No one photographed a U.S. state like Kosti Ruohomaa did with his home state of Maine. He focused on its out-of-the-way places and its salt-of-the-earth people and captured the lives lived in post-war New England small towns.
Born in 1913 into a farming family by Finnish immigrant parents, Ruohomaa began taking photos as a young man and his photos appeared in LIFE, Look, Time, and National Geographic. New York photo agency Black Star represented him. Along the way, he befriended the painter Andrew Wyeth who shared his poetic vision of Maine and Mainers. Ruohomaa died in 1961, just aged 47 years, and faded into obscurity.
For LIFE, he put together two Winter in Maine series, a profile of a Maine Lobster Festival, and a story following a young schoolboy, Booby Lofman on his two-mile walk home from school. The first Maine Winter essay in 1945 was a collaboration with poet Robert P. Tristram Coffin (who lived nearby in Brunswick, Maine) where Coffin provided poems to Ruohomaa’s photos.
In 1952, Ruohomaa traveled to Eastport to shoot “some 500 citizens, teenagers, clergy, sardine canners, doctors,” and others who’d gathered to repaint the whole of the downtown at a time when the small town was struggling economically. The photos ran in Parade magazine.
In 1958, he shot for National Geographic the opening day of lobster season in Monhegan. The photos appeared in a 20-page spread. Ruohomaa recalled Monhegan: “In the summer, it is a bit too idealistically beautiful; in the winter, it has guts and drama and doesn’t wear such a pretty surface. Anyway, it has the kind of meat my camera likes.”