The “humble regality” of Lauren Hare’s portraits

Sebastian Zinn considers the artist's work and win in the triennial Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition

by SEBASTIAN ZINN

An immaculate glass windowpane separates us from a woman in a flaxen dress, seated in a small diner at a booth with lemon-yellow upholstery. Her dress gives the brown veneer of the table a golden tinge. Reflections play across the windowpane, challenging our ability to establish what’s inside or outside the diner. A sliver of baby-blue sky in the upper left-hand corner signals that it is a bright, cloudless day. Five glazed, American-style donuts are stacked in a tower of confection on the table in front of her. She is taking the first bite from a sixth donut with her right hand. Her left forearm rests on the table, shielding her meal from the other diner-goers whose backs are turned at the bar behind her. Her eyes are focused on the window sill. If she were to raise them 45 degrees she would be looking into the camera’s lens. This is, after all, a photograph, created by the Portland-based portrait photographer, Lauren Hare. This photograph, entitled Secrets, was awarded a prize in the National Portrait Gallery’s triennial Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. The competition received 2675 entries for the 2019 cycle, and 46 finalists were selected from that pool. Two of this cycle’s six prize winners, including Hare, are women.

Lauren Hare, Secrets (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

 
The goal of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition is to “celebrate excellence in the art of portraiture.” The competition pairs three National Portrait Gallery curators with four guest jurors, who are tasked with selecting artworks which “reflect the compelling and diverse approaches contemporary artists are using to tell the American story through portraiture.” This year’s prize winners and finalists submitted work in an eclectic range of media, including stop-motion drawing animation, inkjet prints, oil paint, video, acrylic, and ceramic.

Hare’s Secrets captures more than an individual likeness; it speaks to the contemporary American story. The image has a subtle allegorical quality to it, rendering a sober vision of consumerism. Portrait traditions ranging from Egyptian sarcophagi to Baroque portraits have long served to memorialize members of the social elite. Many of the works in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection, such as portraits of contemporary celebrities including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Spike Lee, and Jeff Bezos, fulfill precisely this role. Secrets, however, captures not the likeness of a known or revered cultural figure, but the ennui, desire, dissatisfaction, and isolation familiar to many young Americans. The figure in the diner booth is an “everyman;” anyone living in 21st century America, trapped in the cycle of binge and ‘self-care’ consumerism can identify with this situation. By synthesizing these complex feelings into a single image, Hare, and her fantastically expressive model, Madison, allow viewers to confront them head on.

The woman in Secrets looks like she is engaging in (or resigning herself to), a deeply personal ritual, and her downcast expression and slumped shoulders tell us that she isn’t much enjoying it. Her body language seems guarded, subsumed within her own interiority. Perhaps she is dissatisfied with her reflection in the glass in front of her (an experience anyone with a front-facing camera can relate to). Secrets is almost an anti-advertisement for a donut chain. Rather than a jovial, American nuclear family indulging in a spontaneous trip to the donut shop on a sunny afternoon (“Daddy likes bear-claws, but mommy prefers chocolate with sprinkles”) we see one woman, alone in a public space, outnumbered by consumer goods without anyone to share them with. Somehow, Secrets seems to parody this experience without diminishing it.

Lauren Hare, Portrait of my Mother from Still Life Portraits (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

Donuts are by no means the first props to appear in Hare’s portrait photographs. In one series (Still Life Portraits, 2017) she captured her models striking unnatural poses in surreal environments, surrounded by bizarre props, including fruits, vegetables, flowers, and glassware. The arrangements elicit the impression that the human subjects in her photographs are part of an elaborate still life, establishing an equivocation between animate and inanimate matter. “A lot of times my models will have to be very patient while I figure out where I want to put my props,” she tells me.

Hare thinks of her approach to portrait photography as being situated “somewhere between the biographical and the fictional.” Preferring to create honest representations of bodies, she never photoshops her subjects. The people in her portraits typically look at ease, as if we are encountering them on their own terms. It’s worth noting that smart-phones and references to the internet or social media––key drivers of contemporary culture’s obsession with images and our proclivity towards carefully curating online, image-based identities––are completely absent from her photographs.

Lauren Hare, Grandbaby 1 (2018). Courtesy of the artist.

