This is an interview view of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art’s “Skirting the Line” exhibition, captured by photographer David Clough. Image courtesy of David Clough and CMCA

The exhibition was looking bright and beautiful. But for the second winter in a row, the Center of Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland had to turn people away instead of welcoming them in.

Last year, it was because of a water leak in the new building. This year, it’s the coronavirus.

In each instance, the gallery turned to Rockland photographer David Clough to create virtual tours of the exhibitions that people couldn’t see. The 360-degree virtual tour of “Skirting the Line,” featuring the work of female painters, offers people the chance to view individual pieces of art from all angles, and as they appear on the wall and in context with other art throughout the gallery. The virtual tour also includes label copy.

The exhibition, featuring the work of Tracy Miller, Meghan Brady, Inka Essenhigh, Anne Neely and Hannah Secord Wade, never had a public opening. It was supposed to be on view into June. CMCA has extended the closing date for “Skirting the Line” and its other spring shows until September, assuming the gallery reopens by then. The exhibitions scheduled for this summer will be postponed until summer 2021, said CMCA Executive Director Suzette McAvoy.

Meanwhile, we have a virtual tour.

Image courtesy of David Clough and CMCA

The tours are not new. CMCA has hired Clough to create virtual tours of other recent exhibitions for educational purposes. They’re especially useful when following up with students and teachers after they have visited the gallery or for introducing the art to island and other far-flung communities that can’t conveniently visit Rockland, McAvoy said. With unexpected closures two years in a row, CMCA is finding that the tours are becoming increasingly useful for connecting with all visitors, in person or otherwise.

“We want to encourage people to physically come see the exhibitions, but now that they cannot, this is one way we can continue to stay engaged,” she said.

Clough, 62, is an architectural photographer. He was the photographer for Tilbury House Publishers’ 2014 release “Homes Down East” by Earle Shettleworth, Chris Glass and Scott Hanson. A second Tilbury House book, “Restoring Your History House,” came out in December. In 2016, he exhibited and presented at an international symposium that opened in Venice, Italy, and toured to Japan, China and Sweden.

He’s working with curator Bruce Brown on a group exhibition of architectural photography in Maine, which was scheduled to open this year at Cove Street Arts in Portland.

Clough invested in 3-D imaging equipment a couple years ago. A friend recommended it for real estate photography, but Clough immediately saw opportunities in the art world. “At first I thought it was kind of gimmicky, but I figured I would try it. I could return it within 30 days if I didn’t like it,” he said. “After doing my first test scan, it was better than I thought it would be and far exceeded my expectations.”

In addition to working with CMCA, he’s also created virtual tours for the Farnsworth Art Museum.

David Clough uses a Matterport system to capture and scan images. Courtesy of David Clough

Clough uses a nine-lens camera that works like a scanning system. The camera sits on a tripod and spins 360 degrees, emitting infrared rays that shoot around a room measuring depth while capturing images. Clough controls it from an iPad, out of view. He starts at the front door and works his way through the gallery scanning every 5 to 8 feet. For “Skirting the Line,” he took about 75 scans.

“I want to come as close to mimicking a first-hand experience,” Clough said. “So I approach how I would like to view the exhibition. I take scans from far away, and for each individual piece of art, I put the scanner about 3 feet away. I want someone to feel like they are in the gallery, to provide that virtual walk-through environment.”

Neither Clough nor McAvoy would discuss the budget in detail, but Clough said it costs less than people think. He charges a day-rate for his work, and there’s a web-hosting fee. In addition, he charges up to 25 cents per square foot, depending on the size of the space. “It’s perfect for real estate, but I immediately saw other opportunities,” he said.

He took a class on architectural photography with Brian Vanden Brink at Maine Media Workshop a decade ago, and was hooked. “After that course, I thought, ‘This is it, this is what I want to do,’ and I jumped into it. I can’t photograph enough. I just love doing it.”

To experience a virtual tour of “Skirting the Line” at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, visit my.matterport.com

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