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Portraits of everyday humanity and Lisbon in transition

Jessica Holder captures images of her co-workers, while Liz Obert's photos explore the Portuguese city.


More often than not, the Community Gallery in Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center leans toward work by extremely local artists (i.e., from Newberg or Yamhill County), and that’s the case with A Glimpse at Humanity, a new photographic show by Jessica Holder.

My personal take-away from viewing the work, which consists entirely of large, black-and-white digital portraits of young men and women, was that it was produced by a photographer who had been doing this for many years. That may speak to my relative newness to visual art, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that Holder, a recent George Fox University graduate, has a remarkable talent for enabling moments that result in portraiture where the subjects appear very much at ease in their own skin. As far as this show is concerned, it may also have something to do with the fact that most of her subjects are fellow co-workers at the local Dutch Bros. Coffee — which famously hires young people who wear their extrovertism on their sleeves.

"Fate's Home" by Jessica Holder
“Fate’s Home” by Jessica Holder

“I was at Dutch Brothers one day, and honestly, I just said to my friend, ‘Would you ever want me to take photos of you?’,” Holder recalled. “And she said, ‘I’ve been wanting to get photos done for over a year!’ That’s what ignited it. I was inspired by the fact that she felt honored by it.”

A Glimpse at Humanity is Holder’s first show and will be on display through Nov. 2. On Sept. 14, there’s something special, particularly for those who might not be fans of posing for a camera: a community portrait event, enabling Holder to stretch beyond the drive-thru and get a broader picture of Newberg and its culture.

Here’s her artist’s statement:

“My artwork in style is very simplistic and consists of a short depth-of-focus and a vision between abstract and personal.  I am inspired to photograph people by each of their unique stories and the challenge of interpreting them visually.  The concept of this series is to find the Beauty in Everyday.  I search for a story behind every face, thus began the journey of photographing the people closest to me: to create something more out of the people I interact with.  What I found was differences, laughter and a whole lot of heart and part of my dream is showcasing it to a wider audience.”

"Cumulonimbus Clearing" by Jessica Holder
“Cumulonimbus Clearing” by Jessica Holder

Holder calls herself the daughter of two very logical people. Her father was a computer engineer, and her mother is a math teacher. I asked her how she came to photography.

“I was actually introduced to it through my sister,” she said. “My dad saw that she had a passion for creativity, so he invested [in a camera] for her, and that sort of trickled down to me. The first time I did it with the intention of wanting to be good at it was in high school. I just took my mom’s digital camera, sort of an upgrade from a point-and-shoot. The only thing I could bring myself to do was take pictures of my backyard. I think it was a little bit of an escape for me.”

At George Fox University in Newberg, she earned a degree in cinematography and photography. Originally from New Jersey and California, she’s now settled in Oregon and building a creative career, which she hopes will include documentary work stemming from future travels. Having visited Africa, she’s cognizant of the possibilities of viewing the world through a lens.

As with most of the artists I interview, I asked Holder to name a work of art outside her field that took her breath away. Given that she studied cinematography, her response wasn’t entirely outside her field, but I’ll let it go, because it’s a worthy recommendation.

“It’s the film Beasts of the Southern Wild by Benh Zeitlin,” she said. “We watched it in one of my film-theory classes at George Fox, and I fell in love with the characters and the soul that emotes from the story.  It follows a 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppy, who is probably one of the best child actresses I’ve ever seen. Along with the amazing story, the way it was filmed was incredible.  It’s more documentary, Wes Anderson style, but it lends to the rawness of the film.”

You can view more of Holder’s work on her website or Instagram page.

THERE’S MORE PHOTOGRAPHY TO BE SEEN IN McMINNVILLE, where former Linfield College professor Liz Obert is showing State of Transition in the college’s James F. Miller Fine Arts Center on Keck Drive. The show runs through Oct. 5. Obert will give a talk at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4, in the Nicholson Library Viewing Room, followed by an opening reception from 5:45 to 7 p.m.

The show, according to Obert, features photographic work about the complexities and contradictions that surround the city of Lisbon, Portugal. She began the series by walking Lisbon’s streets during an artist residency at the HANGAR artistic reseach center, and she photographed whatever caught her eye.

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“While learning about the city, I discovered it was in a constant state of transition, from its medieval past to its present state as a vibrant modern city that is becoming overrun by tourists,” she says in her artist’s statement. “By looking at the images I captured, I could see signs of this transformation in a variety of ways, including old textures, peeling paint, electrical wires, new construction, and graffiti.”

Photographer Liz Obert says she looks for geometry and color combinations in her compositions, which she has presented as diptychs to further emphasize the contrast and transition in Lisbon.
Photographer Liz Obert says she looks for geometry and color combinations in her compositions, which she has presented as diptychs to further emphasize the contrast and transition in Lisbon.

A Portland resident, Obert received her BFA from the College of Santa Fe and her MFA from Washington State University. She has exhibited her work nationally and internationally, most recently at the 5th International Biennial of Fine Art and Documentary Photography, in Barcelona, Spain. She’s been featured in Slate and The Huffington Post. She taught art at Linfield from the early 2000s until 2019.

ARTS JOURNAL: I’ve nearly finished reading Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka’s stunningly prescient sci-fi global-warming thriller Nature’s End, published back in 1986 and ominously subtitled The Consequences of the Twentieth Century. How prescient? One chapter deals with out-of-control fires in the Amazon in the late summer of 2019 ( ! ) with the Brazilian government rejecting international offers of aid. By the time it’s over, central Brazil “looks like the surface of Mars.” There’s also a frightening chapter about a wildfire racing through the Santa Monica Mountains that brings to mind images of the charred community of Paradise. It bears repeating: The book was written in more than 30 years ago. Insofar as the Amazon disaster goes, they nailed it right down to the month.


This story is supported in part by a grant from the Yamhill County Cultural Coalition, Oregon Cultural Trust, and Oregon Community Foundation.

David Bates is an award-winning Oregon journalist with more than 20 years as a newspaper editor and reporter in the Willamette Valley, covering virtually every topic imaginable and with a strong background in arts/culture journalism. He has lived in Yamhill County since 1996 and is currently a freelance writer whose clients have included the McMinnville News-RegisterOregon Wine Press, and Indulge, a food-oriented publication. He has a B.S. degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and a long history of involvement in the theater arts, acting and on occasion directing for Gallery Players of Oregon and other theaters in Oregon.