Work by Midcoast photographer Tillman Crane is included in “New Acquisitions 2009: In Black and White,” which goes on view Saturday, Jan. 9 a the Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square.

This winter’s new acquisition exhibition is devoted to black-and-white photography, one of the strengths of the museum ‘s growing collection. “New Acquisitions 2009: In Black and White,” on view through Feb. 21, will feature 37 photographs ranging from romanticized scenes of Maine agrarian life in the early 20th century by Chansonetta Emmons to mid-century documents by photojournalist Varner Reed and contemporary images of an elderly Mainer by Jon Edwards.

Following the exhibition of Diane Airbus portraits in 2004, the museum received its first Airbus images for the permanent collection in 2008 from long-time supporters of the Portland Museum of Art, John S. Ames and Mallory and Peter Haffenreffer. The PMA collection of Berenice Abbott photographs has been significantly augmented by a prime example of her New York work donated by Owen and Anna Wells, as well as a portrait series of Abbott made by her assistant, Maine photographer Todd Watts.

Artists’ portraits form an important niche in the collection and the animated images of Portland painter George Lloyd and Skowhegan watercolorist Abby Shahn by Philip Rogers document two contemporary artists whose works also are in the museum’s collection.

Black-and-white photography has long played an important role in documenting the history of rural life in Maine. Initially, such images by Emmons were made as works of art that rivaled printmaking and genre painting as a means to romanticize agrarian life. Earle Shettleworth, the Maine State Historian and director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, recently enhanced Pam’s significant holdings of her work with a gift of 10 photographs taken near her home in Kingfield.

By the mid-20th century, photojournalists like Varner Reed took a more straightforward look at the conditions of potato farming in Aroostook County. Contemporary photographer Edwards combines both approaches in documenting the hard-scrabble life of a Midcoast Mainer who harvests seaweed in the summer and prunes fruit trees in the winter.

Frequently, black-and-white photographic projects get published in book form, as is the case with the work of John Willis and Tom Young. These two photographers from western Massachusetts provided a photographic essay for a new book that examines the environment at a recycled paper factory. But rather than focusing on the machinery or the end product, these photographers were attracted to the bundles of used paper that goes into the process. Like those who preceded them in this genre, these black-and-white photographers combine a keen aesthetic with social concerns.

Other photographers in the exhibition include Crane, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Kris Larson, O. Winston Link, Philip Rogers and Paul Strand.

Portland Museum of Art hours are Tuesdays through Thursdays and weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Museum admission is $10; $8 for senior citizens and students with ID; $4 for youth age 6 to 17; and free for younger children. Admission is free for all between 5 and 9 p.m. Fridays. For more information, call 775-6148 or visit portlandmuseum.org.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to dernest@villagesoup.com.