Photographer's show draws on 'ghosts of his past'

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RAYMOND — Smith Galtney’s “one regret” is that he didn’t begin taking photos until he was 40.

Galtney and his husband John Costango had just moved to Maine from New York City, where he had worked as an entertainment journalist for 15 years. He was experiencing “a premature midlife crisis,” which led to a relapse in addiction. Back in recovery, Galtney looked for “a new activity that had no ties to the past,” and Costango recommended a photography class. 

“The obsession was just instant,” Galtney said, who lives in Raymond.

Galtney’s first solo show, “My Principal Ghost,” is on display now until March 29 at the University of Southern Maine AREA Gallery in Portland. The grand opening was Feb. 21.

After a class at Maine Media, he attended the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland and then the International Center of Photography in New York for a nine-month general studies program.

“I wanted to learn everything I could about photography. I wanted to learn the history of it, I wanted to learn about photographers, I wanted to learn about how a camera works,” he said. 

While in school, Galtney tried “to show my relationship in a way that there’s this domestic contentment and somehow let in the shadows of the past.” 

But accomplishing this goal took years. Back then, his attempt “wasn’t very good” and it wasn’t until summer 2018, when he began to look back over his photographs, that he realized “what they were asking me to do in photo school suddenly happened.”

“It was all kind of echoing or mirroring a lot of my memories that I had when I was in a far less settled period in my life,” he continued. 

That collection of photos became “My Principal Ghost.” The themes of the show are aging, marriage and addiction. Given his past addiction, Galtney said the fact that he will turn 48 this summer “just blows my mind. There was some dangerous moments in my late 30s. It’s really not overstating it that I’m lucky to be around.”

He is also thankful for his husband. “There was always this deep pride in what I’ve accomplished in my relationship, particularly in what we’ve been through.”

He calls the show “a relapse memoir in pictures” that grapples not only with his addiction but also with “growing older” and “the ghosts of the past.”

Galtney has struggled with how to portray his addiction, saying “It’s easy to make that the focus. On the other hand, I can’t not talk about it. It’s absolutely a part of the story.” 

Galtney works as the director of the Bakery Photo Collective in Portland. His next project will be “to tackle some fears,” including “approaching people to ask them to take their picture,” taking more photos outside of his home and working more with black and white photography. 

“I’ll always keep taking pictures. Who knows, this is definitely still a work in progress,” he said. 

Jane Vaughan can be reached at 780-9103 or at jvaughan@keepmecurrent.com. 

Smith Galtney of Raymond took up photography after a relapse into addiction.

One photograph from Smith Galtney’s show “My Principal Ghost,” at USM’s AREA Gallery in Portland.