Portland Squared Rides Again!


Portland Squared Rides Again!

On friday afternoon, The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) hosted 70 photographers- a mix of professional and amateur –  in the second annual documentary of a “day in the life of Portland”.   The rules were simple.  We all drew lots for one of 70 squares centered on downtown Portland.   The assignment:  in 24 hours, take creative, insightful, penetrating images inside your square.  If you managed to drain your assigned turf of all possibilities, participants were welcome to trespass onto other photographer’s squares, and continue the process friday afternoon, friday night, and saturday.  You just had to get back to Studio 3 in time, saturday afternoon, to power edit your images down to a carefully chosen handful.   From 70 carefully chosen handfuls, a 2013 Portland Squared book and exhibit would be crafted.

I met photographers who took this event so seriously that they stayed up most of friday night, making gritty photographs of street people into the wee hours, and who still made it to Studio 3 looking fresh and energetic the next day.   I drew the short straw for a square around Hawthorne and 12th Streets, out of the bright lights  and far away from the river, the Pearl and  Old Town.   I opted to get some sleep on friday night.  But I still wound up doing more portraits in the space of 24 hours than I ever imagined I could do… something like twenty individuals.   For me, this was the reward for participating…. pushing my own limits into uncharted territory.

I normally like to talk to the people I photograph, hear a little about what they do, where their lives have taken them.   Then patiently weave the camera into the conversation.

But Portland Squared is a time warp- it’s literally time and perception squared.   Adrenaline kicked in.  I still talked at length to everyone I photographed.  But It was like being the cinematographer in a movie being filmed with no break.  What propelled me to keep this up for almost 24 hours straight were the amazing people I ran into.  I couldn’t seem to meet a boring person.  There was Brian, a wonderful jeweler and craftsman whose entire workshop- hosted by Really Good Stuff collectables-  would fit into the back seat of my car.   Alexander was  a homeless person with a Sherlock Holmes talent for recycling metal parts; Kayla managed a McMinnimen’s brewpub; Mark and Allisa ran Bee Thinking, a bee supply house; Doyle was curator and preservationist of Portland’s historic steam locomotive collection; Giles was a practicing wet plate photographer, a craft some two hundred years old and an ironic juxtapose with the digital camera I used to photograph him;  and last but not least, Tyler was having lunch when I ran across him at Hair of the Dog, bathed in magical light.

To all, my thanks for sharing a moment in their lives, and their beautiful faces.

Thirty minutes before the deadline to return to Studio 3, I got an unexpected invitation to photograph a brewmaster at work in his brewery.  Going on adrenaline and feeling little reason to stop the flow of this wonderful day and rich imagry, at first I felt like I had all the time in the world to do another portrait, then- who knows?- perhaps another.   I think at that point I glanced at my watch, and hit the proverbial wall.  Promising I’d return to the brewery another day, I dragged  myself back to Studio 3, with just two hours to crunch the entire two days worth of work down to a bare five images, Photoshop them, and turn them in.   Finally left alone with just myself and this small handful of artifacts from a magical descent into Portland’s special ethos, I had little choice but to actually do the heavy work of editing, feel the fatigue, and realize my own limitations in a day of seemingly unlimited possibilities.

But at that moment, gathered all around me at Studio 3 were 69 other photographers, busily editing their own versions of the Portland Squared experience on their laptops.  I saw amazing images flash across their screens (when I should have been paying attention to my own), and am looking forward to a bigger, better, synthesized version of this event which will, of course, be far greater than the sum of its parts.  When the book, the exhibit and the collective artistry of Portland’s photographic community comes together, I’ll look forward to posting the link here.


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