K.B. Dixon


The Artists Series: Writers, Part 2

Ten portraits in black and white by K.B. Dixon of Oregon writers who are making a mark in the world, with excerpts from their work


This is the second installment of portraits in The Artist Series. Like the first, it focuses on Oregon writers—the unusually gifted people who make up this state’s diverse and dynamic literary culture. 

The visual approach remains the same. It relies on an economy of means, on a simple alchemic mix of raw materials: time, light, and character.

My hope is to call attention to the uniquely rewarding work of these talented people, and, as always, to produce a good photograph—one that presents a feeling as well as a form, one that preserves for myself and others a faithful representation of the subject. 


Poet, novelist, memoirist, and science writer. Far West is his latest book of poetry.

“My brain is a jukebox stuffed with old songs

playing a phrase or two at random over

and over. I keep the volume turned low

but you can sometimes see my lips move

as I sing along, eyebrows rising as I reach

for a silent high note.”

Excerpt from the poem “Over and Over” in the collection Far West


Tuba or not tuba: That’s the holiday question

For the 29th year, Portland Tuba Christmas makes a mighty sound in Pioneer Courthouse Square, renewing a pleasure we've been missing.


Portland’s 29th annual Tuba Christmas boomed and rumbled over Pioneer Courthouse Square in the center of downtown on Saturday, and to tell the forlorn truth, I’d forgotten all about it. Fortunately for the world in general and ArtsWatch readers in particular, K.B. Dixon had not.

Dixon, my friend and a frequent ArtsWatch contributor, is an enthusiast of the sort of odd creative compulsion that struts proudly just a little to the side of the workaday world. He believes it’s part of the joy and generosity of life to hurl himself into the midst of such wonders – things like carousel museums, vintage car and airplane collections, Day of the Dead celebrations, Saturday Market, coffeehouse culture, roadster shows – and record them in visual images for the rest of the world to see and appreciate for what they are: the quirks and passions and alternate pathways that create a life well-lived.

Out of the chaos, a universe of coordinated sound is born. Music stands and music scores help midwife the joyous event.


Photo First: The Day of Dead

At the Portland Art Museum, a lively and well-adorned crowd comes out to join in the Mexican celebration of Día de Muertos


Día de Muertos (Day of Dead) is a national holiday in Mexico. It is celebrated throughout Latin America, the United States, and here in Portland at a handful of venues, including the Portland Art Museum and Pacific Northwest College of Art.

A truly flamboyant festival, it celebrates the lives of departed loved ones and the larger life of a diverse and vibrant community. It mocks the fear of death with ornately decorated images of the macabre.

Saturday afternoon’s celebration at the Portland Art Museum was the museum’s second time hosting the event organized by Maria Garcia, an indefatigable activist, businesswoman (she owns Revolucion Coffee), and former member of the Mexican Consulate. The event, which drew a huge crowd, included food, art, Aztec dancers, Mexican cowboys, poets, lectures, music, and an exhibition of altars. It is slated to become a regular annual offering.


The Artist Series: Writers

In the first of a new series of portraits, K.B. Dixon concentrates his lens on the faces of 10 leading contemporary Oregon writers.


This is the first in what I hope will be a long series on local artists—in this case, writers, the unusually talented people who work in words, the most common and most difficult of mediums.

The writers here are some of Oregon’s most accomplished and decorated. Their work offers the reader that unique adventure that only the evolutionary miracle of language allows—access to other worlds, both real and imagined.

The visual approach to this new series of portraits differs greatly from my previous series, In the Frame. Here the environmental details are kept to a minimum. The subjects have the frame to themselves and do not compete with the context for attention. This provides for a simpler, blunter, more intense encounter with character.


Oregon’s Poet Laureate, and Director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis &Clark College. His latest collection of poems is Wild Honey, Tough Salt.

“Among the many forms of wealth,
in the catalog of luxuries, I choose
the right to be forgotten on a quiet
morning such as this….”

– Excerpt from the poem “The Right to Be Forgotten,”
in the collection Wild Honey, Tough Salt


Photo First: Seeing Astoria

As the Astoria Regatta gets ready to sail around the bend, K.B. Dixon takes his camera to Oregon's oldest city and finds a wealth of images

Astoria has a garish and dramatic history, its fraught founding meticulously chronicled in Peter Stark’s award-winning book—a book with a title as long as the city’s renovated river walk: Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire—A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival.  It is the story of John Jacob Astor’s venal and ultimately failed dream of establishing an international trading post on the Pacific coast to sell fancy fur like sea otter (aka “soft gold”) to the Chinese. Fragments of this history and of the later more pertinent histories of the city as a fishing and timber center are easy to find today. What is also easy to find today is a vibrant arts and cultural scene.


Mixed in with timber terminals, working canneries, and barking sea lions are a handful of busy galleries—galleries like the eclectic RiverSea; the intimate Imogen; the Royal Nebeker Art Gallery at Clatsop Community College; and the Lightbox Photographic Gallery, one of the best photographic galleries not just in Oregon, but on the whole West Coast.  There is the refurbished Liberty Theatre, a general performance venue extraordinaire; Godfather’s Books, a Luddite’s summer-of-love sanctuary; and, of course, Vintage Hardware, a de facto museum which, in spite of some recent gentrification, remains a fascinating place, a capacious cabinet of curiosities.

It is a city with an unconventional beauty all its own, an authentic time-worn quality—a city that nurtures a strong sense of connection to its working-class past.

It is also a city that offers plenty of tourist-friendly programing. There is the Crab, Seafood, and Wine Festival in April; the Astoria Music Festival and the Scandinavian Festival in June; and the Astoria Regatta in August. But its most inspired annual offering is, I think, the FisherPoets Gathering in February—”a celebration of the commercial fishing industry in poetry, prose, and song.” It is a weekend-long extravaganza with a hundred fisher poets—deckhands, skippers, cannery workers, and shipwrights from the East and West Coast—descending on the city to read for each other and for growing crowds in Astoria’s pubs, restaurants, and galleries. This coming year’s will be the 22nd  such gathering.



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


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.


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


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.