Oregon photography

Weathering the Storm

Portland’s innovative photographic arts center Blue Sky Gallery rides out the pandemic

In his book The Gathering Storm Winston Churchill wrote, “The veils of the future are lifted one by one, and mortals must act from day to day.” He wrote these words about a time of immense danger and extraordinary uncertainty throughout the world, when fear, anxiety and hopelessness gripped nations and paralyzed faith and optimism for the future. It was a time of seemingly insurmountable crisis, much like what the world is experiencing today, when many of us feel powerless as events outside of our control threaten our security. In our own time of peril most of us are somehow finding the courage to soldier on and take some kind of action to move our lives forward as the coronavirus pandemic continues. But there is no roadmap for moving forward. We must all find our own paths through the crisis.

Many of us seek solace in the exploration of beauty, art and creative expression to help ease our feelings of stress, loneliness and sadness. Art galleries have often been treasured destinations for those who trust in the healing power of the visual arts. However, since the pandemic has compelled many galleries to close their doors, in some cases permanently, art has become largely inaccessible to the visiting public. The crisis has required galleries to re-examine the relationship between art and the ways in which viewers experience it. Since the quarantine started in late March, many galleries in Oregon and elsewhere have likewise had to rethink strategies for sharing art with their patrons.

Portland’s Blue Sky, the Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts has been in the vanguard of local galleries that have adapted successfully to the demands of the pandemic. As its patrons began sheltering in place, Blue Sky got to work figuring out creative ways to bring art directly to its audience. This is the story of how the gallery has weathered the coronavirus pandemic.


OREGON ARTS: COPING WITH COVID


Blue Sky Gallery, in the DeSoto Building, on Portland’s North Park Blocks. All photos courtesy Blue Sky Gallery.

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Still Crazy After All These Months

K.B. Dixon's Still-Life in a Time of Sequestration, Part 3: An Uncommon World of Common shapes


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


It has been months now since my last foray into still-life, and I am still here sequestered, hiding as best I can from the prowling plague known as Covid-19. The people I am sequestered with are still not interested in being photographed, and the places I am sequestered in still remain private rather than public—so, as a photographer trying to stay photographically fit, I am obliged to turn my attention yet again to the charm of “things.”

In previous installments I focused my attention on household goods, on objects near and sometimes dear (the utilitarian, the talismanic, and the decorative): here I am taking a look at something more “abstract”—the basic building blocks of visual art, the meditative mystery of form.

My hope has been to produce a moment of order and quiet at a time of disorder and noise, and to offer a sort of half-assed homage to art’s essential elements and to the great Italian painter, Giorgio Morandi, one of the still-life genre’s most gifted obsessives.


BALL, CYLINDER, CUBE, 2020



BALL, CYLINDER, PYRAMID, CUBE, 2020



CYLINDER, PYRAMID, CUBE, 2020



CYLINDER, PYRAMID, CUBE (ALIGNED), 2020



BALL, CYLINDER (BACK), CUBE, 2020



BALL, CUBE, 2020



BALL, CYLINDER (FRONT), CUBE, 2020



BALL, CYLINDER, CUBE (ALIGNED), 2020



PYRAMID, CYLINDER, CUBE, 2020



Photographer and writer K.B. Dixon is a frequent contributor to ArtsWatch. His earlier piece in this series are:

Among several other projects for ArtsWatch, Dixon’s series of portraits of Oregon writers and visual artists is ongoing, including his most recent:

Focusing in Isolation: Part 2

Portland photographers reflect on their work during the pandemic

Desmond Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” These words were spoken by the celebrated human rights activist in a very different place and time, but they seem very apt in the present moment.  I can think of no more fitting words to cling to at this point in time. Still, it feels like a tall order. With the ongoing unrest surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent uptick in coronavirus infections worldwide, it’s hard to see any light in these very dark times.


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


Although everyone has no doubt been affected by all that’s happening now, each of us will react in our own way. Some of us will experience a kind of paralysis and fall victim to anxiety and depression. Others may experience a newfound freedom to explore new possibilities in their lives. No matter the reaction, it is an important time for self-reflection for many. As I consider my own reactions to the current crises, I’ve been wondering how these events have affected some of my fellow photographers in the community. So I caught up with a few of these artists and asked them how the pandemic and other events have influenced their own creative work. The following is the second in a two-part series based on my interviews with ten of Portland’s finest photographers.  Today’s report features the work and voices of Zeb Andrews, Susan de Witt, Julie Moore, Motoya Nakamura and Deb Stoner.


