Portland culture

Street Scene: Pooches on Parade

As the scaled-back Rose Festival prepares its Porch Parade, K.B. Dixon creates a streetwise tribute to the canceled Rose City Classic Dog Show

One of the many events that disappeared from the calendar this year as a consequence of Covid was the Rose City Classic Dog Show. A local favorite and one of the largest such shows in the country, it is normally held at the Expo Center in mid-January.  It is a show that has always had a tone of its own. The snoots are there, of course (both owners and dogs), but not in the numbers needed to co-opt the general ambiance. One was just as likely to find a dog named Rex wandering about as one named Baron of Crofton.

Inspired by the Rose Festival’s “Porch Parade” (the Festival’s answer, running May 31-June 13, to the cancellation of its Grand Floral extravaganza), I have cobbled together belatedly a down-market homage to the Rose City Classic—the “Pooch Parade,” a cynophile-friendly selection of archived photographs from Portland’s dog-dappled streets.

Studying Menu, 2019


Things that go bump in the light

On portraits and phrenology: Meet Phil, who's been hanging around the house all through the shutdown and has a lot on his mind


The photographs here are of Phil (no last name). He is, for all his insinuations to the contrary, an inanimate object. A phrenological head made of stone and resin, he is one of those iffy bits of bric-a-bracery that occasionally make it into my office and stay. He is both a piece of comic commentary on pseudoscience and the symbolic embodiment of a portrait photographer’s dream—a subject whose character is literally written on his face.

Phrenology, a crackpot theory of the mind from the early years of the 19th century, was the “brainchild” of a Viennese physician by the name of Franz Joseph Gall. It purported to deduce a person’s character from the size, shape, and location of various bumps on one’s head. Those bumps were read like Tarot cards.

The phrenologists of today are the microexpressionists. These are not diminutive painters of subjective exaggerations, but lab-coated, algorithm-addled analyzers of facial expressions. While phrenologists studied the bumps on one’s head, microexpressionists study the twitches, bunches, and tics of one’s facial muscles. 

(A gaggle of practitioners ran Leonardo’s Mona Lisa through one of their emotion-recognition analyzers. After assessing, among other things, the curvature of the lips and the crinkling around the eyes [variations from something called the average “neutral” expression], they concluded their subject—Mona—was 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful, and 2% angry.)

Although on firmer scientific ground than phrenology, microexpressionism as a critical tool is of no greater use to the portrait photographer. Studies suggest it might be helpful in detecting deception—in sorting out who has snatched your yogurt from the refrigerator at work—but it provides only the most cretinish counsel to anyone assessing a work of art. It would be like using a spectrometer to critique a sunset—factually accurate, perhaps, but essentially a desecration.


Phil #1, 2021.


Rose Festival: A fond look back

This year's big parades and carnival are gone with the pandemic wind. As scaled-back "Parading in Place" begins, we salute the way it was.


A Rose Festival by any other name may not smell quite so sweet, but this abbreviated retrospective, this “Virtual Rose Festival,” will have to do this year as Portland’s annual celebration of the genus rosa has, like so many other essential celebrations, wilted in the heat of this global pandemic. In place of parading there is parading in place. The photographs here are collected from past years of sporadic attendance, and are offered as a reminder of what many may be missing today, but almost certainly will be enjoying again in the not too distant future.

This year’s festival, the 113th, was to have opened on Friday, May, 22, and continued through June 7, complete with its showcase parades: The Starlight Parade, the Junior Parade, and the culminating Grand Floral Parade. Holding their place will be the Rose Festival’s Parading in Place: Check the link for details.

2013: Hitched


Spaces: At Shop La Familia hip hop digs in

Shop La Familia was started by Swiggle Mandela as an outpost for hip hop in a hostile city


It takes some effort to find Shop La Familia.

It’s on a stretch of North Lombard Avenue between the Interstate Fred Meyer and the much-loved King Burrito taqueria. It’s also a few blocks away from the kind of natural grocery store that’s often a harbinger of gentrification.

From the street, the spot looks like a row of quiet office buildings occupied mostly by union locals. But if you walk to the back of the building to the nondescript gravel parking lot, through propped-open industrial doors and and head down the stairs, you’ll find what local rapper Swiggle Mandela has planted underground.

The Art of Space
An occasional series on places and prices in the arts world. In an escalating real estate market, how and where do artists and arts groups find suitable and affordable places to make and show their work?

