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Maine photographer's time travels to Portland in the 1970s

A new book of old photographs shows what endures—and what’s disappeared in Portland, Maine.

PORTLAND, Maine — In the early 1970s, John Duncan was 19, 20 years old, and working a variety of jobs in Portland. None of them were glamorous or lucrative as he washed dishes for the lunch counter of Woolworth’s department store, hauled garbage from the city to a pig farm in Falmouth, and drove a cab for Town Taxi on the 4:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m shift.

Unlike taxis in big cities that, like sharks, were always on the move, cabs in Portland in that era spent a lot of parked at taxi stands, waiting for a call to go pick up a customer.

“There was a lot of sitting,” Duncan recalled. People who needed a ride, especially after midnight, could be anything from forgettable to colorful to downright scary. Sobriety levels varied dramatically. There were times you’d get people that were just totally out of control. But I never got robbed or anything.”

At least Duncan had a camera, and shooting photos of what was going on around him on the streets helped pass the time. 

Turns out he had a superb eye and a genuine gift for composition, and now the best of his photos have been collected in a book published by Islandport Press called “Take It Easy: Portland in the 1970s.” The black and white images are striking: they show a gritty Portland, a cityscape still with us yet altered, smoothed over and made more prosperous as the decades have rolled by.

Duncan, now 72, lives in Portland a few miles off the peninsula. He still loves street photography, and two or three times a week he makes the trip downtown, almost always with camera in hand. 

“I bike in and just walk around and see what happens," he said.

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