K.B. Dixon

 

In the Frame 5: Cultural Lights

In a fifth collection of black & white images, K.B. Dixon continues his photographic portraiture series of Oregon arts and cultural leaders


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


The photographic portrait is a complex thing—an image gathered at the center of four corners. It is what the camera sees, what the photographer sees, what the viewer sees, and what the subject hides or reveals. The facts of it can be explained to some degree, but not the experience of it. It is a magic trick, a sort of transcendental transcription. It is pulling a rabbit out of your hat, or in this case out of your DSLR.

The portraits gathered here are the latest in a series titled In the Frame—a photographic chronicle of the talented people whose contributions to the art, character, and culture of this city have made it what it is today, people whose various legacies are destined to be part of our cultural heritage.

As with the previous portraits in this series, these have been taken in situ using available light.


JERRY MOUAWAD


Writer, Artistic Co-Director, and Founding Member with Carol Triffle of Imago Theatre.

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Photo First: Coffeehouse Culture

K.B. Dixon explores coffee-obsessive Portland's "third spaces" between work and home, where ideas matter, and so does the brew

According to German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, it was in the European coffeehouses of the 17th and 18th centuries that the foundations of the Enlightenment were laid. In providing a new sort of social space, one that was neither wholly public nor wholly private—a “third space”—they offered “a pathway from clan society to cosmopolitan society,” a place where the free exchange of ideas could thrive, where perspectives were broadened, where liberal attitudes were adopted, where reason could challenge the authority of both church and state.

The American coffeehouse of today is the distant cousin of this continental café-culture ideal—a “third space” neither wholly public nor wholly private where the concerns are as different as they are the same, where the free exchange of ideas must compete for time with the free expression of personal feelings, where perspectives are validated as often as broadened, where the attitudes adopted are as much a question of style as of substance, where reason can challenge the new sources of authority that have begun to chafe—Google, Apple, and Amazon.


Text and Photographs by K.B. Dixon


The city of Portland has a special place in this American coffeehouse culture. If you believe USA Today (and why wouldn’t you), it is one of the 10 best cities for coffee in the world, not just in America. It’s right there with Vienna, Havana, and Sao Paulo. If you believe Willamette Week, “a good cup of coffee means more here than in any other city in the U.S.” Whatever else Portland may be, it is certainly a city with a coffee consciousness (or “hyper-consciousness” if you are inclined to trust your social media feed). Offering an unusually broad spectrum of coffeehouses—everything from glass-and-steel extravaganzas to humble huts; from See See Coffee and Motorcycles to the Egyptian Tov to the socially conscious Revolución—it has come a long way from the beatnik-and-bongos era when you couldn’t toss a demitasse without hitting an existentialist.

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In the Frame 4: Culture now

In a fourth collection of images, K.B. Dixon continues his photographic portraiture series of Oregon arts and cultural leaders

Text and Photographs by K.B. DIXON

“The portrait,” said legendary photographer Arnold Newman, “is a form of biography. Its purpose is to inform now and to record for history.” It is hard to imagine a better, more succinct summation of the genre.

The portraits informing and recording here are the latest in a series titled In the Frame—a survey of the talented and dedicated people whose contributions to the art, character, and culture of this city have made it what it is today, people whose work has become part of our collective consciousness, whose various legacies are destined to be part of our cultural heritage.

As with the previous portraits in this series, I have tried to produce first a decent photograph—a photograph that acknowledges the medium’s allegiance to reality as its primal source of strength but one that is more than simple transcription—a photograph that presents a feeling as well as a form, one that preserves for myself and others a faithful representation of its subject.

 


 

Steve Wax

First U.S. Federal Public Defender for the District of Oregon and now Legal Director of the Oregon Innocence Project.

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Photo First: Roadster Show

From tangerine-flake streamline babies to dystopian, Mad-Max rat rods, a high-design Portland tradition on wheels revs up for its 63rd year

Story and photographs by K.B. Dixon

The Portland Roadster Show is one of the oldest and largest roadster shows in the country. Begun in 1956, it has evolved slowly over the years from its rebel roots in horsepower and chutzpah to its present incarnation as a showcase for expensive, high-concept hallucinations—the fantasies not of grease-monkeys, but of designers and financiers. It went from hard-nosed hot rods to what Tom Wolfe famously described as “tangerine-flake streamline babies,” cars dipped in Tootsie Pop-colored lacquer, klieg-lit, and liberally encrusted in chrome—the Faberge Eggs of an affluent, mechanically minded, mostly male demographic.

This evolution from jalopies to jewelry boxes spawned a counter-movement a few years ago—the “Rat Rod.” No fenders, no paint, no bumpers, no upholstery. Rust a must. It championed a dystopian, Mad-Max aesthetic. Heaps festooned with skulls, Iron Crosses, and spiky things—it was a reaction to economic inequity and to hot rods that were only decorative. Remarkably inventive and sharing with its up-market brethren a primal penchant for exaggeration, the movement found accommodation quickly and is now very much a part of the larger custom-car culture.

The 63rd annual Roadster Show—some 400 custom hot rods, muscle cars, trucks, motorcycles, rat rods, and whatnots—is put on, as always, by the Multnomah Hot Rod Council, a consortium of Oregon and Washington car clubs. It is one of the best in the country, according to Ur-Customizer George Barris, the eminence grise behind the Batmobile, the General Lee, the Munster Koach, and others. Proceeds from the event go to support a wide variety of charities including Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House.