Hare feels that her ability to coach her subjects is one of her greatest strengths as a photographer: “I like taking photos of people when their faces are relaxed. I try to portray my subjects with what I like to call humble regality––both humility and honor,” says Hare. This approach is particularly successful in her portrait series, “See Her,” which highlights the beauty, confidence, and vulnerability of women “50 years and wiser.” Her sets can also be extravagant, and the poses she has some models assume are meticulous––they aren’t always engaging in banal activities, like navigating the aisles at the grocery store. Still other photographs (like Secrets) possess a cinematic quality, weaving together micro-narratives on the basis of coincident materials and events, such as props, location, and context (See “The Long Drive Home”).

Hare realized that the tone or mood of Secrets has been a through line in her body of work. The ambiguity inherent in portraiture appeals to her: “A portrait doesn’t have to provide an answer, or tell the audience what to think, but perhaps alludes to a new perspective.” She used to travel across North America, working as an art model, and enjoyed discovering the suburbs and micro-communities of the American landscape, because it helped her realize how many different lives there are to be lived. Secrets carries forward and manifests this voyeuristic gaze. It enacts portrait photography’s capacity to open a window into another person’s reality, as if we were passing a restaurant on the street, our attention temporarily drawn to the characters inside. The photographer’s relationship to the woman in the window booth mimics our relationship to the subjects we can discover through portrait photography, especially those of photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, August Sander, and Vivian Maier. As a medium, it provides a window into the life of another person, allowing us to speculate about the extent to which they may be “different from [us] in ways big or small, a lot or only the littlest bit like [us]” (Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker).

Lauren Hare, Laura from See Her (2018). Courtesy of the artist.

It’s difficult to exaggerate the significance of Hare’s achievement as a prizewinner. In 2016, the painter Amy Sherald became the first woman to be awarded first prize in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. That same year, she was commissioned by Michelle Obama to paint the former First Lady’s official portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. initiated her “rise to fame,” and Sherald and Kehinde Wiley’s portraits of Michelle and Barack Obama have been credited with doubling the National Portrait Gallery’s annual attendance and putting the Gallery “on the international map.

Lauren Hare, Untitled (2018). Courtesy of the artist.

Hare took her first art class––a series of three dark room classes at Portland Community College (PCC)––at age 21, in 2006. It changed her life, and she retook the class four times. “I was never swept away with something before photography, and it helped me develop more of an identity,” she says. She obtained an undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at Marylhurst College in 2013, focusing on the therapeutic benefits of photography and Imagery-Sustained Healing. Although she enjoyed her psychology courses, she always felt that there was more that she could contribute, but she never knew how or with what.

Lauren Hare, Rodeo Queen from See Her (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

Initially, Hare’s photography took as its subject rural settings, particularly ghost towns and building structures in a state of decay––prominent features of early 20th century American life which had been consigned to the fringes of contemporary society and reabsorbed by the natural landscape. In her latest series, Hare has once again trained her lens on rural America, attending rodeos in Oregon where she photographs strangers. She catches many of her subjects in the golden light of late afternoon. Most striking among these is an image of a cowboy seated in the first row overlooking a rodeo ring, cradling a sleeping baby against his chest. The cowboy’s tenderness is focalized, and the chaos of the proceedings around him blur into the background. Like Secrets, this portrait successfully translates the emotional life of its subject in a snapshot, giving voice not to late-capitalist disenchantment, but the bone-deep bond between parent and child.

Lauren Hare, Grandbaby 2 (2019). Courtesy of the artist.

Hare began to value photography as a non-verbal mode of self-expression while experimenting with self-portraiture early in her career. Today, she aspires to empower her subjects to explore their aspirations and identities through a visual medium. She believes that good portrait photography encourages its subjects to reflect back on their inherent strengths. “Eventually,” she tells me, “you learn that it’s not always about self-discovery, but about self-acceptance.”

Sebastian Zinn has a B.A. in Comparative Literature with an allied field in Art History from Reed College. Since graduating in the Spring of 2018, he has been working as a freelance writer and editor covering a diverse range of topics, including economics, medicine, food, music, literature, film, fashion and visual and performance art.

An intersection of people, ideas, and music

Nexus Choral Ensemble premiere concert brings impressive technique, emotional and spiritual power to Shaw, Buxtehude, and Barnwell

By MARK POWELL

The Nexus Vocal Ensemble, founded and directed by singer-conductor Lennie Cottrell, presented its debut concert To the Hands on Saturday, November 16 at St. Mark’s Parish in Northwest Portland. This is an ensemble to watch. In a day when new groups come and go, I hope this one will stick. Its young singers (“no one is over 35,” said one of them to me at the reception) primarily make their livings as choral leaders, directing choral activities in schools, singing professionally, or both.