Shop La Familia is a retail space, an erstwhile music venue and a community space for a loose collective of artists connected with Portland’s hip-hop scene. In a city where rapidly escalating real estate prices have put a squeeze on cultural spaces in Portland, La Familia is creating a space of its own, in a historically black, but rapidly gentrifying part of town.

“Every show, every gathering that we’ve done there, it’s like, I get to say, ‘This is literally underground hip-hop,’” says Michael Gaines, who raps as Figure 8 and usually just goes by Fig. He moved to Portland from Detroit about five years ago.

Swiggle Mandela at his store and art space, Shop La Familia & the Coop, in North Portland/Photo by Christen McCurdy

“We’re doing hip-hop underground in Portland right now and no matter how good or bad this goes, this is what it’s about,” Figure 8 explains. “All those interviews where you see people talking about, ‘I went to every open mic, everything, we had to start our own thing, we had to start our own clubs, we had to give back,’ it just feels very reminiscent of what the good parts of hip-hop are and I think that’s why we keep doing it.”


Photo First: The Pride Parade

The Portland Pride Parade is just around the corner, and K.B. Dixon's had his lens on the annual march for years. A portrait in photographs.

The Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade is coming up on Saturday, June 9, which means summer in Portland can’t be far behind—but more importantly, it means the Portland Pride Parade can’t be far behind. An extravagant, glitter-dusted celebration of LGBTQ culture, it offers a little something for everyone—horses, motorcycles, bands, drill teams, and drag queens.

Evolving from a small march of 200 intrepid souls back in 1977 to a parade with more than 8,000 participants last year, this flashy pageant has become the centerpiece of a Pride Week that includes a two-day Waterfront Festival. With the increasing acceptance come sponsors, and with sponsors come dollars, and with dollars come more floats and feathered boas. A list of this year’s guarantors (Intel, Alaska Airlines, Fed Ex, U.S. Bank, etc., etc.) will give you a good idea of the progress that has been made over the years. Being on the right side of history, it seems, is just good business.

The fight against discrimination in all of its myriad forms is a founding principle. It is more important now than ever given the creeping cretinism of contemporary times.

However serious the underlying message, organizers have never let it get in the way of the fun. A gaudy and grandiose homage to civil rights, the parade is basically a moving party. It’s about looking spectacular and having a good time—about kinetic energy and saturated color. It is a character-building challenge to the black-and-white photographer.

This year’s Portland Pride Parade will be on Sunday, June 17, beginning at 11 a.m. Below, several scenes from past Pride Parades:

“Thumbs Up,” 2013

“Motorcycle,” 2013


The Photographic Journal

A Portland photographer and writer creates "a storehouse of meanings and mysteries" from his observations of the daily life around him

Essay and Photographs


The images of Portland included in my latest book of photographs were excerpted from a larger ongoing project—from what is basically a photographic journal, a personalized and idiosyncratic survey of the world around me, an archive that serves in its own special way as a species of memoir. My hope was, as always, to document—to capture and to preserve for myself and others a transient moment of aesthetic pleasure, a strong sense of the subject, a resonating mix of common and individual experience. A storehouse of meanings and mysteries, it is an archive that shares in many ways the characteristics of a written work.


                 Stars & Stripes, 2014

Joan Didion—the novelist, essayist, and screenwriter—wrote a piece many years ago on the subject of keeping a journal. Wandering aimlessly through a set of her cryptic notes from years before, she found herself periodically perplexed by various entries. She found herself wondering why she had chosen to write this or that particular thing down—just as I, wandering aimlessly through my photographic archive, find myself periodically wondering why I decided to take this or that photograph. The keepers of notebooks are, Didion says, “anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” So too are many photographers. “The impulse to preserve lies at the bottom of all art,” wrote the poet Philip Larkin. It certainly lies at the heart of the documentary impulse.


                        Umbrella Man, 2013

“The point of keeping a notebook has never been…to have an accurate factual record.” Didion writes. This is where our paths diverge as “journalists.” The photographic urge as opposed to the calligraphic is born of what Didion calls an “instinct for reality”—an instinct she sometimes honors, but as a card-carrying Romantic usually disparages. “I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters,” she said. For the photographer’s purposes the distinction matters a great deal. For Didion it is the unfettered imagination vs. a cretinous literalism—a gross and self-aggrandizing simplification. Good old everyday rise-and-shine “reality” is the fundamental subject of photography. It may seem mundane, but it is essentially miraculous. If nothing else, it possesses what James Agee once called “the cruel radiance of what is.”