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Portland Roadster Show

March 15-17

Portland Expo Center

Ticket and schedule information here

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Roadster Show, 2013

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Photo First: Womxn’s March

K.B. Dixon's 10 images from Sunday's downtown gathering for rights

About 2,000 people gathered Sunday on the Portland State University campus for the Portland Womxn’s March & Rally for Action, a combination of political rally, social dissent, feminist activism, assertion of racial and gender rights, call to environmental action, and street theater. It was the latest such rally in Portland since the massive national marches that followed the inauguration of Donald Trump as the nation’s 45th president in 2016.

While much smaller than that original rally on Jan. 21, 2017, which overflowed downtown Portland with as many as 100,000 protesters and celebrants, Sunday’s rally was notable for a lively blend of gender, race, and age. Kristi Turnquist, writing in The Oregonian, called it for the most part “an upbeat event, featuring speakers and crowds who were united in their support of progressive values and causes.” The crowd listened to speeches by the likes of WomenFirst founder Shannon Olive, U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, and Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal (who gave the keynote address), then marched through downtown. Another speaker, Turnquist wrote, was Agnes Baker-Pilgrim, at 95 the oldest member of the Takelma Tribe. “Indigenous people led the march, which moved down Southwest 10th Avenue to Southwest Salmon, then back on Southwest Broadway,” Turnquist wrote.

Photographer K.B. Dixon was on hand for ArtsWatch, taking his camera into the crowd, and captured 10 moments:

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In the Frame 3: Lens on artists

K.B. Dixon continues his photographic portraiture series with images of Oregon arts and cultural leaders

Text and Photographs by K.B. Dixon

Photography essentially began as the art of portraiture. With the daguerreotype the portrait—previously painted and available only to an aristocratic few—became relatively inexpensive and available to everyone. John Szarkowski, the legendary director, curator, and poohbah-emeritus at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, noted in Looking at Photographs (his survey of the museum’s extensive collection) that “of the countless thousands of daguerreotypes that survive, not one in a hundred shows a building or a waterfall or a street scene.” What they show is “an endless parade of ancestors.”

The portraits here are part of an ongoing project titled In the Frame—a parade not of ancestors, but of the talented and dedicated people who have made significant contributions to the art, character, and culture of this city and state.

As with the previous portraits in this series, I have tried to produce a decent photograph—a photograph that acknowledges the medium’s allegiance to reality; that preserves for myself and others a unique and honest sense of the subject; that provides the viewer additional context that enriches, however infinitesimally, the viewer’s experience, understanding, and appreciation of the work these people have done and are doing.

Taken in situ—that is, in the subject’s natural habitat—these are not formal portraits but casual ones, portraits that rely on a mystical synthesis of time, light, form, and feeling. No assistants, studio lights, make-up artists, hair stylists, set designers, costumers, animal handlers, or Photoshop retouchers were involved.

 


 

Kim Stafford

Oregon’s Poet Laureate. Director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College.

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Photo First: Tuba Christmas

Three hundred big brass horns playing Christmas songs in Pioneer Courthouse Square? Brace yourselves: It's a Portland tradition

Text and Photographs by K.B. Dixon

Improbable as it sounds (pun intended), Tuba Christmas is a real thing. An inspired creation, it is a mix of Santa Claus and Surrealism. An annual event in Portland since 1991, it features some 300 or so tubas galumphing their way through the Christmas songbook—Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Come All Ye Faithful, The First Noel, etc., etc. It is a performance-art piece transfigured by the comedy of its cockamamie premise into an old-fashioned bit of mainstream fun.

This showcase for big winds was originally conceived (in what must have been a psychoanalytically significant fever-dream) by Harvey Phillips, “Titan of the Tuba,” in New York in 1974 as a tribute to William Bell, his teacher and mentor. Initially a sort of public-relations stunt to gain the poor old put-upon tuba (the Rodney Dangerfield of the brass section) a little harmless recognition, it evolved quickly over the years into a national phenomenon. There are Tuba Christmases everywhere now from Kennebunkport, Maine, to Elkhart, Indiana, to Sacramento, California.

Mr. Phillips—the first tubist to be inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame—was dedicated to this sea-creature of an instrument. He formed a foundation (the Harvey Phillips Foundation) to address all things tuba. It is active to this day with scholarships, lectures, clinics, and public performances financed by Tuba Christmas registration fees. If every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings, every time a sousaphone oompahs Silent Night a subsidized tuba player gets a cleaning snake (or a jar of tuning-slide grease).

Mining the preposterous for pleasure, this basso extravaganza has become a treasured local tradition. The Tuba Christmas in Pioneer Courthouse Square this year will be Portland’s 28th. The sound of B-flat thunder rumbling slowly up through 18 feet of intestinal tubing on its way to Frosty the Snowman will put a smile on even the most curmudgeonous face.

Tuba Christmas

  • Pioneer Courthouse Square, 701 S.W. Sixth Ave. Portland
  • December 8, 1:30 to 3:00 p.m.
  • Free

Conference, 2012

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