It shows. Singing of the highest caliber was on full display, with only a few intonation lapses that the fairly dry acoustics of St. Mark’s Parish might have heightened. Ensemble Esprit, a string group featuring some of the region’s best players, joined forces with Nexus in the two primary works of this no-intermission program. Nexus helpfully provided a beautifully presented program book with all the original texts and translations.

Rather than performing choral music of every style and every era and every tradition at the highest standard—an all-too-common and frankly boring approach—this ensemble clearly has a “why” for their work. They state in their biography: “This is what Nexus is: a meeting point; a connection between things; an intersection of people, ideas, and music.”

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Dance preview: Restaging two great Merce Cunningham dances

Robert Swinston, who has been immersed in Merce Cunningham dances for almost 40 years, brings "BIPED" and "Beach Birds" to town

I love that dance is so transient. I hate that dance is so transient.

I love the urgency, the surprise, the physical shudder of understanding that a great dance delivers. I hate that once it’s over, it’s impossible to duplicate. We in the audience, after all, will never precisely pass in this way again, and neither will the dancers onstage. That’s where the urgency comes from—the desire to hold on to a particular, delightful filament of moments in time.

So, yes, I’m talking about the late Merce Cunningham and this weekend’s visit (November 21-23) by the French company CNDC-Angers, part of White Bird’s 2019-20 season. The company will perform two of Cunningham’s astonishing works of the 1990s, Beach Birds and BIPED, and if anyone is going to capture lightning in a bottle, it’s going to be these guys. 

CNDC-Angers will perform Merce Cunningham’s “Beach Birds” this weekend at the Newmark Theatre/Photo by Charlotte Audureau

CNDC-Angers is led by Robert Swinston, who was a central part of the Cunningham company for more than 30 years, performing in both Beach Birds and Biped. He began staging Cunningham dances in1993, and after Merce died in 2009, he became both the company’s director for its final two years of existence and a trustee of the Merce Cunningham Trust. He’s led CNDC-Angers since 2013, working with Cunningham material of various kinds and with other companies along the way.

The confluence of the Trust, Swinston, and the nature of Merce’s dances, which are organized around a defined dance technique, mean that we’re going to see something very close to the original Beach Birds and BIPED at the Newmark Theatre this weekend. The can’t take us back to the ‘90s or the experience of watching these dances performed for the first time, but the only thing missing entirely will be the shock of the new—because choreographers around the world have been influenced by Merce generally and these two dances in particular. I think that if you’re a dance fan, you’re going to see this right away.

I emailed a few questions about the concert to Swinston and he was kind enough to reply.

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A century of Leonard Bernstein

An exhibition of mementos, film clips, and other artifacts from the cultural giant's long career at the Oregon Jewish Museum

by EVAN LEWIS

Leonard Bernstein is a complicated artist to reckon with.  Composer, conductor, teacher, activist, father, cultural figure– the word “polymath” seems designed specifically to try and find a small word to wrap all of his roles into one. 

The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education’s exhibit Leonard Bernstein at 100 runs through January 26, 2020.  Curated by the GRAMMY Museum in LA, The New York Public Library, and members of the Bernstein family, the exhibit chronologically illustrates the conductor’s life through photos, documents, mementos, and, most successfully, film clips of his performances. It’s a great exhibit for those who already know a lot about the Maestro (as LB is often referred to, in honor of his amazing conducting career), or those who are learning about him for the first time.  

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

In the interest of full disclosure: when I lived in NYC 15 years ago, fresh out of college, the first job I got was as the administrative assistant at The Leonard Bernstein Office, the organization that manages his estate; and after that I became the personal assistant to the man who had been LB’s personal assistant, Jack Gottlieb.  So to say that I feel like I have heard a lot of his music, thought a lot about his life, and generally been in a musical world with Bernstein always as a presence over my shoulder is a bit of an understatement. I ended up being asked to write this review without any of this being known; just one of those happy, musical accidents. Portland’s a small town, you always have to be on your best behavior because you never know who you’ll run into!

