Oregon photographers

Chasing the Light

Astoria's LightBox Photographic Gallery is a Bright Beacon in Dark Times

The great German portrait photographer August Sander wrote, “In photography there are no shadows that cannot be illuminated.” Best known for his documentary-style portraits of working class Germans in the early twentieth century, Sander practiced his craft during a dark and transformative period in world history, and he suffered great personal and professional adversity in his lifetime. He lost his son and his home to war, and tens of thousands of his photographic negatives were later destroyed by fire. Still, he persevered, and much of his art survives.

Perhaps the story of Sander can teach us something about resilience in our own dark time. The coronavirus pandemic has brought both personal and professional loss to many over the last several months, and across the world people have had to adapt quickly to the crisis in order to survive. Many businesses and organizations have also been affected, and art galleries have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. At a time when we may look to the arts to help us through difficult times, many galleries have been forced to shut their doors to the public. And with their closure we also lose a vital connection with our communities.

LightBox Photographic Gallery in Astoria has not escaped the hardships that art galleries have faced during the pandemic. A beloved institution among photographic artists and patrons of the arts, LightBox has grown into a premier gallery for photo-based art since its opening just over a decade ago. The gallery’s stellar reputation is a testament to the vision, commitment and professionalism of its owners, Michael and Chelsea Granger, as they have continued to build their photography center. Both acknowledge that they could not have fulfilled their dream without the support and devotion of the gallery’s members, many of whom have stood by them since the beginning. This is the story of how LightBox has grown, how it has withstood the pandemic, and what it has meant to many of its members over the years.

Logo, LightBox Photographic Gallery

THE GALLERY


LightBox Photographic Gallery opened in June 2009 with the first in a long succession of monthly exhibitions celebrating the work of photographic artists. Since its grand opening LightBox has become a Mecca for fine art photographers, particularly those who embrace the use of film, traditional photographic methods, and historical alternative printing techniques, but also for those who practice their craft using the finest in contemporary digital processes. With a guiding mission dedicated to the promotion of creative photography, the gallery has long been a venue for photographic artists to exhibit their work, share their vision, and inspire fellow photographers wishing to further develop their creative and technical skills. LightBox has served as a cherished community gathering place for photographers and patrons of the photographic arts, as well as a center for educating the public in current practices in fine art photography.

LightBox Photographic Gallery, Astoria

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The Cherokee lens, up close

Photographer Joe Cantrell's micro-images blend art and science to pierce time and geology and discover secrets of the shape of things

EDITOR’S NOTE: Many of ArtsWatch’s contributing writers and photographers are themselves artists. Joe Cantrell, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation who spent 16 years as a photojournalist in Asia, has photographed subjects and celebrations for ArtsWatch ranging from the Waterfront Blues Festival to backstage stories about the opera to classical-music performances ranging from concert halls to musicians’ front porches, as well as chalk art festivals and the immigrant-culture celebrations of Beaverton Market. For several years he’s been working on two special projects of his own, photographing the interior structures of pictographs and exploring the microstructures of geological time in rocks and fossils. For both projects he calls on his Cherokee tradition of viewing the universe.


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL


Cherokee tradition embraces outside technology and methods when we think they will be useful. One of the best examples of that was Sequoyah’s remarkable feat of single-handedly developing his syllabary. Sequoyah was one of only a handful of geniuses in human history who have single-handedly invented a written language for their people. It was so effective and easy to learn that illiterate Cherokees could become literate in one week! Compare that to the amount of time and energy we spend to learn English, folks, and the sad state of the language in spite of it.

Growing up in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma, the name Sequoyah surrounded us from the Sequoyah Theater to the “Indian Training School,” as it was known then, to the grade school. He became a part of who we were and would be. Even in my mid 70s, he still is. So as my photography has evolved since they sent me to the Tahlequah High School darkroom, September of 1960, it was natural that Sequoyah’s influence would follow.

I am perplexed by the fact that to meet a popular concept of “real Indians,” the Cherokees back in the Smoky Mountains apparently must emulate Plains Indians, the ones who John Wayne and other show-biz white guys could kill with one pistol shot from a running horse. Last time I was at the Cherokee Holiday Parade down Main Street, Tahlequah, our Principal Chief and Tribal Council wore big eagle feather headdresses. I don’t recall ever seeing a Cherokee man wear a turban, our real traditional head covering, as Sequoyah did.

This image, photographed from a fossil at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks & Minerals, in Hillsboro, is from a piece of “the oldest precursors of life, 3.4 billion year old stromatolites,” Cantrell says. “These were prokaryotic, meaning single cells with no nucleus, and were the state of life for about 1.7 billion years in the Precambrian era. They gained nuclei, and with that the ability to adapt and mutate, about 1.7 billion years ago.”

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