as a thunderstorm cell moves offshore on July 13.

As I finished photographing an assignment in York Village one day in mid-July, I saw that threatening skies had moved in from the west. I decided to go to Long Sands Beach to work up the assignment in my car to see how the storm would unfold along the coast. As a thunderstorm cell moved in, lifeguards called swimmers out of the water, but one man went back to riding a skimboard as a heavy, driving rain began to pelt the beach and thunder rumbled overhead. More than any other image I made this year, I feel this one is the most starkly metaphoric for 2020: Despite the looming danger of the pandemic, people were sometimes willing to take risks to get a taste of fun and freedom after the spring lockdowns.

Photo by Gregory Rec

York Town Clerk Mary-Anne Szeniawski carries a bin of absentee ballots on July 13 that were cast in the state primary election.

I had been assigned to go to York Town Hall where election workers were collecting absentee ballots on the last day before the July primary. When Town Clerk Mary-Anne Szeniawski learned I was there, she came out and told me I should come into the office to see the large number of absentee ballots. Her office had numerous bins of absentee ballots they had taken in just that day and a vault filled with ballots that had come in previously. It gave me the first glimpse of how mammoth the task would be for town clerks and election workers to count the record-setting number of absentee ballots cast in the primary and general elections.

Photo by Derek Davis
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Maria Concannon, left, and Kaity Woods, both 14-year-old Cape Elizabeth residents, jump from a bridge on Route 77 into the Spurwink River on July 21.

While life hasn’t been close to normal since the start of the pandemic, there were times over the summer when it seemed close. Mid-July had this effect, with crowded beaches, backyard barbecues and COVID cases down. The sight of kids jumping from the bridge on Route 77 into the Spurwink River, their bicycles leaned up on the guardrail nearby, towels dangling from the handlebars, is about as normal as you can get. So I wasn’t surprised to come across this timeless scene, but it made smile and want to capture the joy and freedom in an image.

Photo by Ben McCanna

Christan Sark, 19, who is homeless and pregnant, lights a cigarette while sitting on a blanket outside Portland City Hall where she intended to sleep on July 22.

You can’t improve on reality. As the evening skies darkened over City Hall during the first night of the Sleep Out, a demonstration that would last for more than two weeks, I was growing frustrated with the dim ambient light and went to my car to get a flash. When I returned, I took a few photos of Christan Sark as she prepared to bed down for the night. When I saw her reach for a cigarette and lighter, I knew it was time to kill the flash and go with the natural light.

Photo by Derek Davis

Volunteers and residents at a homeless encampment at City Hall Plaza in Portland try to secure tents in heavy rain and strong winds on Aug. 4.

As members of a protest encampment, demonstrating for access to safe and affordable housing for Portland’s homeless, scrambled to protect themselves from a rain storm, two people stopped what they were doing and embraced. The protest had started with a sleep-out night at City Hall to raise awareness of the city’s housing crisis, which has been compounded by the pandemic. After the protest and encampment endured and entered its second week, a strong storm threatened to blow it all away. I think the image does well telling the struggle of Portland’s homeless population and those who help fight and care for them.

Photo by Derek Davis

Clare Hannan hoists a cutout of her son Gus Von Vogt as he returns to the car with his diploma at the Portland High School graduation on Aug. 5. Buy this Photo

I arrived at the Portland High School graduation to find a parking lot full of vehicles filled with graduates being told to stay put. My first thought was this is going to be a hard assignment. I was wrong, and it turned out to be one of my favorite assignments of the summer. In addition to the amazing mom here, who had made an enormous cutout of her son in his cap, I witnessed lots of celebration. One graduate even had a wad of cash thrown to her over the fence by her music teacher. As a parent of high schoolers myself, I understood the feeling of loss that parents felt for the seniors of 2020, and the creative, and perhaps silly ways they tried to compensate for those losses.

Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

A couple of beachgoers pause to stare out over the ocean in Ocean Park on Aug. 21.

This image was made as part of an end-of-summer gallery the staff worked on together. I went for a walk on the beach at sunset looking for images that said “end of summer” when I came across this scene. Nothing says the end of summer like an empty beach. As I walked, the sky began to get dark with pretty, warm colors. It was a quiet moment and these people seemed to be soaking in the last moments of summer as I made the image.

Photo by Brianna Soukup

Ryan Tammaro, 10 and Ben Tammaro, 7, return an escaped chicken to the coop while doing farm chores with their dad, Nick Tammaro, on Sept. 3.

I remember feeling grateful to get a non coronavirus-related assignment this day. As important as our coverage of the pandemic is, it is sometimes nice to have a workday that just feels “normal” again. I had no idea that there was a full-fledged farm right smack in the middle of suburban Cape Elizabeth. I went out to the property, spent a couple hours with the boys and their family and documented them doing their nightly farm chores. One of the chickens got out of its enclosure and the boys wanted to chase it down. Their dad, Nick Tammaro, told me, “This should be interesting.” I didn’t get a great photo of the chase because they caught it in what seemed like record time, but I really love this one of him hopping the fence, elated with his catch.

Photo by Ben McCanna

Children lie beneath Seamore, a 120-foot, squid-shaped kite at Bug Light Park in South Portland on Sept. 9.

What a relief to encounter a little whimsy in 2020. In the photo department, we spend a lot of time searching for feature photos, standalone photographs that don’t necessarily accompany articles. This year, much of that time was devoted to finding moody images of mask-wearing pedestrians that would publish alongside coronavirus case numbers and related statistics. This flying squid and the thrilled children below it were a welcome departure from the new normal.

Photo by Brianna Soukup

Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon and incumbent Sen. Susan Collins debate at the Holiday Inn By The Bay in Portland on Sept. 11.

I have a lot of respect for photographers who cover politics full time. I think it is always a challenge to get anything interesting. I photographed for the full hour, only briefly stopping to send in a photo. By the end it felt like I had taken the same photo 100 times. I had no idea that I got this image of both Sen. Collins and Sara Gideon and their facial expressions until I started editing. Things definitely felt a bit tense in the debate room and I think this photo captured the mood better than any others I took that night. If they had been wearing masks, which they did during commercial breaks and immediately after the debate was over, it would’ve been impossible to capture this moment.

Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Protesters sit along Middle Street in front of the Portland Police Department as ‘Black Lives Matter’ is projected on the the building wall on Sept. 26.

This was one of the many Black Lives Matter protests we covered this year. The staff made so many powerful images from the BLM protests that it’s hard to pick just a few to represent the year. The photographers walked miles following the protesters all over the city but they often started and finished in front of the Portland Police Department.

Photo by Gregory Rec

Tom Walsh reviews an assignment with students while teaching a sociology class at Falmouth High School on Oct. 23.

This assignment at Falmouth High School marked my first trip back into an actual classroom since the pandemic began. I hadn’t expected to see plastic shields around the front and sides of each desk and they looked like they could be a bit claustrophobic, but students seemed used to them. In order to return to in-person learning, schools had to make numerous changes, such as mandating masks, implementing social distancing and cutting back class sizes. I think, like the experience I saw with my own children, that most students were happy to follow the guidelines so they could go back to school in person, even if only for two days a week.

Photo by Gregory Rec

People line up outside Portland City Hall for absentee-ballot voting on Oct. 27. Buy this Photo

During the week before Election Day, I was asked to go to Portland City Hall because the Press Herald had heard there were long lines of people waiting to cast absentee ballots. Upon arriving, I was shocked to see that the line stretched from the Myrtle Street entrance, across the front of City Hall and down Chestnut Street. People sometimes waited up to two hours to cast ballots, but they seemed patient, maintained social distancing and most wore masks. In order to see as much of the line as possible, I had to wait for a break in traffic and photograph from the middle of Congress Street.

Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Socially distanced voters cast ballots at Scarborough High School on Election Day, Nov. 3.

This year’s election was unlike any I’ve covered in my years as a photojournalist. I like this image because it captures the steady turnout and shows the social distancing that took place across the state because of the pandemic. I used the elevation of the bleachers and a long lens to compress the image and show the number of people voting on this historic day.

Photo by Derek Davis

Seen through the windshield of her vehicle parked under a red tent, Haylie Morris of Freeport uses a self-administered swab at a free drive-up COVID-19 testing site at the Westbrook Public Safety building on Nov. 9.

I got the call from the boss. We need a COVID feature that can carry the front page. She asked me to check out a drive-through testing site in Westbrook. OK, I thought, even if they allow me to photograph people, who will agree to be seen in the newspaper swabbing themselves? To my surprise, more people than I thought. After getting a couple of straightforward images of swabbing, I tried shooting through a windshield for something a little different and dramatic. The reflections of the red tent, the blue sky and the warm glow of afternoon sunlight give the image a theatrical quality, adding to the intensity of the moment.

Photo by Gregory Rec

Linday Plourde of Wells sets the ball during a volleyball game against Marshwood that was played outdoors in a field at Wells High School on Nov. 11.

As volleyball photos go, this one is pretty standard and, in a normal year, it wouldn’t make the final Photos of the Year edit. But 2020 was anything but standard for high school athletes. The pandemic caused some sports to be canceled and others that were held had to find ways to adapt. Normally, volleyball matches are held inside school gyms, so what is remarkable about this, besides that the players are wearing masks, is that the game is being played in a field. What struck me the most was the joy the players had just to be able to compete in a game.

Photo by Derek Davis

The horses come around the first turn in race 3 on the final day of live-racing at Scarborough Downs on Nov. 28. Buy this Photo

Scarborough Downs, a harness racing track in southern Maine, hosted its last day in November after a 70-year history of live racing. The track and industry had been in decline for 30 years. The Downs was one of the few surviving harness racing tracks in New England, but after a couple unsuccessful attempts to expand to a casino, it was sold to developers in 2018. I decided to venture up to the top floor of the building to photograph the horses going through what longtime track announcer Michael Sweeney calls “The Route 1 turn.” This is the view seen by thousands of fans from a packed grandstand in the track’s heyday.

Photo by Ben McCanna

A testing technician for Promerica Health awaits the next patient at a mobile testing facility at Portland International Jetport on Nov. 24.

I was apprehensive about this assignment. First, it required going inside an airport, a place I wouldn’t dare go, if not required, during a pandemic. Second, it involved standing in line with people waiting to be tested for the coronavirus. The people running the testing facility were decked out in gowns, face shields, masks and gloves, while I had a mere flimsy cloth mask. I felt woefully unprepared and vulnerable. Luckily, I didn’t get sick, and managed to get a fairly cool shot of a testing technician behind several layers of reflective glass.

Photo by Derek Davis

Kayla Mitchell, 31, a registered nurse who works in the COVID intensive care unit at Maine Medical Center, receives the hospital’s first vaccine dose from Dr. Christina DeMatteo on Dec. 15.

I was lucky to get assigned to photograph the first Mainers to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in December. It was a very low-key event, with only the doctor, the recipient of the vaccine, and a couple of other hospital employees in the room, but everyone was aware of the importance of the moment. It was clear how much the vaccine meant to the healthcare workers. As Kayla calmly entered the room and took her seat, I tried to get in a position where I could focus on her face, so I could see her reaction. I ended up making a pretty simple photograph, one that works because of her expression, her determined eyes.

Register here to join our photographers for a virtual discussion on Wednesday, Jan. 6 from 6:30-8 p.m. to talk about their favorite photos of 2020. 

Click here to see our 2019 Photos of the Year.

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