The exhibit starts with an overview of his early years– letters, photos, childhood in Boston– and then you enter a room where each display focuses on a different part of his music and career. Musically, it’s hard to mentally wrap your mind around the boundaries of his creative output and varied styles. Somehow it seems almost comical to remember one composer was responsible for On The Town, Candide, West Side Story, MASS, Symphony 2: The Age of Anxiety, Clarinet Sonata, etc. etc. etc. Bernstein by all accounts was someone hungry to experience all facets of life– read Jamie Bernstein’s excellent memoir Famous Father Girl for more anecdotes about that– and his catalogue of works shows that character trait in action.  Musicals, operas, film scores, “serious” concert works, rock-inflected works, musical lectures– there is no genre he didn’t dabble in. 

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

Last weekend, his daughter Jamie Bernstein was in town to speak about her memoir at the museum, and later that afternoon to introduce Portland’s own Bravo Youth Orchestra in a concert at the museum. Bravo is a proud part of El Sistema, and is dedicated to musical education with the mission to “transform the lives of underserved youth through intensive orchestral music instruction emphasizing collaboration, promoting self-confidence, and creating a community where children thrive.” Ms. Bernstein now, in a surprise to herself, does a lot of music education work in the vein of her father’s Young Peoples’ Concerts, so this musical meeting was a perfect fit. One item in the exhibit is a baton of Bernstein’s that he conducted Mahler with; it was loaned to Gustavo Dudamel, the most famous graduate of El Sistema, for a Mahler performance of his own. Long story short, he ended up snapping the baton at the end of the work, to his great distress. The snapped baton is on display.

In wandering through the exhibit with Ms. Bernstein, I asked her what her favorite item in the exhibit was.  Without pausing, she marched into the first room, planted her feet, and pointed decisively at what looked to be a torture device. “This, this is my favorite,” she said.  

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE with Frederics Permanent Wave machine at the left. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

From a distance, it’s hard to discern what this medusa tangle of wires even is, but it is, of course, a Frederics Permanent Wave machine.  Bernstein’s father Samuel had emigrated to the US from Ukraine and got into the beauty product business in Massachusetts, eventually becoming the exclusive seller of this machine of beauty/torture to salons in the Northeast.  The sales of this machine made Sam’s hair and beauty supply business a big success, and Sam always wanted his son to join him and, eventually, to take it over. Sam wouldn’t pay for music lessons for his son, believing that music wasn’t a stable career (I mean…he’s not exactly wrong) and that he should continue on his father’s legacy of providing perms to the women of Boston. After his son had become a worldwide phenomenon, Sam was asked by a reporter why he had refused to pay for piano lessons. The elder Bernstein replied, “Well, how was I supposed to know he’d turn out to be Leonard Bernstein?”

I asked her at the end of the exhibit if she had a favorite piece of music by him.  She said MASS held a special place in her heart since it seemed to have so much of Bernstein himself in the music and staging, but her real answer would have to be “whatever piece I listened to last.”  It is certainly true that he is hard to pigeonhole, and that one moment your favorite could be the Overture to Candide, and then you hear “America” from West Side Story and think that could be your favorite, and then a snippet of Serenade and you think, well….

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

Because the Maestro’s biography is so wide-ranging and star-studded, it’s hard for one exhibit to delve too deeply into any one aspect of his life– there really quite literally is not enough space. As a result, some of the sections feel like the CliffsNotes version of his biography– his activism is mentioned in one display, with a printout of his (lengthy) FBI file, and while that facet of him and his wife’s life could have its own exhibit, it does leave you wanting more depth, more detail about that part of his life. It’s a tricky balance to find, considering how much time could be spent on, for example, West Side Story alone, that the exhibit tries to speak to both people who know nothing at all about Bernstein as well as those familiar with his career. For the most part, the exhibit is successful in touching on all the major points of his life, and makes you want to go home and listen to everything.

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

In the end, when the exhibit is taken as a whole, all the items and photos and personal effects and printed anecdotes are fun to see and read and have novelty value, but only give you the outlines of the man.  It is the film at the end, showing him in action as a conductor, as a performer (and, most memorably as a composer/performer at the piano playing Rhapsody in Blue) that the hairs on your arm stand up.  It is then he feels most alive and vibrant and in reach–  his whole body making music, coaxing sounds out of an orchestra of old men with sideburns, music that was written hundreds of years ago and performed 40 plus years ago– that draws a crowd in the museum. Everytime I walked past the screen, there were people standing in silence, watching, taking in the Maestro in action.  That’s his true legacy: his ability to make music speak to everyone.

