One of the lessons of life is that it’s sometimes better to be lucky than good, and when Nan Goldin was in high school outside of Boston in the early 1970s, starting to develop an interest in photography, she got lucky. “She was a classmate of one of the descendants of one of the inventors of the Polaroid camera,” says Jessica May, a curator at the Portland Museum of Art. “And so she got one.”

Goldin began taking photos of people on the fringes of society—drag queens, drug addicts, prostitutes—and not because she was a detached chronicler looking for subjects. “They were her friends,” says May. “They were the people she loved.”

Nearly fifty years after that Polaroid camera found its way into her hands, Goldin is considered one of the giants of contemporary photography. The Portland Museum of Art is now showing hundreds of her pictures in an exhibition that runs through the end of the year. It’s an opportunity for Mainers to see the work of a master. “She’s one of the greats,” says May. “I would say on the international stage she has very, very, very few peers.”