Well-worn Oregon, refugee dreams

K.B. Dixon's Oregon photos at Parsons and Friderike Heuer's photomontages at Camerawork strip back the veil of the ordinary

I caught up not long ago with the Portland novelist and photographer K.B. Dixon, who wrote good gallery reviews for me years ago at a once-daily newspaper where we both worked, and whose fascinating portraiture project I wrote about a year ago in Face to Face: K.B. Dixon photographs Oregon artists.

K.B. Dixon, “Stars and Stripes,” 2014, silver gelatin, 8 x 12 inches.

Dixon’s most recent photographic show, Town & Country: Excerpts from an Oregon Journal, is entering its final week at Michael Parsons Fine Art, where it closes Saturday. As in Face to Face, all of the images are black and white, emphasizing the structure of things and the subtleties of light and dark. And while Dixon doesn’t expressly pick out the weird, in that amped-up Portlandia way, he has an eye for the offbeat and unusual, from his portraits of street characters to his evocations of Oregon architectural survivors from an earlier, more fiercely independent time. Dixon’s Oregon, urban and rural, is a place well-worn, from drive-in ice cream joints to murals on the walls of old cannery buildings to the studio of a fiercely focused glass blower to the wondrous time machine that is the Ringler’s Annex Bar building at Stark and Burnside in downtown Portland. Dixon quietly reveals an Oregon that is right in front of us, if we just stop and take the time to see.

K.B. Dixon, “Annex Bar,” 2014, silver gelatin, 8 x 12 inches.

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And a while ago I went to the opening of The Refugees’ Dreams, an exhibition of remarkable photomontages by Friderike Heuer that continues through March 3 at the Camerawork Gallery in Northwest Portland. Heuer is a friend whose work I deeply admire, and whose small show on surveillance Zwischenräume I wrote about a couple of years ago in Friderike Heuer’s spaces between.

Friderike Heuer, “Seeking Shelter,” 2015, photomontage on German etching paper.

Heuer grew up in Germany and was a lawyer there before moving to the United States and beginning a second career as a clinical and social psychologist. About 10 years ago she became a full-time artist, and the subjects of immigration, isolation, and the plight of refugees – those caught between places, whether physical or emotional or places of safety – have long been on her mind. She travels back to Europe often, and has thought long and hard about the tide of fear and cruelty and insularity sweeping over the Western world, including the United States. The images in The Refugees’ Dreams, or Fleuchlingstraeume, are manipulated on computer from photographs she took in Europe in the fall of 2015 and Turkey in the spring of 2012.

“It would be presumptuous of me to say I know what goes on in a refugee’s mind,” she writes. “I have not been bombed out, lived in fear for my life, driven out of my home, lost family to death and destruction, undertaken a perilous journey and arrived at a place that is alien in its climate, language, and culture. … My images, then, are products of my imagination, fantasies of what would fill my dreams if I had to flee my country, lost my home. They try to capture themes associated with displacement that I believe to be universal.”

These images convey loss, and rupture, and alienation, and a profound longing that reaches both toward the past and into the future from an unsettled and unsettling present. They are also – for this is the power and mystery of art – images of deep beauty.

Friderike Heuer, photomontage on German etching paper.

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