Evan Lewis, born and raised in Portland, Oregon, received his Masters in Music in composition from Mannes College, The New School (NYC) in 2008, where he was a winner of the Jean Schneider Goberman/Alaria Competition and had his orchestral work Alecto premiered at the 2008 Contemporary Music Festival by the Mannes Orchestra under the baton of guest conductor Michael Adelson. He is on the board of Cascadia Composers, and has had his writings featured in the LA Chamber Orchestra newsletter, KUSC’s member guide, and social media and blog posts for other musical groups.

Dance review: A journey home for Israeli choreographer Amy Leona Havin

The Holding Project's new dance at Shaking the Tree Theatre considered how we choose to make things holy

After seeing three dances by Amy Leona Havin in the past few months, I’ve started comparing her to a weaver at a loom. The various threads and colors of her choreography interact and overlap, creating recurring patterns at times and clear juxtapositions at others. Together, they pull together the edges of her dance blanket, connecting her vision to movement and offering a look into the inner workings of her mind.

Havin’s latest work, mekudeshet, is an evening-length dance set on her company, The Holding Project. It follows the recent Milk, which premiered in the Union PDX festival, and Holy Lola, a dance film that premiered at Portland Dance Film Festival. Last weekend, as mekudeshet threaded itself together, it looped in movements and aesthetic choices that recalled Milk and Holy Lola, and it felt like a homecoming. 

For Havin, the idea of coming home seems central to her quest as an artist and as a human. The roots of mekudeshet originate in her own family’s history—their Jewish faith, their Isreali homeland, and their resilience and struggle through the trauma of the Holocaust, during which all four of Havin’s grandparents survived the devastation of the concentration camps. The work serves as both a time capsule and a sign for how Havin’s future might weave together the worlds of Judaism and feminism.

The Holding Project performs Amy Leona Havin’s mekudeshet/Photo by Megan Hauk

“I feel in a way I have been split with my destiny,” said Havin, describing her dual identity as both a Jewish Israeli and an American. Interlacing her Israeli origins into her work seems to be Havin’s way of grappling with these things, having lived permanently in the US since her teenage years.  

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Breaking cultural ground in Beaverton

Work begins on the new, $51 million Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, a long-held dream for the city's center-in-the-making

ON A DRY AND CHILLY MORNING, BEAVERTON BROKE GROUND Wednesday on a significant slice of its future. The official groundbreaking of the long-awaited Patricia Reser Center for the Arts drew a big crowd to the site of what’s hoped to be a new city center, at The Round in the Creekside Urban Development District, near a MAX light rail station, City Hall, and Beaverton Creek. The 45,000 square foot arts center, which is expected to open in 2021, puts a huge stamp on the western suburb’s push to re-establish its own identity separate from downtown Portland: As the metropolitan area grows, its cultural and economic scenes expand with it and assert their own identities.

Patricia Reser speaks at Wednesday’s groundbreaking for her namesake public arts center in Beaverton. Photo: Joe Cantrell

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Finding hope through music

Southern Oregon’s Anima Mundi Productions continues to challenge audiences about cultural and social issues through music

By GARY FERRINGTON

A new concert series dedicated to bringing world-class musicians and composers to southern Oregon with the purpose of musicially addressing challenging social issues was inaugurated this October when Anima Mundi Productions co-founders, composer Ethan Gans-Morse and poet Tiziana DellaRovere, launched The Heart of Humanity program. This annual series of three concerts per year (fall, winter, and spring), often programed with “extra-musical” and “beyond the concert hall” elements that proactively engage the wider community, is focused on giving a compassionate voice to marginalized people and turning the concert hall into a venue for renewed hope, mutual understanding, and communal healing.

Malek Jandali Trio opens Ashland’s The Heart of Humanity series. Photo by Chava Florendo, courtesy Anima Mundi Productions.
Malek Jandali Trio opens Ashland’s The Heart of Humanity series. Photo by Chava Florendo, courtesy Anima Mundi Productions.

The Heart of Humanity is the fourth Anima Mundi project in which Gans-Morse and DellaRovere have focused on the mission of creating musical performances that inspire the soul, inform the mind, and foster community.

Their first production, The Canticle of the Black Madonna (2014), was a fully staged, Portland-premiered event about combat PTSD and the environment. A chamber opera,Tango of the White Gardenia (2018), addressed issues of bullying and body perception and went on tour around the state.The Rogue Valley Symphony commissioned Anima Mundi’s third and most recent collaborative effort, How Can You Own The Sky? (2018), a symphonic poem exploring the Native American legacy of Southern Oregon through poetry and orchestral music with indigenous musical influences.

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