ZEB ANDREWS


Zeb Andrews, “Multnomah Falls”

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Focusing in Isolation

Portland photographers reflect on their work during the pandemic: Part One

When I think about how the world has changed so fundamentally over the past few months, I find it hard to accept that I won’t suddenly recover from some crazy Alice in Wonderland Syndrome and come out from behind the looking glass. Time and space seem so distorted right now that navigating my way through each day is like moving through a perceptual minefield. And as more recent events seem to have supplanted the pandemic scare, my feelings of fear, sadness and loneliness have lately given way to feelings of anger, outrage and disbelief. 


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


But unlike so many others, I am fortunate. As I remain vigilant about practicing self-isolation, all that is happening now has affected me more emotionally than practically. As a photographer I can still create work, even though the nature of that work has changed since the start of the pandemic. As I continue my photography safely at home, I’ve been wondering how the lockdown has affected other photographers in the community. So I caught up with a few fellow photographers and asked them how the current crisis has influenced their own creative work. The following is the first in a two-part series based on my interviews with ten of Portland’s finest photographers. Today’s report features the work and voices of Ray Bidegain, Jamila Clarke, Jim Fitzgerald, Heidi Kirkpatrick and Angel O’Brien.


RAY BIDEGAIN


Ray Bidegain, “Becoming Invisible”

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Interview in a Time of Sequestration

A Photographer Talks to Himself About Shadows and the Mysteries of Black & White


ESSAY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


It seems much of your work is focused on the cultural life of your city and state?

Yes, it is. To paraphrase that much revered Southern snake-charmer, William Faulkner, I discovered my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth photographing and that I would probably never live long enough to exhaust it.

So why black and white?

When I am obliged to talk about my photography—which isn’t that often, thankfully—I almost always start off with a discussion of my antediluvian preference for black and white. I do this because the question “Why black and white” is almost always the first one asked in the Q&As that invariably follow these talks, and I am hoping to preempt it, to cut it off at the pass as they say in Cowboy, because more often than not it is asked with an antagonizing hint of disapproval. It is a question that used to catch me by surprise. It doesn’t any more. My answer to it is always short. Black and white are for me—as they were for the famously crusty Robert Frank—the colors of photography.

Omar El Akkad, Writer, 2019.

Where Frank saw black and white as symbolizing hope and despair, I see them as augmenting our perception of form and content. Color, as we commonly think of it, is information. Lots of it. Black and white is an abstraction. When you subtract color you focus attention on form and content—on graphic order and psychological subtlety. For me black and white simply has a greater emotional and intellectual impact.

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Still Life in a Time of Sequestration, Part 2

As we isolate ourselves from ordinary life, photographer K.B. Dixon finds fresh beauty in the splendid solitude of ordinary things at home


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


It has been a month and a half and I am still here sequestered, hiding from an angry-looking microbe. The people I am sequestered with are still not interested in being photographed, and the places I am sequestered in still remain private rather than public—so, as a photographer trying to stay photographically fit, I am obliged to continue focusing my attention on the mystery and charm of “things.” For instance, yesterday morning I discovered—as if for the first time—the raw materials of my breakfast. Today it was a pair of bookends that, when on the job, keep a heavy, three-volume set of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire standing upright on a chest of drawers. (Note to self: Consider re-reading. Somehow the time seems right.)


EGGS, 2020


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Still Life in a Time of Sequestration

As other subjects retreat into their own solitudes, photographer K.B. Dixon shifts his gaze to the pristine beauty of domestic things


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


As a photographer I am interested in people, places, and things. These interests do not change with sequestration, but the opportunity to pursue them does. When the people one is sequestered with do not want to be photographed and the places one is sequestered in tend to be private rather than public, one is forced to rely almost exclusively on things.

This particular collection of photographs is the product of the Covid-19 crisis—a crisis that has forced a street, documentary, and portrait photographer to spend more time than usual indoors. It is a radically edited inventory of household goods, of objects near and sometimes dear—the utilitarian, the talismanic, and the decorative. Each item, of course, has its own story. For example, the magnifying glass. It was purchased twenty years ago to help an aging lexophile negotiate the microscopic print of a cheap, compact edition of the OED—a dictionary where one can find the words “mundane” and “miraculous” sitting almost side by side.


PITCHER, 2020



WOODEN BOX, 2020


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