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“The State of Photography in Portland” panel discussion at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center
January 11, 2018 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
A five-question survey was sent out to 30+ figures in the Portland photography community – photographers, gallerists, non-profit organization staff, curators, teachers – asking opinions on the state of the photography “scene” here in Portland at this given moment. What came back to us was a diverse perspective of opinion that will become the foundation of a panel discussion on January 11th, 2018.
Some excerpts from the questionaire answers:
The current photography scene here in town I believe is small, yet growing and wanting to expand more into the community. I think there are few opportunities to see/and speak about photography and the current trends and conversations about photography. I would like us as a community to use more collective resources by joining forces in collaboration with academia, and other local galleries.
I feel like (the photography scene) is getting more fragmented or decentralized. Maybe the energy or excitement is waning since I first moved here 12 years ago. Mostly I feel this way because of the closure of Newspace. I imagine its also because I am getting older, maybe not meeting as many new photographers, and some of the ones I met when I first came here have now moved away.
(The photography scene here is) fragmented, with little support for fine art imagery purchasing by collectors. Photographers are friendly and most often help each other, but there are a few highly competitive/smug personalities that intimidate some newcomers and don’t set the stage for easy event planning. Not enough great exhibits to view and be influenced by. Larger groups don’t appear to work seamlessly together. Wish there was a central calendar that lists ALL events, classes, shops, etc. We also don’t seem to have galleries or events that support local work. It would also be great to bring different photographers together with the common public such as they do with The Fence in Brooklyn.
I think we have a vibrant community, yet we have a long way to go to match the spirit and risk-taking events that take place in other cities. We play it pretty safe here and I don’t think that stimulates people very much. Who is doing highly controversial work here? It is not seen or promoted very much.
We are provincial here. Few avenues to submit work and get recognized for it via shows or grant funds. I wish we could pair corporate funding with support of artists. Photography seems to have a side chair to other arts such as dance, music, painting.
I think that we are extremely fortunate to have a solid photography scene here. The curator of photography at the PAM, Julia Dolan, is engaged with the local community, we have Blue Sky/Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts which has several exhibition opportunities with the drawers program along with Nine Gallery, as well as traditional photography galleries, like Charles Hartman Fine art.
I think Portland gives a lot of focus on the arts. Not much money. But a lot of interest. Atlanta, Houston, etc. have a lot of wealthy folks who like to collect art, donate money to institutions. But it all seems to be selfserving — to get your name on a wing of the museum, or under a photo in the museum. Here people want to live with art — want to see it on the walls of buildings, in public spaces — they want to buy affordable art for their middle-class homes. I think this is changing, as Portland becomes more affluent. Maybe it’s become more like other big cities. But having worked with Caldera, Right Brain Institute, P;ear, Newspace, and other nonprofits here I’ve been really amazed at how much folks want to get involved in experiencing art, in particular photography. And, of course with revolution of digital photography, and social media, there is much more sharing and excitement about photography — with lots made and viewed by Portlanders.
It would be great if all the institutions got together and agreed to hold photography shows, including Disjecta, PAM, PNCA, OCAC and all of the commercial galleries (PADA). I think this notion of participation might speak to a larger issue – one of real estate. How can we get all of the institutions together even though they are spread throughout the city? PAM is only slightly separated from the gallery core, PNCA is now located near the galleries, but OCAC is pretty far out and Newspace is gone. Disjecta is fabulous, but again, it’s located pretty far outside of the city core. Maybe starting a dialogue between all of the institutions to host events during the course of the month, and perhaps bringing something to Portland on top of Photolucida, which is only a few days, to try and generate interest from a wider audience.
I think it is better to focus on developing a more comprehensive photography culture all year than focusing on one month out of the year (Portland Photo Month in April). If you want to stay with that concept, then planning for it should be an ongoing process, having a committee comprised of various pertinent people who develop events that capture the heart, and not using the same old formula of having shows, lectures, classes. Think of other creative ideas (outdoor exhibits, pop-up shows, roving portrait studio, more edgy classes, organized group shoots such as PDX Squared, etc.) to draw people away from getting their influence from online communities and visuals. I think it has to have a shot in the arm to get people behind having only one month of photo-focused events. My vote it so spend more time (less time boxed pressure) on programming all year around.
What benefits are we looking for as a community? Newspace seemed to be the perfect fit for a community- based photography center where everyone benefited from the darkroom space to the classes to the lectures. Yet it went under because of lack of funding. There is now a group trying to start a community darkroom by using a kickstarter type campaign, but if Newspace was not sustainable, how can that survive? And really, what is the goal of the “network” of photography? Is it lectures? Access to work space? Access to classrooms? I feel like the word “network” is used a lot without actually defining the goal. We should start with defining what the network serves and move forward from there. However, if we presume that the network’s goal is a place for people to connect to photography, should it include an international lecture series? Should it include a workspace? I guess I’m still stuck on what purpose the network would serve.
More communication and synergy between groups (would be beneficial). I think an online website and comprehensive calendar would help. Tired of getting info from so many sources…I am starting to not open some of the emails because we are all bombarded with too many emails and solicitations. Newsletters are effective, but if I knew i could send someone to one website to get a wealth of knowledge, and out of town people could see this, then it would bring the groups more together.
I’m uninterested collaborative efforts of any kind. When there are more cooks in the kitchen, everything is less effective, everything is compromised and bureaucratic. In order for something to be amazing and well directed, it needs a fabulous, visionary leader.
Earned income is key (for an organization). Trying to get donations/grants/etc. is disheartening and there are so many strings attached it’s not worth it. I say, chuck the focus on donor/grantor support and concentrate entirely on making earned income via rad programs the community loves. What would it look like to let go of the idea that “support” needs to come via donations and grants and gifts? It could be so freeing! Serve the community. Not the imagined community – the community that’s actually here. Who are those folks? What do they want? Here’s a key question arts nonprofits (or businesses of any kind) need to be asking: What is the community tired of, what are they frustrated with, what are their major problems? How can these problems be solved? That’s essential. That’s what people are willing to pay for. Support without exchange of goods or services is dead. Give people solutions to the problems they have. That’s how you get engagement and cash.
We have an incredible resource – the Regional Arts and Culture Council – that is a great resource for all of the arts. Photography has become a very popular medium, so it appears to garner a lot of attention, and my opinion is that it receives an equal amount of attention as other media does.
I think cost of living has been pushing artists out for a number of years now, so there’s less vibrant, new, fresh programming being created here.