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For 35 Years, Portland's Valentine Bandits Help Us Feel the Love.

valentine bandit, portland, maine, photo by samuel cousins

I must be living under a rock, because I was surprised yesterday morning as I drove through Portland to see all of the hearts taped to virtually every storefront and architectural detail I passed. It was kind of thrilling, these random acts of tape and toner. It's also totally corny, of course, but the scale of it was inspiring. Like a concrete reminder that we love each other, that we love where we live—that we need to make it more visible. In the Facebook world, this is friendship writ large. When I asked the woman behind the counter at Two Fat Cats about it she said something vague about a Valentine Phantom or Bandit. Next stop was Corey Templeton's photoblog to see if he had shot it yet and to find out that this has been going on since 1976 and there is a Wikipedia page about it. Corey was busy working on something else, but told me that Samuel Cousins would be out shooting all the banditry that afternoon. You can see a few of his pictures above and the whole set at his website. I asked Sam if he had anything to tell me about shooting all those hearts yesterday. He answered, perhaps a bit emphatically, "Far too many people think it's me! Quite a few people have asked me to put them in touch with 'my boss' (of the bandit club) because they have some great ideas. My friend Ryan Dlugosz went out shooting with me. When we started at noon, it was very gray. But we stopped for lunch, and when we came back outside, the sky had turned blue, and the temperature had skyrocketed to 50 and became quite a pleasant day. You can see one of Ryan's photos below and the rest of the gallery on his website. Quite interesting to compare how two different photographers see things. My favorite hearts are the ones that are well placed and become more than just a post. The three you chose are good examples: The tin man [statue] getting a heart. There's a certain sick humor with the expired parking meter. And the newspaper machine—today's news? A heart. I think the hearts soften the otherwise harshness of the middle of winter. A few of the hearts were written on. I'm not sure I like this new trend. More so last year than this one. Some were touching, Some were mean. And some were pretty funny (usually the mean ones). But I still prefer ones that convey meaning without having to resort to words." For the past year, there's been a Facebook discussion topic branching off from the Portland Maine Encyclopedia of the 1960's, 70's & 80's group, where it was happily reported that, "The Valentine Bandit was VERY busy last night. Hearts everywhere!" and, "The Valentine Bandit Lives! A giant Valentine Heart, hanging on the front of the PMA. Street-level hearts, everywhere. Even over here, in SoPo." Yes, South Portland feels the love, too. You can see the PMA heart among other views at the Unseen Portland photoblog.

valentine bandit, portland, maine, photo by ryan dlugosz

Photos by Samuel Cousins (top) and Ryan Dlugosz (bottom)

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